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How Our Education System Failed the Pandemic Test

My name is Aemro Worku. I am a Marketing Management lecturer at Injibara University, one of the fourth Generation Universities built in the third growth and transformation plan of the Ethiopian government. The University is recently labeled as a comprehensive University by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education (MOSHE) when specialization was assigned to all Universities as Research Universities, Applied Universities and Comprehensive Universities.

When I started teaching at the University two years ago, I expected to meet students with diversified language, culture and skills. However, the reality was different from my expectations. Most of the students were from the region that the University is in. I know how much this will hinder their learning of new perspectives in every line of life. Above all, I know more than 75 percent of the schools in the region are below standard in terms of quality including those who attend their classes under tree shelters and locally made sheds.

I was assigned to teach courses like Electronic Commerce and Marketing Information System. I tried to guess how unfair talking about Artificial Intelligence, Online Brand Extension and Digital Payment Systems would be to fellows who never touched a computer mouse in their lives and some who never swiped a touch-screen device. It is not their fault if they perceive my lesson about buying a commodity from Europe using a mobile phone in Ethiopia as a miracle that stands in shoulders with Mosses crossing the red sea.

I tried to take things step-by-step and started giving them assignments like creating an email address and building a profile on job websites in consecutive semesters. When things were progressing, the first case of COVID-19 pandemic was confirmed in Ethiopia on March 13, 2020. Movement restrictions were put in place in some towns; 15 days later, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education decided to close all Universities for an indefinite period of time.

The Ministry then recommended that all Universities continue teaching via e-learning. We then created Telegram channels and uploaded different materials to stay connected with our students. Then, we conducted a follow-up assessment about how many of our students were accessing the materials online and we found that less than 30 percent of them managed access to the channel.  

The students were supposed to have graduated and probably could have been working somewhere. Unfortunately, things have not been that smooth. Universities are preparing to re-admit their students, finish the whole syllabus in 45 days and release them to the job market. This is a loss to the country in various ways. Most staff members of the University were off duty for the last seven months. Moreover, the audacious move to finish semester courses, including exams and senior essays for graduating students in only 45 days will definitely compromise the quality of education.  

If the country had practiced virtual learning in the pre-pandemic period, if students had basic computer skills before they joined University, if Universities had been centers of diversity where students could have shared their skills, if we had invested in linking students with information technology, if IT facilities had been built with virtual learning software, we would have stood victorious passing through this difficult time. But we haven’t managed that and we won’t until our educational system becomes proactive rather than what it is now, reactive.

Ed.’s Note: The writer can be reached at: [email protected]. The views expressed in this article don’t necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. 

Contributed by Aemro Worku