I’ve previously written about how the term “international” may be overrated as a promise of quality. Terms like “international school,” “international church,” and “international bank” seem intended to signal high standards meeting some vague “international” benchmarks. Today, I want to discuss not the meaning of “international” but rather the government’s recent decision to prevent students at so-called “international schools” from taking the national school leaving examinations.
Traditionally, schools labelling themselves “international” have offered students the option to take national exams if they choose. No rule previously barred “international school” students from these exams. For some schools, the primary curriculum differs from the local national curriculum. However, students wishing to take national exams could do so by taking extra classes to cover topics in the national curriculum.
Allowing “international school” students to sit for national exams provides opportunity. It allows those unable to afford higher education abroad to pursue local university options. Taking the national exams grants access to the domestic system for academic and career progression. Without this pathway, options narrow drastically for many families.
I struggle to understand the rationale for preventing students at international schools from sitting the national school leaving exams. Key questions remain unanswered: what is the objective of this policy, and who stands to benefit – the government or the students? Students clearly do not benefit, facing disadvantage instead.
Particularly troubling is the impact on those unable to study abroad. Unless an equivalent certificate is provided for international school graduates, access to local universities will be lost. Students will be confined to costly studying overseas or barred from post-secondary education.
While the government cites international schools’ failure to follow the national curriculum as justification for the policy, this alone does not seem to sufficiently warrant prohibiting student choice. If students are willing to put in additional independent work, they should be allowed to enrol in international schools of their choosing. The responsibility would fall on the students, not burdening government authorities.
Does concern over limited domestic spots factor in? But does every Ethiopian student not have the right to sit exams after high school completion, regardless of curriculum? There are also suggestions this amounts to retaliation for schools shunning the national program.
In my view, this policy warrants re-examination or clearer public justification to avoid misunderstanding and tension. As it stands, citing international schools’ curriculum deviations fails to provide satisfactory reasoning.
Presumably, parents choosing international programs do so hoping to boost their children’s quality of learning, not deserve punishment limiting further opportunities. Denying access to national exams sanctions students for decisions beyond their control.
Rather than punishing scholastically inclined youths, we should seek to expand options for higher education. Potential talent should not be stifled due to non-conformity with one curriculum model alone.
A more compassionate approach considers the diversifying needs and aspirations of all Ethiopian youths. Instead of singling out a subset based on pedagogical technicalities, our focus ought to centre equitably enabling academic excellence however it may be pursued.