Education Policy & the Politics of Change in Ethiopia



Education provides a fundamental base for all further human, social and economic developments. As such, it is a spine of a given nation. It inspires creativity; foster innovation and inculcates principles and morality in generations and move a country forward in multiple ways. Education shapes the best in us and the best in us dies when the best education dies. Educators are people who took the responsibility of leading human and national development by inculcating the best in the next generations and the best in us will be undermined when educators are undermined. As a guideline that leads the process of human and national development by ensuring the availability and quality of human resources, education policy is among the central policies that deserves critical attention. Successive rulers in Ethiopia have abused education policy as a means of imposing their political ideologies on the public. As such, Ethiopian education policy was excessively influenced by alien political ideologies and failed to respond to the unique challenges in the country so far.


Traditional Education in Ethiopia (Pre-1940s)

The traditional education, for instance, was exclusively designed and propagated by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church where the central subjects were the religious beliefs, values, and practices. However, it also had a secular component that dealt with King`s history and socio-political organization. The traditional education was criticized for its ethiocentric orientation and content. The main goal was to make Ethiopia the Godly country and its people God fearing, and country loving citizen. The spirit of the education system was to produce scholars who is able to serve the Church and, by extension, the country with a sense of dedication to its characteristics and sense of mission. On the other hand, however, some scholars argue this education system did not develop mentality and materials that deals with the true reality in Ethiopia, it has rather tried to glorify the history, customs, languages, and values of certain group while abandoning others. 


The Imperial Education Policy (1941-1974)

In the 1940s, the traditional education system has become too rigid as it stuck to the belief that the heavens and the earth are ruled by God and therefore all the enquiries into the working of the heavenly bodies and the laws of nature were regarded as sinful. Thus, the imperial regime decided to introduce modern education in order to align the country with western development. It was believed that modern education can capture and disseminate what Europe has achieved through a long and gradual process of evolution. The adoption of the Western education system meant an abrupt shift from the ethiocentric religious content of the traditional system to a secular teaching, just as it implied the dissolution of the traditional conservatism by the inculcation of the innovative characteristic of modernity. The imperial education policy was inspired by achieving rapid modernization but failed to update and modernize the traditional system, it rather erased the past practices to implement a new system highly influenced by western tradition. 


The Socialist Education Policy (1975-1991)

In the 1970, the socialist regime, the complete antithesis of the Imperial regime, took power in Ethiopia. The path of scientific socialism was deemed the most appropriate strategy to bring the country out of its backward stage of development and the socialist education stressed the inculcation of ideology as a prime objective with Marxism and the value of production as the main pillars. The fundamental aim of education was to cultivate Marxist-Leninist ideology in the young generation, to develop knowledge in science and technology, and to integrate and coordinate research with production, so as to enable the revolution to move forward and secure productive citizens. New curriculum was designed and the educational policy of the Imperial system, including sector review was simply dismissed as elitist. The overall aim of the radical reform of the content and structure of education was to bring about an early eradication of Elitist system inherited from the Feudo-bourgeois regime and achieving the first phase in democratization of education in Ethiopia.


The EPRDF Education Policy (1994 - 2018)

In the 1990s, EPRDF overthrow the socialist regime and its education policy and formulated a new comprehensive education and training policy. The policy document encompasses overall and specific objectives, implementation strategies, including formal and non-formal education from kindergarten to higher and special education. It emphasized the development of problem solving capacity and culture, focusing on the acquisition of the scientific knowledge and practicum. In addition to providing appropriate infrastructures and technology, the policy devised decentralized, efficient and professionally coordinated participatory system regarding the administration and management of the educational system. However, critics have been made on the relevance of the policy and its implantation efficiency and effectiveness to address the problems identified and the objectives and goals stated to relapse the problems. Despite some achievements in terms of coverage and expansion of education institution, education quality and employment creation remain in a serious crisis. 


