Wednesday, July 17, 2024
SocietyBeyond Borders: Ethiopian students chase dreams abroad

Beyond Borders: Ethiopian students chase dreams abroad

Local challenges push youth towards international scholarships

In the corridors of Ethiopia’s high schools and universities, a growing sense of urgency pervades. As the national education system grapples with low pass rates and safety concerns, students are increasingly looking beyond their borders for educational opportunities. With dreams that extend far beyond the confines of their assigned disciplines, these young scholars are turning to scholarships and international programs as lifelines to their futures. The allure of studying abroad, driven by the promise of quality education and stability, is reshaping aspirations and prompting a new wave of academic migration more than ever.

MikyasYared, a 12th-grade student at Holy Senior School, shared his story with The Reporter, expressing his concerns about passing the national entrance exam and his desire to study abroad.

“I don’t think I will pass the entrance exam,” Mikyas said. “This feeling isn’t just mine; even my friends feel the same way. We’re all looking for opportunities to study abroad.”

Mikyas conveyed his frustration with the low passing rate. He says the prediction that only two percent will pass drains his energy. “All I want now is to leave this country,” he said. He also mentioned the challenges he faces with his family, adding, “I told them to send me abroad, but they can’t afford it. They’re trying their best because they understand that learning here is a waste of time.”

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He highlighted concerns about safety and the quality of education at local universities, noting that “even getting into Addis Ababa University costs almost the same as a scholarship abroad.”

This story, however, is just one example among many. Across the country, concerns are mounting over the rigorous admission criteria for universities and the demanding exit exams that students must pass to obtain their degrees after years of dedicated study.

BlenBenyam, a consultant at Globe Dock, emphasized in an interview with The Reporter the increasing demand for studying abroad among high school students.

“The demand for studying abroad is growing rapidly,” she said. “Students are coming to us from 9th to 12th grade, and we provide services to them. However, the demand from 11th and 12th graders is rising significantly.”

Grade 12 students from different schools told The Reporter that they want to study abroad by any means. “Even if our families are supporting us, we don’t want to stress about the national examination,” one student said. “Even if we pass the exam, we don’t want to go to local universities due to the quality of education, conflict, safety concerns, and the low passing rate.”

Students say this is making them look for other opportunities. “Even if we can’t afford it, our families are trying their best, struggling with us, even taking out loans.”

Similarly, 11th-grade students have expressed their desire to avoid the national entrance examination or attend public universities. Citing several reasons for this preference, including the prospect of potentially being held back for a year due to the new curriculum, the students claim they have a better future abroad in terms of their education.

“There are different types of opportunities for 11th-grade students, and they are taking advantage of them,” Blen said. “In the past two years, there has been a surge in the number of students who failed their entrance exams. Conversely, high-achieving students are becoming rare. We have also noticed an increase in demand from students in conflict areas, particularly from the northern region.”

Blen also highlighted the success of their YouTube channel aimed at high school students. “Our YouTube channel, which has been active for only nine months, has garnered over 100,000 subscribers from students. She says their channel receives numerous comments from 12th-grade students requesting more content for their national examinations.

“In my opinion, the increasing demand can be attributed to safety issues, low-quality education, and the large number of national examination candidates,” she stated.

As more students and their families look for alternatives abroad, the challenges within the local education system continue to push the brightest minds beyond borders.

KenaFikru, a 20-year-old second-year urban planning and design student at Addis Ababa University, says she is eagerly awaiting her scholarship opportunity to study abroad.

“Prior to coming here, I had never even considered the possibility of receiving a scholarship. I applied for it during my first year at this university because I ended up in a department that I am not passionate about. Unfortunately, passion alone does not determine one’s future; grades play a significant role,” she explained.“Many of my friends in the medicine department were able to secure scholarships solely based on their grades, although they are not interested in pursuing that field.”

Kenasays she always had a strong desire to study Film Studies, but unfortunately, the course is not offered in the country. “As a result, I am currently studying urban planning, which is quite different from my true passion. Many of my friends also aspire to receive scholarships due to the perceived value of a degree from another country, as they believe it is more valuable than obtaining a degree locally.”

The perceived significance placed on obtaining a degree from abroad, coupled with limited options, placement issues, and even opportunities afterwards, has played a substantial role in exacerbating the ongoing brain drain experienced by the country. This brain drain persists, causing a continual loss of talented individuals seeking better prospects elsewhere.

IsayasFekade, the Director of LEFOPS Educational Service, highlighted the growing demand to study abroad, said: “We have been working on this for almost 19 years now, and the demand from students to study abroad is continuously rising.”

He emphasized the difference between scholarships and studying abroad, explaining that scholarships are awarded to high-scoring students, while studying abroad involves paying for education in another country.

Isayas also noted the rise in applications to study in Canada, with numbers growing from 5,000 in 2022 to 6,000 in 2023.

“Students who cannot afford the cost are striving hard to study abroad trough scholarships due to the quality of education, the stability and peace in foreign countries, and the rising number of students failing entrance exams in their home country. These factors have contributed to the growing demand for studying abroad,” he said.

A student from Addis Ababa University, a second-year construction management major, Hermela Haile, believes she will not get the placement he desires even if she had “great grades.”

“I started applying for scholarships in grade 11, and I am still waiting. The reason I want to leave my country for education is that even if I get good scores, I won’t be learning what I want. I will end up learning what they assign me. That’s why my family is supporting me,”she said.

HaileGebreziabher, Hermela’s father, expressed his disappointment saying, “As a father of five children, it’s not practical to send all of them abroad. It’s truly disheartening to see our children losing hope, and it hampers our efforts to support them. At the moment, I’m making every possible effort to arrange for my eldest daughter to study abroad.”

He highlighted that the family is struggling to afford private college fees due to the high cost of living. Haylie also noted that many young individuals are dropping out in 9th and 10th grade to avoid the disappointment of failing the 12th-grade exam and are choosing migration instead. He emphasized that this is a worrying situation that requires attention from relevant authorities.

Regarding the decline in 12th-grade exam results of senior high school students in Ethiopia, Haylie believes the reason for the decline is the decrease in the quality of education from the primary level. “It is good that the government has started efforts to maintain the quality of education, but quality can’t be achieved just by preparing a quality test. The curriculum needs a bottom-up reform.”

He further added, “The fact that 95% or more of students who reached the 12th grade did not pass the exam puts pressure on the country starting from the family.”

Some students have expressed their preference for studying abroad over attending public universities, citing the availability of better opportunities. However, others believe that resources should be directed towards improving domestic programs and support systems for local students.

As the debate continues, the drive for scholarships and education abroad remains a pressing issue for many young Ethiopians seeking to fulfill their academic and professional dreams.

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