The theme of this editorial is something we visited not that long ago. The results of the national school leaving examination results announced this week by the Ministry of Education have once again shaken Ethiopians to the core. Only 27,267 of the 845,099 Grade 12 students who took the examination for the 2022-2023 academic year scored the required of 50 percent or higher to enroll in universities, representing a passing rate that is 0.1 percent less than the 3.3 percent recorded in the preceding academic year. Some of the other numbers cited by the by the Minister of Education, Professor Berhanu Nega, regarding the results paint a disturbing picture. Out of 356,878 students who sat for the exam in the natural sciences stream, only 22,974 (6.4 percent) scored 50 percent and above. The proportion of students who made the cut in the social sciences stream was even worse, with just 0.8 percent of the 488,221 students (4,293 students) who took the exams going on to notch up the 50 percent and above mark. Furthermore, out of the 3,106 schools that administered the exams, 1,328 failed to field even a single student who can join tertiary institutions, accounting for a mind-boggling 42.8 percent of all schools nationwide. These alarming figures provide a snapshot of the perilous state of the country’s educational system and as such call for national deliberations going forward.
As he did in January 2023 when the 2021-2022 national school leaving examination results were made public, Professor Berhanu attributed the dismal showing to a raft of long-running shortcomings the education sector had been afflicted with and noted that the problem can be addressed through the concerted effort of all stakeholders. His assessment is shared by many. Experts in the field have contended that Ethiopia’s education policy, which has been in force since 1994, is one of the major factors behind the nation’s poor education quality, pointing that the focus on expanding access to education at the price of quality. It’s generally agreed that the policy has to some laudable outcomes over the past few decades in raising the rate of literacy. This said, the implementation of the policy has been beset by a plethora of multifaceted challenges both inherent and unrelated to the sector. These include, inter alia, the undermining of meritocracy and lack of accountability due to the blatant politicization of the education system; the absence of adequate educational facilities and materials; the poor quality and working conditions of teachers; the cross-cutting effects of ethnic strife; the onset of societal moral decay; and corruption.
The ramifications of this year’s awful results cannot be overstated. Aside from forcing again both public and private tertiary learning institutions to drastically cut their acceptance of freshman students, it is bound to exacerbate the difficulty Ethiopia is facing when it comes to achieve its target of raising the gross enrolment of higher education ratio of 22 percent, up from the current 13 percent, as part of its drive to join the rank of lower middle-income countries by 2025. Moreover, it is certain to depress the quantity and quality of the workforce required by the labor market. The absence of the opportunity for economic betterment that the large proportion hundreds of thousands of students who will not be eligible to join universities are likely to face is another area which has the potential to entail grave serious socio-political consequences. Unless the government and the wider education community seek creative ways that help these students turn into productive citizens, the already high level of youth unemployment and the attendant political resentment are sure to spiral out of control.
As controversial as the national school leaving exam results understandably are, the solution is not and cannot be to ascribe blame solely to previous governments. Should all the actors that have a stake in the education sector are truly desirous to overcoming the fundamental reasons explaining the plethora of challenges that account for this year’s horrendous showing and put their heads together, they can make a headway into fixing Ethiopia’s poor education quality.
Although this task primarily rests on the shoulders of the ministry of education and regional education bureaus, their endeavors cannot bear fruit if such other stakeholders as students, school administrators, teachers and parents are allowed to play an active role in the search for solutions. As we have reiterated before, in order to accomplish this goal it is of the essence to embark on a set of holistic measures including undertaking a comprehensive review of the factors that are responsible for the sorry state of Ethiopian education and formulate a roadmap that is informed by existing local and global realities; conducting a rigorous evaluation of the administration of education with a view to ensure accountability and the delivery of quality education; availing the necessary human, financial and material resources for the sector insofar as capacity permits; and galvanizing popular support for these initiatives. It’s only then that an enduring solution which helps usher in a new era of quality education can become a reality.