Today's guest is Belete Demissie. He had successfully spent thirty-five years in the Ministry of Education(MoE) in various capacities. Above and beyond, he had played a great role in the expansion of Technical and Vocational Schools across the country. There was no stone he left unturned to take the Ethiopian Technical Vocational Education and Training(TVET) to the helm of success. He is considered as one of the unsung heroes in this regard. Furthermore, he was one of the right hand men behind the successful expansion of higher learning institutions across the country by designing a range of fruitful techniques.
Taking his contributions in the education sector, he had been awarded various laurels from different bodies. Though he got retired some years ago, he is still working in MoE for the love of not distancing himself from the work.
The Ethiopian Herald had a short stay with Belete Demissie with the intention of familiarizing his personal and professional life with readers. He had touched upon a number of interesting issues revolving around the whole lot of TVET development and the expansion of higher learning institutions across the country. Excerpts:
What is all about TVET?
TVET is tutoring and teaching that provides knowledge as well as insight for examination. It is the study of technology and interrelated disciplines. It as well as the getting hold of realistic handiness, approach, understanding and so forth with reference to profession in an assortment of subdivision of financially viable life. In fact, TVET take account of the modus operandi of skill advancement of the labor force carrying out in the industry of a certain country. Quite the opposite, vocational training deals with recessed schooling and schooling for the grounding of accomplished employees' workers. It was well focused on coaching trainees how to carry out the tasks which are required in the workforce in various fields.
What was the status of TVET during the time that you joined the Ministry of Education like?
If truth be told, much attention was not placed for 'Technical and vocational education and training' (TVET) at that specific juncture. There were finger counted TVET schools such as Asmara Technical School, Addis Ababa Technical School and Bahir Dar Polytechnic. Later, we built the Tegbared TVET. Students were not given much attention at that point in time. More often than not, in spite of challenges we made an effort to offer them jobs. Things were not that easy. Even worse, the attitude of people towards TVET education was near to the ground. People did not have high opinion about the profession.
The focuses of most people were on other fields of studies. Many gave the cold shoulder for TVET. It was really easier said than done to change the outlook of the people towards TVET for the reason that it was extremely low down. As chance would have it, the number of TVET went on increasing over and over again with assistance secured from different countries. Slowly but surely, we established Agro Industry College in Northern Wello, a technical school in Ilibabure and the like. In this way, the number of TVET centers kept on growing across the country though the desired goal was not achieved in a little while. The education was chaired by MoE. The Ethiopian Airlines, Telecommunication, Addis Ababa University, School of Commerce and so forth were members at that point in time.
We did not do much expansion works at that juncture. Russian and America were on our side concerning the expansion works of TVET.They were very supportive. Inch by inch, our dream gradually kept on becoming a reality. The saddest thing was, there was no job opportunity for graduates from TVET. They were not encouraged to be entrepreneurs. In reality, we were as well not in the habit of raising awareness on the subject of how they had to find a job. I would say it was not that fruitful during the Derg regime though we were able to move a certain step forward.
How do you describe the awareness level of people towards TVET in the past?
As I have tried to mention so far, most people were not giving due attention for TVET. Nobody cared for the profession. Most graduates could not find a job except sitting at home as they did not have an inkling regarding the way out. They did not know what they had to do. In actual fact, we were encouraging them to get employed. Though, they were making an effort to find a job in their own ways, the whole lot was not that easy. At a loss what to do, students were shifting to another fields of studies in pursuit of a better job. There was a problem in this regard. Learning by itself was not the only way out for students. It did not help them much to stand on their feet. Little by little, everything grew to be on the track.
What about during the incumbent?
After TVETs kept going at a snail's pace for years, a new move was started during the incumbent. Nobody had expected that TVET would move to a new level of accomplishment with no trouble. Nobody had imagined.
As much emphasis was placed on the sector, TVETs kept on growing in every nook and cranny of the country within the shortest time possible. Owing to the incumbent's determination and commitment, it was possible to expand the whole lot in a little while. TVETs are found across the country all over the place and the number of students is increasing over and over again. To cut a long story short, everything began bearing fruits after the demise of the Derg regime.
It is said that your contribution in terms of TVET expansion is gigantic. How much is it true?
