We used to call it “Matric Electric” backin my days. Passing the national school leaving examination, dubbed ‘Matric’, was non-negotiable then. Now, there seems more openness to failing or not getting scores required to join one of the many public universities in the country.
Today many attend private universities and still succeed. Public universities were once considered more prestigious. Something that still applies in Ethiopia’s education system is placement.
The government assigns you a university, mainly by lottery, and a program for you to attend.
Though high achievers get priority choosing their university and program, most placements are random. The system largely decides your life and career. You’ll likely study at an undesirable university in an uninteresting field.
This saddens me. While private options have grown, the placement system keeps “Matric Electric” deciding Ethiopian futures. I studied an uninteresting subject for my Bachelor’s due to Ethiopia’s placement system. But that’s life here, right? You follow the rules. What choice do you have? It’s better to have any job than none. For survival, you work hard at your assigned task to make a living.
I don’t want to generalize. But few people I know discovered their interests early. For most, degrees matter more than their fields. Career choices are made by families early, then later by the government.
When seeking scholarships abroad, my friends joked it didn’t matter if the subject isin skating or anything else.
The main goal was getting to Europe or the US for a Master’s or PhD, saving scholarship money for a house or car, or staying abroad forever. It’s sad but true. We end up in jobs fitting our degrees, with no interest. But we need income.
For me, the placement system fails us. Students should choose their futures to make meaningful impacts. Ethiopia can’t afford all choices, but private universities do offer more freedom to study according to your interests.
We need more diverse private universities so that more Ethiopians find their callings, gain skills that benefit society, live engaged lives and build a nation of educated achievers passionate about their work. Without this, fulfillment remains elusive.
Life is too short not to live engaged in work we care about. The placement system defines schooling, not our full lives.
Ed.’s Note: Tsion Taye is a researcher in the field of Agricultural Economics. She is a graduate of Wageningen university from which she obtained her Masters and PhD degrees. Her passions include reading books and reflecting on life experiences with whomever shares this passion. She can be reached for comments at [email protected].