Ethiopia: City Forums - Bringing Together Culture and Innovation

A huge coffee set with 547 coffee cups is seen at the entrance of the Jimma University stadium, where the 1st round City Forum was held recently at the largest city in south-western Ethiopia, special zone of the Oromia State.

Inside the tents that were setup to host the event, there are even more cultural and traditional reflections of the Oromo culture. Starting from cultural foods, drinks to music, cultural dressings, ornaments and different innovations, the place is crowded with thousands of attendees drawn from over 130 cities, including six neighboring cities.

Berke Tadesse, owner of a cultural restaurant at Nekemte City located at East Wollega Zone of Oromia State is one of the participants who were busy promoting Nekemte's cultural foods and drinks for attendees. The delicious fiber rich Oromo's cultural meals includes chechebsa, enchoti, merka, chembo, itttitu among others which are commonly made with bread, butter and meat according to Berke.

Cultural drinks such farso, bukuri, araqee and bokana were also presented for visitors at the event. Breke said: "Forums like this help to promote the culture and traditional assets and heritages of the people as well as strengthening the city to city relationships to share experience and learn from each other."

Aman Weyu is from Shashamane, a city found in west Arisi Zone of Oromia State. He and his friends have presented the image of Shashamane through art that has attracted many visitors at the event. Their work includes a sculptured and decorated women and men that show cultural dresses and attires of the Shashamane people. Oromo cultural clothing and ornaments and a stick called sike were portrayed in the sculptured art work. According to Aman, Shashamane was founded some 103 years ago and many people do not know the history that Shashamane was named after a famous grocery owner called Shashe. Shashamane means 'Shashae's place' and it was the famous place that people used to meet and greet at the time where there was no means of telephone or technology, he said.

Oromo culutre display in the Forum

Various innovation works were also part of the show that has reflected the encouraging activities of the youth engaged in innovation and entrepreneurship activities. Most innovative works, include machines and technologies that are used for coffee processing such as coffee collecting and washing simple machines and technologies by innovators from the different cities.

Inspiring and innovative works were awarded and model cities were praised at the five days forum.

Aweke Grima won first place for his innovative work 'Helicopter' at the innovation competition held alongside the forum. He used waste materials and additional electrical equipment to build the flying machine which he attempted to fly at the event attracting the attentions of many.

Accompanied by panel discussions, workshops and research presentations by scholars from Jimma University, the forum saw active participation of the public, while the networking and experience sharing stage enabled participants to express their opinions and reflections on the Oromia Urban Development and Housing Bureau's work on urban development, investments, job creation and housing.

Mayors and researchers discussed with the public on challenges, developments and opportunities of the Bureau's future urban programs and initiatives with effort to ensure the beneficiary of the youth and residents in making cities clean and green.

According to Dr. Girma Amente, Head of the Bureau, the biennial city forums is not enough for a country like Ethiopia with many developing cities. "The decision made to prepare forums is necessary to bring out small cities at a grassroots level for further urban developmental transformation."

"The forum was successful in bringing out and promoting all cultures in one, and creating opportunity for business and tourism ties between cities. It was also successful in encouraging innovative works, which shows vibrant participation of the youth and public," Dr. Girma added.


Education sector on the move

Though Ethiopia's education sector has been challenged by problems related to quality and accessibility, the country has made commendable effort during the past decade and plus years to ensure quality education at all levels. The government has implemented viable educational programs and strategies that have been evidently successful in enhancing the quality and accessibility of education in the country.

Ethiopia has registered admirable progress in the education sector and the total number of students enrolled in the primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education has grown from 10 million decade ago to over 25 million today. The country has also been able to maintain the achievement in the education sector. According to Global Partnership for Ethiopia, the number of grade 4 students achieving basic proficiency in all subjects has increased from 505,000 in 2011 to 792 thousand in 2015.

At the training and workshop session Ministry of Education recently hosted in Adama City of Oromia State, three papers were presented on the performance of Higher Education and its prospects, the performance, challenges and plan of the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), and the performance of General Education.

Presenting the paper on the national performance of the General Education, School Reform Program Director with the Ministry, Yohannes Wegaso said that the pre-primary education enrollment rate has showed significant increment and the number of students attending schools have sky rocketed from 4.2 percent in 2001 to 44.4 percent in the 2016/17 fiscal year.

Similarly, the gross enrollment rate of primary education (1-8) surged from 90.7percent in 2007/8 to 107.5 percent in 2015/16. On the other hand, the secondary education gross enrollment rate increased from 38.1percent to 45.7 percent in the aforementioned period.

Concerning Special Needs education, the gross enrollment rate of the primary education has reached to 4.0 percent, and 9,011 students attended class in the 2015/16 fiscal year.

According to the Director, quality education, administrational capacity building, higher education, TVET, improving inner skill, fair general education delivery, and adult's alternate education are the main priorities of the fifth educational development program. Ministry of Education designed the programs in such a way that it comprises sub-programs and strategies that has enabled to attain success during the past years.

The meticulous intervention to enhance the capacity of teachers, and the learning-teaching process as well as to improve school administration program is widely regarded as the major contributor for the success that has been gained in the general education. Equally, the government's move to improve teacher's salary and the in-job trainings and other capacity building programs that has been offered for teachers has also contributed to the success.

Furthermore, the trainings that are offered to science, mathematics and mother tongue language teachers were among the major factors for the accomplishment.

On the other hand, Yohannes noted that the poorly organized gender- inclusive pedagogy and inclusive education capacity building trainings for school managements and shortage of educational trainings framework for pre-primary education officials are mentioned by the research papers as the sector's major gaps. In addition, gaps in the timely implementation of the recruitment, assignment and leveling manual of school leaders are witnessed in the teachers' development program.

Regarding quality education improvement program, 172, 453 teachers sit for exams in the 2016/17 fiscal year to obtain school administration licenses from Ministry of Education. Again, the Ministry was able to fully achieve its goal for school inspections and distributed the result for all concerned bodies.

In the case of the four emerging States; namely Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambela and Ethiopian-Somali, over four million students attended the first and second levels of education. In line with the policy of supporting emerging states, the Ministry has allocated four special supporting professionals in the respective States. Similarly, the Ministry is supporting about 120 educational institutions in the aforementioned States and revising the strategy of farmer's education.

The Director pointed out that lack of qualified teachers in pre-primary education, the gaps to meet the general school inspection standard as well as low performance in issuing license for teachers in school administration, and low grade students are the issues the research papers identified as the drawbacks of general education.

One of the core issues that were raised by participants was the problem witnessed in assigning appropriate officials at the right position. They claimed that some of the appointment of officials in administration positions did not take merit in to account, and this has caused challenges in the sector.

The participants also argued that university students should be placed in their field of interest; and called on the placement to take in to consideration the students' choice to better results.

The Ministry identified the education sector's major problems, and those that rose during the discussion, and make consolidated efforts to ensure quality education whilst expanding accessibility in years to come, Yohannes stated.

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