As the essence of education is behavioural change, the personnel in the educational institutions are expected to demonstrate behavioural change and take the lead in bringing about cultural development and contribute to innovative thinking. The educational institutions should be the agents of change by focussing on solving problems through research whereby they become centres of innovative thinking and play pivotal role in societal change and economic development of the country as a whole, writes Gebreselasie Gebretsadik.
This is a narrative description of the contributor’s personal perspectives on the education system in Ethiopia based on his experiences as a university student locally and teaching in tertiary colleges in Australia, and suggestions on the ways forward in light of the country’s plans of ensuring rapid, sustainable and broad-based growth through the development of the agriculture sector, and expansion of industrial development with primary focus on light manufacturing.
Apparently, the education system especially at university level is entirely theoretical with no linkages to practice. As a result, students come out of the universities practically by knowing jargons of their respective fields of study and are unable to link it to practice at the work places as well as their personal lives at least for the first few years. For example, a mechanical engineer is unable to do simple mechanical works at least immediately after graduation. Similarly, a horticulture expert may not be able to identify some of the vegetables in reality.
This is because the education system is highly theoretical with very little or no practical exercises or demonstrations. Understandably, the issue has to do with logistical constraints in the case of the newly established universities. However, it is the case among the older universities with not much attempts to link it to practice. As a result, in extreme cases industrial engineering students complete their study without any practical experience of an engine or visit to a factory. Similarly, students of crop science might not have any practical field level experiences.
Consequently, university students do not come out job ready, but rather start to learn on the job at their respective workplaces at least during the first few years. Besides, as opposed to the cases in other countries, university teachers and students alike do not put their technical knowledge in practice. For example, a mechanical engineering teacher does not have a mechanical workshop, a crop scientist a crop farm, an animal scientist animal farm, and a dairy scientist a dairy farm. Looking at the situation more broadly, the universities do not engage in solving practical problems, nor produce qualified personnel who are job ready and able to think innovatively and identify practical areas of research that can help solve local problems and contribute to social and economic improvements in society.
Given the above brief realities on the prevailing education system in Ethiopia, the way forward is for universities to aim to solving practical social and economic problems, and produce job ready and practice oriented workforce that can support the country’s development policies. The suggested ways forward to this effect are for universities to be dynamic and revise/develop qualifications based on the prevailing market demand; re-design/adjust courses to fit to the local realities; use interactive teaching techniques such as group works, role plays, audio-visual materials etc.; and include experiments, field exercises, visits, and practicum as appropriate in each course. The list is not exhaustive, nor research based, but suggestions based on the contributor’s overseas teaching experience, hence it is open for further research.
Meanwhile, the need for such changes in the education system is an apparent necessity and is crucial in supporting the country’s development policies. It is believed to promote innovative entrepreneurship among the educated section of society, which is not the case currently. University teachers and graduate students tend to be job seekers, rather than job creators. The above discussed changes are believed to promote job creation among those sections of society such that they will take a leading role in entrepreneurial activities and play pivotal role in realizing the government’s plans to modernize the agricultural sector and expansion of the manufacturing sector. In other words, it will enable the educated section of society to use their knowledge and skills in business and manufacturing activities, which is crucial in the current circumstances in Ethiopia.
Lack of innovation: a cultural issue or the result of the education system
There is apparent lack of innovation in the Ethiopian culture to the extent that people/institutions are resistant to accept any changes to the way things are done. Below is my own personal reflection on the issue of lack of innovation in Ethiopia. I will also look as to whether it is a cultural issue or the result of the education system. Before I discuss the issue, I would like to start with the definition of the term innovation and its difference from invention. To invent is ‘to originate or create as a product of one’s own ingenuity, experimentation, or devise’. To innovate is ‘to introduce something new; make changes in anything established’.
From the above definitions, we can see that to innovate is to make improvements on existing technology or practice. Innovation ranges from high-technology products to simple improvement to the way we do things such as improving existing forms and templates in an office. Innovations can be made both by individuals as well as universities and research institutes. However, there is apparent lack of innovation both at individual and institutional level with high level tendency to resist any changes in the way things are done. Consequently, we see some of our technologies being used for decades, even centuries with no improvements made on them.
A typical example to this situation is the ox plough technology, which has reportedly been invented a couple of millennia ago that still remains unchanged. This is a practice of tillage and cultivation of crops with animal drawn implements, the main part being the ploughshare ‘maresha’. This practice has been in use by the Ethiopian farmers for over two millennia practically with no improvements made. A small improvement, for example doubling the ploughshare could have halved the time required to cultivate a given plot of land. However, even the agricultural universities in the country, some of which are over half a century old, did not make any changes to the implements to this effect. Another common example is the lack of attempt to improve the administrative and bureaucratic practices in offices.
There is a general tendency among employees and managers alike to stick to the status quo and make no attempts to improve the existing practices of doing things. Employees tend not to make any changes to the prevailing practices. Such things are not appreciated by supervisors either. Hence, there is a general practice not to attempt to make any improvements in the way things are done. There is also a general tendency to resist any new changes made to the existing practices.
Given the above mentioned realities in regards to the practice of innovation, the natural question that comes to mind is whether it is a cultural issue or the result of the education system. The detailed conclusion to this question is left to further study and analysis. Meanwhile, my personal position is that both have their stall on the issue. The culture and the education system do not encourage innovation. The culture is too caring to the extent of discouraging independent work. For example, a child is cared for in every way to the extent that s/he becomes unable to do things independently. Consequently, it negatively affects one’s innovative thinking. Similarly, the education system does not encourage innovation. The organizational culture in universities is such that it discourages, in extreme cases punishes innovation. Students are expected to repeat what the teacher has said in class or read only the reference materials suggested by the teacher. Using source materials outside those suggested by the teacher are not allowed, or cause punishment in the form of assessment results. In sum, we can say that students come out of the educational institutions essentially like blinked horses, who can only do what they are told to do by their bosses. They are also encountered with similar organizational culture in the workplaces. The above situations have been the major hindrances to innovative thinking and practice both at individual and institutional levels.
The way forward: As the essence of education is behavioural change, the personnel in the educational institutions are expected to demonstrate behavioural change and take the lead in bringing about cultural development and contribute to innovative thinking. The educational institutions should be the agents of change by focussing on solving problems through research whereby they become centres of innovative thinking and play pivotal role in societal change and economic development of the country as a whole.
Ed.’s Note: Gebreselasie Gebretsadik (MA) is an Australian of Ethiopian origin. He went to Australia as a skilled immigrant in 2006 and has been living and working there until 2015. He worked with community welfare agencies and taught in tertiary colleges in Australia. He has also worked in the capacity of Economic Security Delegate for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Pakistan and South Sudan, as well as in the capacity of Advisor for Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in South Sudan. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].
Contributed by Gebreselasie Gebretsadik