Tigray, Oromia align vs proposed changes to Ethiopia’s education system. Ministry responds

As changes to the education system in Ethiopia is proposed, Tigray and Oromia regional state seem to view it wearing a radical ethno-nationalist political lens.

Ethiopia Ministry of Education - Ethiopian Universities given warning
Ministry of Education, Ethiopia. Credit: diretube

August 28, 2019

Ethiopia under prime minister Abiy Ahmed, he took over the office of the prime minister in April 2018, was marked by a struggle between a desire for change, as demonstrated in a range of rather nominal reform measures, and a desire to restore the pre-Abiy Ahmed EPRDF governance.

Controversy on the proposed new education road map is the latest case in point.  Months before Hailemariam Desalgne announced his resignation; the ruling coalition – Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) – conducted a series of party evaluative meetings to figure out, as the party said during the time, causes for the prevalence of ethnic-based attacks on university grounds and elsewhere in the country.

The party openly admitted that the focus on ethnic identity and governance at the expense of shared national identity was one of the mistakes the party did.

Reform in the education sector brought about an opportunity to the party to take measures little measure that could significantly influence views of students on shared identity.

As it turns out, proposed education reform which recommended students across the country study Ethiopia’s working language, Amharic (it is also one of the oldest written languages in the world, not just Africa), as a subject matter in schools became a matter over which two members of the ruling coalition, TPLF, and ODP, fight against a federal government body – the ministry of education in this case.  In fact, resistance came from radical Oromo ethno-nationalists quarter outside of government structure too.

Based on DW Amharic report on Monday, the Tigray region rejected the recommendation from the ministry of education to teach students the Federal government’s working language.

The region’s education office head, Bahta Wolde-Michael, said that there is no need to teach Amharic since Amharic and Tigrigna languages use same language script, Geez.

No just that. Tigray also rejected the recommendation that students write the national exam at grade 8, in the proposed 6-2-4 education system. Tigray wants that to be a regional government responsibility as is the case now.

Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), which some political pundits see as an entity maneuvered by radical ethnic-Oromo nationalists, which is currently dominating the Federal government, rejected the recommendations too.

Shimeles Abdissa, president of Oromo regional state and deputy chairman of the party, was more furious in his remark about the proposed education road map. His remark “no negotiation over the Oromo language,” which is currently not the Federal government working language, made it seem like the Federal education ministry’s recommendation for students to take the Federal working language as a subject matter in school as a war on Oromo language.

There are nine ethnic-based Federal regions in Ethiopia’s Federal system and the rest of the regional governments do not seem to see the recommendation to offer Amharic as one subject matter as a war on their language.

In fact, the Somali regional state president, Mustafa Mohammed Omar, is said to have criticized radical ethno-nationalist sentiment against the recommendation teach Amharic as one subject matter in classes.  For him, speaking an additional language is an added advantage, not a liability. And it does not go against one’s own identity.

The rest of the regional states did not express a negative sentiment so far to the Ministry of Education’s recommendation so far.

For those regions who opposed it have also another pretext; the new education road map threatens the Federal system and the constitution.

Federal Ministry of education gave clarification on Monday in what seems to be an effort to address the concerns of those two regions. The ministry said, as reported by Fana Broadcasting Corporation (FBC), teaching a federal government working language in the regional states which were included in the roadmap is only a recommendation, not a compulsory requirement.

Tilaye Gete(Ph.D), the minister for education, said the education road map allows students’ mother tongue as a medium of instruction from grades 1-8.

Teaching the federal working language as a subject matter in schools is also a recommendation which means that the ethnic-based regions are not legally required to do so.

“The Education Road map does in no way demolish the Federal system that Ethiopia is following. It does not have the power to either,” Tilaye Gete is cited as saying by FBC.

For him, the remark from those who oppose the new education road map on grounds that it is similar to the old education system is not accurate either.

Finally, he added that the new education road map can only be implemented if the people of Ethiopia believe in it. 

Quality of education in Ethiopia, including university education, has been criticized, and the proposed change was also intended to address issues in that area.

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