It is difficult to say that I did the whole thing on my own. I did not do everything on my own but with my colleagues. We were getting aids from UNDP, British Council, Taitu Italian, Japan, among others. Moreover, we were as well inviting and hire teachers from Japan to let them teach in different schools. I would say, we have made a little move in this regard. Inch by inch, the MoE hired a lot of experts in different fields of studies. In the past, the number of professionals was not that big. The government allocated money and gradually went on expanding and bridging the gaps. Furthermore, job opportunities kept on getting bigger and bigger. Graduates as well jumpstarted running their own business instead of hunting for a job. They do not want to get hired. In the past there was little credit facilitation.
How do you see the current status of TVET in Ethiopia?
At the present time, the mindset of students has shifted to entrepreneurship. They do not want to get employed. They only would like to run their own business. Entrepreneurial courses are offered for students at the moment. That means they are conscious about things they do. Graduates turn out to be professionals and conscious about what they do. They know how to put on the market their profession. Their focus is familiarizing themselves with ways of making money.
Unlike in the past, they no longer simply say "I am a graduate please hire me!" Honestly speaking, graduates who get employed will not achieve the intended target in life. They have to run their own business. In reality, the government cannot offer a job for everyone. If one trains students and presents them with the required materials, create the opportunities, meet loan facilities, and other related aspects nothing shall be impossible. At this moment in time, the whole thing concerning TVET is hugely changed.
How do you describe your contribution on higher learning institutions expansion work?
At the outset, in the past, there were only two universities across the country. I would say, the late prime minster Melese Zenawi and W/ro Genet had played a major role in the expansion of the higher learning intuitions of the country. The thing was, once we were invited to partake in a certain meeting. We discussed everything cornering the expansion of higher learning institutions across the country. The premier was ambitious. He was dreaming to see a lot of higher learning institutions across the country. A lot had been discussed pertaining to the way forward. At some point in the concluding speech the premier said, "I am not going to entertain any more questions. The MoE should do a miracle regarding the expansion of higher learning institutions across the country. We expect much from you. Make history within the shortest time possible. We are on your side."
Then after Meles left the meeting hall. We kept on discussing what we had to do concerning the assignment he gave us. We made up our mind to do something to make his dream become a reality. Almost immediately, the government allocated budget. Therefore, we started training professionals in various fields of studies.
Everything was at our doorstep. Gradually, we actualized our dreams. Currently, everyone is happy to work in different parts of the country.
What about the trend in the past?
In the past, most people do not want to work in various parts of the country except in Addis Ababa. Nobody wanted to leave the comfort zone of Addis Ababa. They did not have a ounce of interest to live out of the capital. The situation was really heart-rending.
At the moment, all happily would like to work in various parts of the country as different development activities are afoot in different parts of the country.
What problem did you face in the expansion of universities?
At first, bringing into life higher learning institutions is very expensive. It requires dormitories, cafes, foods, medication, among others. By the way, what matter is not having adequate teachers in the profession or intellectuals having a degree, MA or PhD. What matter is their teaching styles and tehcniques. We have carried out a lot of workshops in this regard. We were busy producing management teams for the different universities. Honestly speaking, it was only Addis Ababa University that had the sole board members . But at the moment, such boards are present everywhere. The government has played a great role along this line.
They properly exercise their power and do everything as they wish. At this point, universities generate fund on their own.
How did you get the chance of learning... .?
To begin with, I attended school at Ecelestial School. After that, I was made to serve in a church. One fine day, something unexpected came to pass. I had a shepherd friend. While I was playing with him, from a distance I saw a flapping flag. We did not have any idea about the flag. We could not understand what the flag was all about. At a loss what to do, we reached into a conclusion to go and discover the reality on the ground. When we reached there, the flag was hovering high.
We made an effort to touch the flag. But all our efforts went for nothing. In due course, we began hunting for somebody who would put in plain words more about the flag. When we looked around, we saw a range of classrooms. In fear and trembling, we came within reach of them. As it happened we heard a whisper in a certain classroom. We kept on listening with full concentration. As ill-luck would have it, the school director caught us red-handed and asked us what we were doing there. We answered everything in black and white. At that point, parents who did not send their children to school were penalized.
"By the way, do you know how to read and write?" asked the director. I told him everything in black and white. Priority was given to a governor's child. As my dad was a governor of a certain area, I enjoyed a better chance to go to school. I started school in this way and managed to reach where I am today.