Thursday, May 30, 2024
HomeOpinionProfessor Berhanu Nega Almost Saved Ethiopia and Then He Changed His Mind

Professor Berhanu Nega Almost Saved Ethiopia and Then He Changed His Mind

Education _ Ethiopia _ Grade 12 result _ Berhanu Nega
Berhanu Nega (PhD), Minister for Education (Photo : SM/File)

Yonas Biru, PhD

Tribalism is primitive and degenerative by nature. It brings savagery out of perfectly fine human beings. That much has been recorded throughout human history. Professor Berhanu Nega’s contribution to human development is providing evidence that tribalism stupidifies and ደነዝifies.

In 2022, nearly 900,000 Ethiopian high school students took college entrance standardized tests and only 3.3 percent got a passing grade of 50/100 or better and qualified to enter college as freshmen. In other words, 96.7 percent failed. What has not been reported is what percent of the students got a grade of “F”. Mind you the passing grade is 50/100. In most universities 50/100 is at best the bottom floor for a grade of “C” or at worst a “D”.

In the past, each tribal land was allowing students to cheat or even providing them with cheat sheets including answers to the tests to help them enter college that is financed by the federal government. The problem was so rampant that three days before the test, the government had to cut connections to the internet throughout the nation to mitigate sharing of the cheat sheets. 

In 2022, the new minister of education (Professor Berhanu Nega) made it difficult to cheat and the results bore witness to the systemic stupidification and ደነዝfication of the entire next generation.

As dismal as it is, the 3.3 percent passing rate is not the most important story. The most important stories are in the details. Ethiopians need to see two separate detailed reports by region.

1.  Regional test results, showing what present of the students got A, B, C, D and F before 2022 and in 2022.

2.  Percent of students who passed the standardized tests year by year before 2022 next to the 2022 results.

In my mind the only way this level of the stupidification and ደነዝification of the entire next generation can be explained is by the primitive and degenerative inherent nature of tribal politics. We need detailed data to show this. I would venture to predict two outcomes:

  1. Regions where tribal extremism ran rampant will fall near the bottom of the totem pole in the first data set.

2.   Regions where tribal extremism is normalized will register proportionally less students in the 3.3 percent passing cohort in the 2022 results.

If Professor Berhanu Nega makes this information public, the parents of the next generation students will speak up and save their children from the vagaries of tribal politics.

Laundering the Failed Educational System with Political ፀበል

The problem Ethiopia has is that the universities and colleges have capacity to accommodate 130,000 incoming freshmen. If only the students who passed their exams are accepted, there will be 100,000 empty seats.

Considering the capacity of existing universities, the solution Professor Berhanu suggests is accept 130,000 students into two groups. The nearly 30,000 students who scored a grade of “50/100” or above will enter college as freshmen. The remaining 100,000 or so will be expected to take college-level remedial courses for a year and those who passed will start as freshmen next year. There are so many problems with this.

  1. Many of those who passed with the minimum 50/100 or close to it need remedial courses.
  2. As to those who got below 50/100 possible including those who possibly got grades of D or even worse, accepting them into college in any form is rewarding miserably failed students.
  3. Those in the pipeline (currently in high school) will not perform any better next year and the year after and the year after that. Assuming the problem is deeply rooted and affects elementary schools, we cannot assume the problem can be fixed in the next 10 to 12 years.
  4. The problem with poor pre-college education is attributable to poor education by regional governments. Is the federal government expected to finance five years of college education for the coming 10 to 12 years, incorporating a remedial year just to fill empty seats with failed students?

How can a nation that is governed with such policy of sustaining a failed system of tribal politics expected to develop? If there is a need for remedial courses, let the regions who screwed up the students pay for it and let the students retake college entrance examination next year. For now, the best solution is to close some of the low performing colleges and universities and focus on the 30,000 who passed their exams.

The recommended remedy to fill empty seats with failed students is a political decision to conceal the systemic stupidification and ደነዝfication of the entire next generation.

Put in the vernacular, trying to remedy a totally failed pre-college education with a one-year remedial college program is no better than putting lipsticks on the proverbial pig. Tribalism with lipsticks still remains primitively degenerative. All else is a cruel satirization of an already satirized generation. 


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  1. wonderful words: “systemic stupidification and ደነዝfication of the entire next generation”. That is what ethnics poletics does to this generation. The Meles regime even systematically blocked the old generation from teaching in universities with the pretext of low GPA of first degree and saturared the universities with cadres and results in poor qulity education.

  2. Emperor Haile Selassie looks down with sadness, and with a melancholic smile utters the following from up above: “ironically, the hot headed Marxist’s Leninists used education and illiteracy as their motto for their bloodiest revolution”.

    The Government of Ethiopia under Emperor Haile Selaasie took the baton of modernization of the nation and education of the youth from Emperor Menilik and continued the march forward. His government post Fascist Italy’s invasion had virtually no trained workforce except for a handful of dedicated and well educated Ethiopians- the likes of PM Aklilu Habtewold.

