opinionBy Lule Belay Haile
Ethiopia is one of the countries in the Horn of Africa with an area of 1.1 million square kilometers.
The population of the country is estimated to be over 77.5 million with much diversity. The larger portion of the country's economy is dependent upon rain-fed subsistence agriculture with which the dominant population of the country is living upon agricultural and pastoral activities. The leading policy of the national economy is agriculture-led strategy. Even though there are encouraging and hopeful economic achievements, the country is still among the poorest nations of the world.
Since 1991, Ethiopia had embarked on new path, taken positive measures and gained remarkable achievements in all spheres of life in our society. Among many other things, the expansion of education is the glorious one. According to the Ministry of Education's statistical information (2005), out of the total population of the country, over 15.5 million are primary school-age children. Out of this number over 11.4 million were enrolled in formal primary schools. The government also has adopted new education policy and other legal frameworks to pave the way for rapid growth and changes in the educational sector. Educational opportunities became available and widespread for all citizens of the country. Now, children and adults are learning starting from kindergarten up to the university level with better size of number than the previous time.
It is evident that government alone cannot meet the growing demands for education. Using the new education policy and all other favourable conditions created, private investors in the educational sector are increasing from time to time. Today, in this country, state monopoly in education has no place.
Thus, the new education policy encourages private investors to open more educational institutions from kindergarten up to higher educational institutions of learning. In this regard, it is noticed that both government and private investors' efforts in the expansion of education brought and are bringing tangible and vivid results to our society. The writer of this article as educator for many years is an eyewitness to changes and satisfactions gained in the educational sector.
As far as private tertiary education is concerned, the historic contribution and breakthrough of Unity University College is unforgettable. It broke the "silence" of private investors in the tertiary educational sector. It was after the way was paved by Unity University College, many private colleges emerged at every comer of the country, thanks so much to those who first brought the idea of opening private college. It goes without saying that much credit should go to Dr. Fisseha Eshetu, the owner and president of Unity University College. Today, there are choices before our citizens to exercise their rights to education, including in tertiary one. With this prelude, I will discuss a few points about the quantity and quality of education at tertiary level.
II. Quantitative Growth of Tertiary Education:
It is clear that tertiary education broadly refers to all post-secondary-school education. University education is a key part of all tertiary systems. In the majority of the cases, tertiary education inc1udes universities, colleges, technical training institutes, community colleges, nursing schools, research laboratories, centers of academic excellence, distance learning centers and the like. Hence, all the diverse and growing set of public and private tertiary educational institutions are the core components of the system.
Adequate attention was not given to the expansion of tertiary education for many years in Ethiopia. In many of the cases, the previous course syllabus was not relevant to solve the country's problems. Both degree and diploma programmes were few in number to entertain career needs as well as the demands of the economic development of the country.
Literally speaking, Ethiopia was strictly endowed with a few primary and secondary schools with single University for more than thirty years. Due to many constraints to expand tertiary education, educational opportunities were not as many as the number of population we had. However, after changes took place, by now, the number of state universities has reached more than twenty, which commence as many as varieties of problem solving programmes including post graduate schemes. Relatively speaking, the distribution of state universities is equitable as to incorporate almost all regional states. Tertiary education is reaching to those peoples who are by far behind. This by itself is a big achievement and change. The programmes of the universities are by "far diversified which can contribute to the development of the national economy. We have already rationally moved from single university rule which every year puts its "bottle-neck" criteria to admit students into its limited and conservative programmes.
When I recall those non-standard entrance criterions set forth by one of our old state universities, many things come to my mind that how many 'golden opportunities' were closed to those who could become social scientists, engineers, medical doctors, economists, accountants, sociologists etc. that they could have contributed their knowledge and skills to the growth of the economy.
Due to the virtue of the education policy and the existence of democratic system, quantitative growth of tertiary education in private sector is increasing at large. Private sector tertiary education is attempting to identify the basic demands of the market as areas of studying. Thus, different private university colleges are launching market-led areas of studies. Furthermore, private universities are creating educational and employment opportunities. More than forty thousand students are learning their tertiary education in private tertiary sector either on the classification of regular or extension. Many government or private employees, self-employed people, housewives, head of families, and the youth are joined to private universities to continue their education. On the other hand, many scholars with diversified educational backgrounds are employed as lecturers and posted at key positions in the private universities with relatively fair payments and benefit packages. Therefore university education has already become a choice and readiness to learn wherever is suitable to us.
Following the equitable distribution of tertiary education, the total enrollment has increased tremendously. According to the Ministry of Education annual statistics (2005), the total number of students both at state and private universities reached 192, 165 for the academic year 2004-2005.
The expansion of tertiary education opened the way for the increasing number of academic and supporting staff. In this respect, the number of academic staff at tertiary level (state universities) increased from 1,835 to 4,848 for the academic year 2004-2005 (MoE, 2005). Out of 4,848 academic staff, 555 are expatriates. When we see the expatriate one, its number is insignificant. It is normal process to employ foreigners in any university. This is routine work even in the old universities in U.S.A. or European countries.
The point is not the employment or the payment. The matter is their professional efficiency, the teaching experiences and the ability of their classroom activities. Their basic teaching qualities should be regularly monitored. In principle, the coverage of university teaching vacancies should be filled with domestic skilled manpower with fair payments. If there is no sufficient skilled manpower in the country, there would be no alternative, except employing foreigners from wherever possible and comfortable to the country.
