Yohannes Benti (PhD) began his career as a chemistry teacher for a high school in West Oromia in 1992, the same year he got his degree in chemistry from Addis Ababa University. He has been the president of the Ethiopian Teachers Association since 2009, having been elected three times. He is the lobbying group’s longest-serving leader, having ruled over it for more than a fifth of its existence.
He immediately became an active member of the Association. Before getting his master’s degree in Educational Planning and Management from Addis Ababa University in 2005, he earned a second bachelor’s degree in law from a private university. While running the Association, he got a certificate in Advocacy and Citizen Management from the Coady International Institute in Canada and a PhD in Educational Policy and Leadership from Addis Ababa University in 2019.
The Association has 700,000 members at all levels. For the past six months, university instructors have been protesting about inadequate remuneration and other difficulties, but the government appears to have mainly ignored them. They have even vowed to strike in the coming month if the administration does not present a satisfactory solution.
Yohannes is the president of the association that represents each university’s associations, as well as a member of the Board of Education International, a 32-million international union organization. The Reporter’s Samuel Bogale sat down with him to discuss the concerns of lecturers and the education sector.
The Reporter: What compelled university academics to issue an ultimatum as they request the government to make an adjustment on salary and work grade? Can you tell us what they asked, and why they didn’t get a response?
Yohannes Benti (PhD): The query from university lecturers is on Job Evaluation Grading (JEG) and its implementation, which the government decided to impose for all civil servants in 2019.
There were approximately 65 salary scales among civil servants when the government agreed to reduce these scales in 2010, but it was later reduced to 22 scales in 2019 and applied immediately.
Since 2016, the Association has represented both general education and university teachers in the study to implement the JED on civil servants.
We detected a problem with the scales and wages of general education instructors when it was brought to us for comments in 2019, soon before implementation. We later requested an adjustment to increase their grades from the Ministry of Education, which then met with the Civil Service Commission.
During the process, the requirement for university instructors was disregarded.
What substantial modifications were made to the pay scales for general education teachers but not for university lecturers?
The highest work grade for teachers, regardless of experience, was only six. When the JEG was established, we asked the government to help them improve their grades, and they eventually made it to grade nine.
These are the salary adjustments that university lecturers did not have the opportunity to make. High school teachers with a bachelor’s degree currently earn more than 12,500 birr per month, or 1,400 birr more than university lecturers.
The higher the grade point average, the better the salary.
What has been the reaction of university instructors since then?
They have been complaining during our series of meetings since its deployment in 2019, and have even requested back pay.
Last year, the associations at each university formally developed a list of approximately 14 questions. Our association was then part of a committee that made the requests to the then-Ministry of Science and Higher Education, which was later dissolved before responding to our queries.
The petitions have since been passed on to the Ministry of Education, which is now the regulator of Ethiopia’s universities.
They had complained not just about the JEG and salary scales, but also about overtime pay, consultancy fees, housing allowances, and tax-related difficulties.
Housing has long been a demand of the teachers, and the government has always claimed that it is taking action. So far, how has it been?
Since the implementation of a directive in 2016, teachers have been given preference for housing at their places of employment, either by building on a plot of land or by purchasing condominium homes in cities like Addis Ababa.
University academics are excluded from this due to claims that they were receiving housing benefits, and their universities may be in a better financial position to have their own buildings and house the teachers. However, some city administrations, such as Addis Ababa, have already started offering housing subsidies to their general education instructors.
For teachers, a home is not just a place to live but also a place to work. Regions like Oromia have long been doing outstanding work in providing teachers with houses by giving them land to build on. In Addis Ababa, some 5,000 instructors were also given condominiums.
For the obvious reason that many other people of the community also urgently require homes, the housing question does not receive a prompt response. However, up until the end of the previous year, roughly 110,000 teachers received land on which to construct homes, along with a few condominiums.
The government was recently warned by university teachers to respond to their inquiries or face a strike by the end of September. What is the position of your association on that?
Discussions can help solve issues. Such actions have a significant negative influence, thus we don’t advise them. We should keep asking and be open to the strong arguments we hear while at work.
The administration views raising the scale and compensation as a difficult task, given the current economic climate. The Association also understands the situation.
The homogeneity of pay across various universities is one of several other issues that are currently being addressed. Our Association is attempting to mediate disputes between the government and educators. Both the things that the nation can change and the things that should be put on hold should be done.
Threatening with prerequisites is useless. We condemn that.
The government has been supportive of general education teachers at primary, secondary, and vocational schools, including acts such as granting land for them to build their homes.
We will continue to request the same perks for university instructors.
The government recently announced that universities will have autonomy, beginning with Addis Ababa University this academic year and expanding to ten universities in two years. What are your thoughts on this development?
The proclamation for university’s autonomy has been in existence for a long time. It is unclear how it would be used at all universities at this point, but they are starting with Addis Ababa University and expanding to other campuses. That is something that universities would like as well.
Several teachers work at schools, primarily private ones, despite not having completed the teachers’ training program, also known as the Post Graduate Diploma in Teaching (PGDT). Who are the association’s members and who are the teachers?
Any educator working at any institution is eligible to join. A teacher is someone who possesses the necessary credentials, such as the necessary training, education, and capacity. The worldwide standard is also being followed in our nation.
Not everyone who attended school for a certain field of study is qualified to teach. Additionally, it is essential to possess the required pedagogical skills. Teaching abilities and expertise should be present.
You can’t teach English because you studied it. This isn’t just a problem in private schools.
Do government schools hire teachers who have not received PGDT training?
Sure. When schools experience a teacher shortage, one option is to train applied science graduates in PGDT and hire them in schools.
Initially, the goal was for these graduates to be trained and deployed, but due to an acute shortage of instructors, they were authorized to begin teaching immediately.
This is an issue in both private and public schools. After much deliberation, the government decided to require instructors in both private and public schools to complete the PGDT program.
The requirement that teachers need to fulfill after completing PGDT training has actually been a part of government legislation for quite some time. This training is offered by a small number of universities to all teachers, domestic and foreign. Private schools will be required to pay for their own staff training.
Teachers in universities and in general education are unemployed in northern Ethiopia’s conflict zones. How is your organization supporting these educators?
University professors from the universities in the Tigray Regional State would be able to register online and request reassignment, according to a statement from the Ministry of Education.
Even while we know that some lecturers accepted the risk and continued to work, there may still be individuals in the area who are unable or reluctant to do so.
We have a list of the teachers who were displaced in relation to general education teachers. We are giving a small sum to a few of them as a sign of solidarity.
Our request for assistance in reassigning 43 instructors was made to the Ministry of Education and even the Ministry of Finance, but we heard back that neither the Ministry of Education nor the Ministry of Finance oversee any elementary or high schools.
We will continue to support them while putting pressure on the government to transfer them to any school and location around the nation.
How is the Association, a significant player in the education industry, reacting to the most recent changes and new rules?
The education reform research, which began in 2016, was the catalyst for reform. The public then debated it in 2019 prior to its implementation. University education was expanded to four years, and a national high school graduation exam was administered in grade twelve.
This is the outcome of the reforms. A new education law is now being drafted, in addition to changes to the education policy. These and other innovations in teacher education are greatly appreciated.
The Association applauds the improvements and supports the next developments.