    In his memoir written in his last days in prison “Aklilu Remembers”, he mentions there were at most 3 Ethiopians with Phds in the government in the mid to late 1940s , post invasion. Emperor Haile Selassie hadto build everything from ground up once again, having lost a significant proportion of the educated Ethiopian workforce he built before the war ( the pre -war intelligentsia) who sadly became victims of fascist massacre. For example,for many years, post war, the late Finance Minister Yilma Deressa , a graduate of the London School of Economics, was the only trained economist Ethiopia had. Oh on a side note, Mr.Yilma Deressa was from a prominent family in Wollega ( in current vernacular “ an Oromo”). So it is kind of funny but at the same sad, to reflect on the depravity of tribal politics with past Ethiopian history clearly and unequivocally showing that the Oromo were not only part of, yes the Imperial Government and Monarchy, but were also members of the distinguished elite. But, I digress.

    Back to the topics of Imperial Ethiopia education. Realizing, the indispensability of an educated workforce, the Emperor and his team, together with the support of mostly the West, especially the USA laid the foundations for most of the high quality education centers in Ethiopia. The footprints of America’s friendship and largesse stand still to the test of time in Gonder University ( then Gonder Medical college), Alemaya/ Haramaya Univeristy (then Alemaya Agricultural college), which was the product of the technical assistance from the USA with collaboration of Oklahama state college.

    From 1950s to 1974, pre Ethiopian revolution, the government of Emperor Haile Selassie built a very carefully designed and rigorous academic program, at the elementary, secondary, and first college level (bachelors degree) program, complimenting with post grad programs on a strictly merit system for the average Ethiopian student, again mainly in the US, with some trained in the UK. These programs produced such figures as Professor Minase Haile, the Surgeon Professor Asrat Woldeyes ( graduate of University of Edinburgh), the famous musicians Mulau Astatke, the composer of the Magic Flutist Dr Ashenafi Kebede ( Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester). even Germame Neway was beneficiary of this system …………

    Criticism of the Imperial Education system by the revolutionaries and derg

    As mentioned earlier, the government of Emperor Haile Selassie crafted a very rigorous, merit based system that produced talented and well educated Ethiopians for building a technocratic work force. By 1974, there were approximately 10,000 college level students (both abroad and in Ethiopia). One huge shortcoming was due to the asymmetric development between rural Ethiopia and urban Ethiopia, most of the high schools and colleges were only found in only the major cities in Ethiopia, with the lion share being concentrated in Addis Ababa.

    The first dilution and decline in the quality of the education system:

    The derg, to prove itself more successful than the Emperor started shift based high school system. You see I was very easy to criticize the Emperor. But when it came to the nitty gritty, of actually building high schools in rural, urban Ethiopia was no easy task.Money is needed. There was none!!!! Teachers were needed. They were becoming victims of the Red Terror. Students were needed, and they were being massacred. The Serb had no option but use the same schools,great public schools of reputation during Emperor’s time Like General Wingate included, were used for the shift system, so derg could claim it produced more Ethiopian graduates than the Emperor did. But these were diluted programs. Still it was a merit based system and though not as rigorous as before, it sill produced a well trained workforce after sifting through tough college years and competition.

    Now enters The Beher Bheresobch era:

    Meles needed to look better than the derg just like derg tried to look better. So even more schools with no rigorous accreditation were hastily given permission to open everywhere with poorly designed curriculum. Most of the funds were already embezzled and misappropriated along ethnic lines. It is like garbage in and garbage out.

    This is what Professor Birhanu Nega has clean up from grounds, up.

    • Print a book as this is not a comment. The curriculum of education in ethiopia is a copy of elsewhere. As a first try of entrance examination, the results have to be analyzed and the solution is to be set for the next year examinees. You throw snowball terrific solution stuffs, saying the problem will be solved in the next 12 years period.

    • Guide or Mentor the student and forward motivational speech. Additionally, let the students feel they are Modern education Generation!
      Good Alert, Good Results!!!
      Thank you!

  3. Yet another thoughtful article by Dr. Yonas on the hot topic of the day before we properly digest the last one- I envy the speed and erudite of the author! This alarming news about the standardized test results indeed goes to show how our tribal politics and the corrupt educational system it created led to the dumbing down of society and generations to come.  

    But I wish Dr. Yonas took some time with the issue and address the problem at a more fundamental level so as to come up with a practical solution to this public scourge (maybe in another article!). The shocking test result is rather a symptom of the rotten educational system, built in the past two decades, that rushed to achieve universal access with a total(criminal!) disregard for quality; and, I am afraid, even this shocking news only revealed the tip of the iceberg.

    Coincidentally, The Economist published in this week’s edition an article about how schools in poor countries, in general, are failing primary students ( The article quoted a recent WB study to show that in ETH fewer than 10% are able to read a short passage by the time they finish primary school! As a matter of fact, we don’t need to “assume the problem is deeply rooted and affects elementary schools”, and I am afraid this problem could not just be “attributable to poor education by regional governments”.