Opportunities Missed

The crisis of the education sector in Ethiopia has always been closely related to supply and demand. Quality of education in terms of relevance to the cultural, historical and economic needs of the country has never been given enough consideration in Ethiopia. For instance, the major crisis of the Imperial education system was the problem of employment of secondary school graduates. The education sector review of the 1971/2 were far-sighted and very sound in these regards. However, the socialist regime did not even bother to read the background papers that the education sector review used for its assessment, but the same problem surfaced few years later. In the 1990s a coalition of armed insurgents took power and installed entirely different education system. They virtually dismantled the structures that the earlier systems had thoroughly built up.

The federalist government put emphasize on primary and junior secondary education and introduced cost sharing from senior secondary education upwards which has become a joke among many imperial students that they have been paid to learn while this generation need to pay for education on the reverse. The fact that primary education is left for regional governments and the use of mother tongue has led to the growth of gross enrollment in primary education. However, the quality of education has declined with the steep rise in pupil-teacher and pupil-section ratios. Many argue the decline in quality of education is a natural consequence of unplanned and under-financed expansion of the education sector. Teachers and concerned parents have been complaining about student`s inability to read texts for the last two decades. The government on the other hand has been pursuing the policy of ridiculing these concerns about decline of quality and has been reasoning that the expansion of the education sector by itself is a qualitative input.


Education System Reform: The New Roadmap

Now is the time for another change in Ethiopian politics. It is also the time when many Ethiopians are questioning the status of education in our country. The general public and the government alike are pushing for the revision and improvement of the education policy and practices. That is a very good start but what we need is not an alien ideology that influences our education values, principles, policy and practices anymore. I believe, what we desperately need is an education system that responds to our unique challenges. As a response to that we need to stand up for a new and different education policy and practice in Ethiopia. We need an education system where our students learn not just books but also life, where students learn not just moral principles, but they shall be living examples of moral principles, where they don’t just understand what they learn, but practice what they learn with understanding, where students learn not just about diversity, but how to live with people from diverse backgrounds, where students learn with inspiration even in their desperations, where teachers are seen as a true epitome of education and valued as a treasure, where students understand the real meaning of integrity and responsibility, not just understand, but also reproduce them and where the meaning of education is creativity and not a means of imposing an alien political ideology. I believe that makes our education system the engine of development and move our country forward.

Image result for Education Reform Picture

Ethiopia has tabled a draft roadmap, aimed at reforming the current educational system. The first consultation was held on the newly proposed roadmap, which is part of the ongoing national reform in the country. I believe it is the responsibility of all Ethiopians to collaborate and contribute to this roadmap, the subsequent studies and education policy revision in order to make sure that it addresses our contextual challenges and move our country forward.  



Education is the spine of a nation. The better the education policy and system, the better the nation. A good nation is good because of how education has shaped the perspective and understanding of the populace. A good nation is good because it values those who shape the goods in us. On the other hand, a nation dies when the education system that shapes the good in us dies and those who inculcate principles and innovation in us are undermined. Ethiopia started a massive project of nation building and democratization. This project is too big to predict its direction. And many people are in fact asking, “where are we heading?” and I believe the appropriate answer to that question is within the machine that produces the populace who drive the nation - the education system. Education policy is the engine of change, thus to move our nation on the right direction, we need to fix our education policy, in a way that it responds to our unique and immediate challenges. 


Read 16447 times Last modified on Tuesday, 04 September 2018 07:46

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EAPRI aims to fill the gap between research, policy and practice not only by providing objective policy research that influence policy agenda and choices but also by strengthening capacity in policy evidence utilization and political commitment for its implementation. 

At EAPRI, we believe in the power of critical information in building a brighter future. Our focus is on the opportunities and challenges of attaining the development visions and goals of the nations of East Africa region. Currently having our East African Office located in Addis Ababa, we are collaborating with governmental and non-governmental organizations to provide evidences that influence policy in the region. In Ethiopia, we are currently working on, among others, urban social reconstruction, youth development and employment, dialogue and reconciliation, and rural development and food safety.