By Yohannes B
Questions Raised Over Blame Amidst Challenging Circumstances
The recent report presented by Dr. Berhanu Nega, the Ethiopian Minister of Education, to the House of People’s Representatives regarding the results of the Ethiopian School Leaving Exam has sparked a wave of controversy and raised important questions about the state of the education system in the country.
In his report, Dr. Berhanu Nega highlighted a strikingly low pass rate of 3.2%, which could be described as a “national tragedy.” While acknowledging the need for reform, the report seemed to place significant blame on teachers and students, a move that has been met with skepticism and criticism.
Challenging Circumstances: Conflict and COVID-19
To fully understand the context surrounding this year’s exam results, it’s crucial to consider the challenging circumstances students have faced over the past few years. The nation has been grappling with conflicts in various regions, rendering the task of teaching and learning exceptionally difficult. Many students experienced disrupted education, with one month of school followed by another month out of school due to these conflicts. Schools have been bombed, and students have had to navigate dangerous situations just to attend classes.
Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic added another layer of complexity. Students who sat for the exam this year effectively passed from grade 9 to 10 without completing the usual curriculum. They began their tenth-grade studies late in the academic year, leaving them with limited time for proper preparation. On the day of the final exam, many students were transported in vehicles intended for logistical purposes, often with heavy military presence as escorts. The conditions under which these students had to take the exam were far from ideal, particularly in conflict-affected regions.
On the Exam Day
On the day of the Ethiopian School Leaving Exam, a multitude of challenges and harrowing experiences confronted students as they embarked on a journey to their exam centers. The conditions under which they were transported were far from ordinary, and the psychological toll was immense.
For many students residing in various regions of Ethiopia, the journey to their respective exam centers was an arduous one. Due to the conflict and insecurity that had plagued several areas, students often had to be transported from remote villages and towns. In numerous instances, they were loaded onto lorries, a mode of transportation typically used for logistical purposes, rather than safe and comfortable travel.
Adding to the already stressful environment, military convoys accompanied some of these lorries. The presence of heavily armed soldiers contributed to an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. It is worth noting that students, who should have been focused solely on their exams, found themselves in an environment filled with tension and uncertainty.
Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking aspects of this ordeal was the reluctance of some parents to send their children to the exam centers. Understandably, given the perilous circumstances, parents grappled with the agonizing decision of whether to allow their children to take the exam. Some were left with no choice but to send their sons and daughters off, their hearts heavy with worry and anxiety.
In the face of such extraordinary challenges, students had to summon immense courage and resilience. They knew that their very journey to the exam hall was fraught with peril. Tragically, some students lost their lives while attempting to reach the exam centers. These untimely deaths serve as a stark reminder of the gravity of the situation and the sacrifices made in the pursuit of education.
The psychological toll on these students cannot be overstated. To expect them to perform optimally under such circumstances is a testament to their resilience and determination. The mere act of sitting for an exam in an environment filled with fear and uncertainty is psychologically challenging, and it is a testament to the strength of these young individuals.
Gender Disparity: An Alarming Concern
One of the most concerning aspects of the report is the significant gender disparity among the successful candidates. Out of the 26,000 students who managed to pass, only about 8,000 were girls. This is despite the fact that almost an equal number of male and female students sat for the exam. This glaring gender imbalance raises important questions about the accessibility and inclusivity of the education system for girls in Ethiopia.
Experts’ Evaluation: A Question of Exam Content
It’s worth noting that experts who evaluated the exam raised concerns that many of the questions were drawn from grade 9 and 10, even though students from these cohorts had faced significant disruptions in their education due to the pandemic and conflicts. This calls into question the fairness of the exam and whether it accurately assessed students’ knowledge and abilities, considering the unprecedented challenges they had encountered.
Conclusion: The Need for Nuanced Reform
While there is a consensus that the Ethiopian education system requires comprehensive reform, the tone and focus of the Minister’s report have been widely criticized. It’s essential to support the students who have endured immense challenges over the past few years rather than undermining their morale and ambitions. Rather than questioning their abilities, the focus should be on providing them with the necessary resources and opportunities to succeed.
The journey to the exam centers on that fateful day was fraught with physical and psychological challenges that no student should ever have to endure. The stories of their determination and bravery in the face of adversity serve as a stark reminder of the importance of providing a safe and conducive environment for education. These students, despite the odds stacked against them, continue to inspire us with their unwavering commitment to their future and their education.
The controversy surrounding this report highlights the urgent need for a more comprehensive and context-sensitive approach to addressing the challenges facing the Ethiopian education system. It is only through a nuanced understanding of these challenges that effective reforms can be implemented to benefit both students and the nation as a whole.
The Ethiopian Ministry of Education, along with stakeholders in education, must come together to address these issues collaboratively. In doing so, they can ensure that the education system is not only equitable but also resilient in the face of future challenges. It’s time to move beyond assigning blame and work toward building a brighter educational future for Ethiopia’s youth.
For the Minister and how he reported the results, many have noted a lack of sensitivity, caution, and a dismissive tone.