On the other hand, the quantitative growth of tertiary education is becoming gender oriented. Both in the employment and enrollment, female academic staff and students are increasing respectively from year to year. The number of female students in tertiary education level is reached about 10,000. There has been a rise in the percentage of female academic staff from 5.83% to 10.3% for academic year 2003-2004 (MoE, 2005).
Among many things, academic institutions such as universities are supposed to conduct various researches that have to contribute for both current and strategic goals of the country. In this regard, both state and private universities are intensively conducting scholarly research works which would be inputs for the growth of the national endeavours as well as for the betterment of the peoples' life.
Without exaggeration, to be sincere in my opinion, what Ethiopia is attempting to achieve in the physical expansion of tertiary education is much better and far-reaching than ever before. However, both the expansion of universities and enrollment of students particularly the numbers of female students in tertiary education are not quite enough. When we compare the proportion of students, especially the female ones and the number of universities with total population of the country lag behind at large. Thus, they need to continue to adopt additional education policy and legal frameworks to make facilitations more suitable for the expansion of private tertiary education. It is much important to identify those constraints which become obstacles for smooth flourish of private tertiary education. The tendency of state domination of tertiary education upon the private sector should be minimized. Instead, the role of government in controlling quality education should increase at larger efforts. Different alternative measures should be taken to increase the total number of university students. In this regard, the curriculums of primary and secondary schools, the content of national examinations, promotion policies, passing point of grade 10 and 12 respectively should be revised to increase the enrollment in tertiary level. In my view, any student who has achieved GPA 2.0 in ESLCE should be legitimate person to join the next educational level without any other preconditions. Except for minor cases, all preparatory students should be encouraged to join either state or private universities.
Government should continue its efforts to work together with private educational sector as to enhance both the quantitative and qualitative growth of education in Ethiopia.
III. Qualitative Status of Tertiary Education:
Quality is both an inalienable and unbeatable part of teaching-learning process. The ultimate goal of training and teaching in tertiary education is to produce well-trained and skilled manpower. To this end, to maintain and assure quality education is essential. The process and attaining quality education is more complex phenomenon that takes time. When we raise quality education as discussion item, philosophical notion of 'quality' may come to 'our minds. What is quality and quantity? What is their conceptual interrelationship? It may not be appropriate and comfortable in this paper to bring to your attention different arguments of quality and quantity.
Nevertheless, it may be mistaken to believe that quality education is necessarily small size in the classroom. There is a possible way of attaining quality education within quantity, providing how it is measured and maintained.
Before I proceed to my own views and reflections, it seems to me to flash out some of the measures taken to improve quality education. Teacher training, conducting conferences to upgrade professional efficiency, distributing equitable educational services, revising curriculums, conducting student centered assessments, setting up libraries and laboratories are a few to mention.
First and fore most, quality education is of a multifaceted nature, that has direct connection with education policy, economic growth, political realities, culture, recruitment and training of teachers, efficient management of education, medium of instruction, design of system, academic organizations such as libraries, laboratories, computer centers, bookshops, classroom sizes, academic freedom, autonomous administration, entertainment centers, payments and benefit packages of instructors, students' strong efforts to learn and the like. These are some of the major internal factors which have key impacts on quality education. There are also external factors such as financial capacity of the family, lack of desire and willingness of family to support and follow-up of student learning progress, shortage of books to read outside university campus, shortage of public libraries, cultural and traditional practices, community participation and others. In my opinion, these are some of the identified group of problems which they need joint responses from all stakeholders (government, private sectors, family, community, academic institutes, students and others). The assignment to achieve quality education is stretched from the policy-makers to the students in the classroom.
It seems to me there are gaps and limitations in the sphere education policy, how students should be taught? With what medium of instruction? Which curriculum at what class? With what age-mix? Maybe needs to maintain uniformity of medium of instruction beginning from grade seven until university both in public and private educational institutions across the country. May be needs to see where is heavy load of syllabus which does not correspond with the ages of students. These and other policy-guidelines issues are expected to be examined by concerned government body. Any academic institution, whether government or private sector should work to wards the achievement of quality education by implementing different methods like:-
· Employing professionally competent and ethically - minded instructors; setting up efficient management of education, particularly due attention should be given to the activities of departments;
· Conducting short-term job training for enhancing professional qualities of instructors;
· Organizing and up-grading the the organization of libraries, laboratories and other facilities for learning-teaching process;
· Conducting different motivations for both instructors and students; considering at least every two years salary increments and benefit packages of instructors and supporting staff, and,
· Organizing different service renders such as book-shops, secretarial service, photocopy, stationary and others within the campus or outside.
External factors which may have negative consequences on quality education are mainly connected with the development of the national economy. These issues may be solved through a long period of time. However, the roles of family and community are important in improving the teaching-learning process. Instructors and students as the main actors of the process should contribute the lion's share to the achievements of quality education.
In conclusion, the expansion of tertiary education is a glorious achievement which should be followed by maintaining quality education in our country. The limitation of quality education is not a single root cause that can be blamed only on a few incidents such as recruitment of expatriates from abroad. Instead, the case and the possible solutions are domestic ones. Therefore, without externalizing the problems, let us be part of the solution by working together hand in hand in the spirit of Ethiopian Millennium.