Radical approach to education
PanosHatziandreasi s the co-founder and director of Lebawi International Academy,aneducation initiative by Ethiopian-American Diasporas, togetherwith Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation head for Ethiopia, HaddisTadesse. The pioneering school is known to have afforded gifted young pupil with limited resources a chance to get quality education and has sent many to leading universities around the world. The school recently added noted entrepreneurs, Noah Samara and KassyKebede as partners and is set to transition to a profit making enterprise. Here, Panos, who is also the head of the school, reflects with Samuel Getachewof The Reporters on the history of the school, its progress, the need to add new partners as a sustainability mechanism, its idealism and long term vision. Excerpts:
The Reporter: You must be excited with all that has happened with the small idea you helped conceive with a friend and to see it where it is now. How did the idea of starting a school begin?
PanosHatziandreas:HaddisTadesseshared his idea of opening up a school when we both lived in Seattle, Washington around 2008-2009. He used to say that he was able to achieve a lot professionally, even though he was always an average student, because he was given opportunities to attend good schools in the United States. He wanted to create opportunities for smart young people in Ethiopia who do not realize their potential due to lack of opportunities and essentially not having access to quality education. So the idea was to close the gap between potential and access.
What have been the highlights so far?
Now that we have been operating for five years, the highlights have been, graduating 50 students already, amazing results in college admission rate (100%) and having students travel abroad for summer programs and special courses at major universities even before they graduate.
The school was started as a non-profit yet its transitioning to a profit institution. What is the logic behind that decision?
The decision to become a for-profit school is mainly because it was becoming impossible to sustain the school based on individual donations like we did for the past several years. We believe we have exhausted the funds from our donor base and that we have to do become a for-profit school to keep it going.
How do you suppose the new partnership will help the school go forward?
The partnership will be helpful in several ways, including the invaluable expertise that Noah brings in the education space, the wide network that Noah and Kassye have in the business world that the school can tap into and also having financial sustainability.
What is your take on the local education system?
The local education approach has some strength such as rigor in subject offerings (units that are covered in courses and others). However, it needs an overall philosophical approach that is rooted in our own perspectives. Several concerned bodies in the recent Education Roadmap discussions have raised this point. Lebawi studied the Ethiopian curriculum going years back and identified this gap since its inception. That is why and how we came up with the motto of “Locally Robust, Globally Connected Education”. Based on this motto, local and indigenous knowledge systems, culture and the arts, language, and so on are explored at our school, while the global platforms give our students opportunity to engage in joint projects with their peers throughout the world. This can be done in very cost effective ways - it is the education needed to prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century.
The school has huge emphasis on inserting local teachings to its goal of educating young people, including the teaching of Ge’ez. Tell me about that?
When most people think of Ethiopia in particular and Africa in general they do not think of a place where knowledge is generated. Ethiopians and the rest of Africans are thought of as a people who go to Europe and other industrialized countries to acquire knowledge. We are set to change that narrative. Ethiopia and Africa as a whole has great knowledge base from which the rest of the world is already benefitting.Research in pharmaceuticals, medicine, the social and physical sciences is already being conducted in Africa (and Ethiopia) and being used to advance these disciplines. It is just that most of it is not done by us - we want to create a new generation of scholars who are well equipped to change this reality.
We have found that one area that can be used for this purpose is having Ge’ez proficient high school graduates who have translated at least one Ge’ez scholarly document of their interest before graduating because there is a great deal of knowledge written in the language. This, of course, is in addition to all other indigenous knowledge systems they study in other subjects (in Civics, Conflict resolution systems, in Biology and a Chemistry the medicinal values of the Kosso plant, etc ...).
How was the school able to achieve all these noble goals without compromising on quality, which is the central goal of the school?
First and foremost, the credit for the great achievements of the students goes squarely to the students themselves. One has to believe that all things are possible, dedicate oneself to a goal, and work very hard to achieve the goal. In all cases, those who attained high success demonstrate this capacity and commitment.As a school, our relentless effort is to focus on quality, and to making sure that all our activities are geared with the intention and action plan to be the best school for unleashing student potential. In addition, our determination to change the narrative about Ethiopia and Africa is real; there is nothing open for negotiation there - the narrative has to be changed as a matter of a generational responsibility.
What is the long-term vision of the school?
The long-term goal of the school is to be the best school of choice for all Africans (just like Ethiopian Airlines is a signature organization in its space).We know that we have come of age to expand our services because of the results our students have registered, and the lessons we have learned to even do better. We want to be accessible to as many students as possible and that is a necessary first step to becoming an institution of choice for our entire continent.