Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — Ethiopian students will now have to write their examinations for secondary school leaving certificate in the 10th grade instead of two years later.
Until the change, the students had to complete Grade 12 studies before they could sit for their exams.
As a result of this change, 200,000 Grade 10 pupils in the country are preparing for the exams scheduled for May 2001.
The change, however, has brought some resentment and concern among parents who fear that thousands of children would be out of school at a tender age.
"What am I going to do with my 14-year-old son if he does not pass this exam. What would be the fate of my other four children who would soon reach Grade 10," 40-year-old Tariku Habtu, a civil servant with a family of eight, says.
According to the new educational structure, there will be a kindergarten system for children aged 4-6, a primary education from grades 1-8, subdivided into two sections of basic 1-4 and general 5-8 education, a general secondary education from 9-10, a preparatory senior secondary education of two years and a system of vocational and technical education in parallel with it.
"This is all fine on paper but is the government really prepared to have more and efficient technical and vocational schools, trained teachers, textbooks, etc. at this particular time when the economy is in shambles," an economist wonders.
With a per capita income of 110 US dollars, the Ethiopian economy, just emerging out of a costly senseless border war with Eritrea, is at a low level equilibrium trap with hardly any changes in the structure of production, employment and trade over several decades.
There are 8,120 primary schools in a country of 62 million people with an enrolment of about three million. Most of these schools are in the urban areas, which have 15 percent of the population.
According to the education ministry, most of the 1,378 junior and senior secondary schools with an 800,000 enrolment are located in the medium and large towns.
There are 17 technical/vocational schools with some 4,000 students.
"The number of schools, the type and variety of vocations and the quality of training are far below the needs and demands of the country. Most of the 16 special education schools are run by NGOs and are far below the requirements of the community," a paper on the education sector says.
According to the document, most of the schools are "ill- equipped and very crowded with over 100 students per class and about 7,000 students per school. Nearly all the senior secondary schools and all the primary schools conduct more than one shift of class."
"The educational facilities are rudimentary. Most schools have no libraries and adequate laboratories or workshops," it adds.
A teachers says "five students in most instances share one textbook," adding that "the supply and utilisation of education technology such as radio, TV, other audio-visuals and computers is virtually non-existent."
The education policy, which was formulated by the then transitional government of Ethiopia in 1994, has good intentions to promote education in the country. But many doubt its legality.
"This policy is illegal because it was formulated by a transitional government that had no mandate of the people to deal with such an issue of national importance," another teacher who wished to remain anonymous says.
The recent call by education Minister Genet Zewdie that efforts be made to undertake stage by stage tasks that would strengthen democratic culture and discipline, thereby produce worthy citizens, seems to have angered many parents.
"How can thousands of lads stopping at grade 10 with a slim chance for further academic or technical education or even vocational training become worthy citizens.
"This education policy must be scrapped all together before a catastrophe befalls the country with far reaching consequences," a political scientist with three children going into 10th grade in 2001 says.
Towards the end of Emperor Haile Selassie's rule in 1974, a similar education policy was contemplated. However, the idea became so unpopular that it became one of the causes for his overthrow.
Shimeles Leteke, public information officer with the education ministry, says he is optimistic that the new policy will succeed this time.
"Initially the policy may be fraught with difficulties. But gradually, as time passes, things would improve and those who don't make it to higher education would be absorbed in the various vocational schools," he adds.
Many people who are currently involved in the education sector have reached a consensus that the quality of education at every level has gone down.
"Are the measures envisaged by the government's education policy sufficient to improve quality?
"The government's education policy seeks to bring about an equitable distribution of access to education. Have these policy measures been thought out carefully and are they likely to meet the objectives envisaged?
"Should there be payment for education at any level of the education system? If so, what could be done regarding access to education for the vast majority of those who cannot pay?" they ask.
According to a report, financing of higher education will be based on cost sharing principles, with students expected to pay at the tertiary level.
"It is this level that is the most expensive and, according to recent studies, with highest returns," the report says.