  4. I agree with contents of the article by the same author this time (except the name calling and polemics). In the future, I advice the writer to drop every opportunity to promote himself/herself as ‘smart, learned, accomplished, and above all’, but rather focus on how best to help Ethiopia change fitting the knowledge, experience, and training gained, and chronological age.

    Dr. Berhanu Nega has evolved into the type of mature professional Ethiopia desperately needs, from the years as member of the kid politicians of the 60s and 70s who called themselves ‘progressives, revolutionaries, etc’, best example of which was Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Party, who drove the country to the ground socially and economically. The current political upheaval in different parts of the country, more glaringly in Oromia and Tigrai regions has its roots in those politics of the 60s and 70s. I look for thousands of others like him who could have major positive impact in contemporary Ethiopia; at least I hope.

    Great job, Berhanu Nega. Keep up with the good work, and you would be included in the history books as one of those who made positive contribution to modernize Ethiopia.

  5. How politics destroyed the Ethiopian education sector:

    At the end of Emperor Haile Selassie’s era, in 1974, they were approximately 10,000 college students (0.04% of the Ethiopian population then) at all levels in Ethiopia and abroad. These students were a product of the rigorous and carefully crafted elementary and high school education system of the Imperial era.

    One of the dergs’ constant criticism of what it called “Feudal Ethiopia” , “Imperialist/ capitalist” Ethiopia, was against the education sector, especially the rural vs urban divide, not unique to Ethiopia, arising from the asymmetric growth of rural vs urban Ethiopia.

    To show to the world, it would improve the education system, ( the derg made some remarkable improvements in in increasing elementary education and some high school education access in rural Ethiopia), the derg had to show high school attendance had dramatically increased under Mengistu era.

    Here is the problem. There was not enough money to build high schools of the same quality as Emperor’s time. The derg faced a bottle neck (easy to talk and write negative slogans and march, but nitty gritty was so tough). So it used the shift system where high school education in public schools was divided n two day time shifts and one night time shift. That is essentially tripling the high school enrollment rate from the 1970s through early 1990s.

    QUALITY HAD TO BE SACRIFICED OUT OF NEED (Lack of money ) AND POLITICS ( to show Mengistu did better than Emperor Haile Selassie).

    The derg, however, left the details of the education sector, curriculum to seasoned professionals with some interference from its cadres. These seasoned educators, KEPT THEIR FEET ON THE BRAKE PEDALS. Through what were called ministry exams or simply ministry, they kept quality control by controlling elementary education at the grade 6 ministry exams and grade 8 ministry exams, which were nationalized test required (even from the best private schools of the era), for passing to grade 7 and entering high school ( grade 9 respectively). Then the ESLCE, called commonly matric ( Emperor’s time there was a matriculation exam after grade 12 for college entry) for college entry.

    At this time there were roughly 30,000 to 40,000 college bound students. Assuming a population doubling rate of about 22 years, these figures also indicate some dilution or quality reduction of college education but not much ( extrapolation roughly shows college bound students should have been about 20,000 to 25,000 then).

    Next came the TPLF era. To show Beher Bhereseboch is the panacea for all, to justify gobbling up billions of $$$$ in loans and grants from the global community, TPLF EXPANDED THE COLLEGE BOUND POPULATION MUCH HIGHER WITH REALLY POOR QUALITY!!!!!!! THE POLITICS IS DERG THIS, DERG THAT, WE OPENED COLLEGES HERE, THERE, AND OVER THERE!!!!


    • Correction:

      During the “Emperor’s time”: There were 3 standard exams Nation-wide.

      Grade 6 “ministry exam”.
      Grade 8 “ministry exam”.
      Grade 12 “matric exam” .

      It is not “Mengistu era” that “introduced” them, but adopted them as is.

      In “freshman” college (1st term exam) more “private school” kids (such as “St Joseph”) were kicked out by “Christmas” time..
      ( the main reason being, “teacher-feed” know-how at SH didn’t help when replaced by DIY “self-research” in college life…)


  6. Obbo Berhanu Nega, PhD seems to be doing the best he can to make something out of a jumbled up education system he inherited, a system that has been in disarray since 1974. But this result is only infuriating but also embarrassing. Now that bigot Satoshi Kanazawa is gonna have a field day. He would say ‘I told you so’. Okay, out of an estimated 990,000 student who took the exam 957,000 of them have failed. Now what? Let’s see what this well read capable man has up his sleeves to transform it. This is a national disgrace and all our education expert should come together to come up with a doable remedy. This shameful disaster is not confined to specific regions but it is every where. Bigots have been distracting the youth from its schooling duties. They kept the youth busy at political rallies using it as cannon fodder for their evil objectives. Those of you over there and here among us who have been helping in this cursed scheme, shame on you. You left him/her with this utter failure that will leave him ashamed and dejected. You knew this is gonna happen because a student dedicated to his education would a tough cookie for you. Congratulations you conniving smart alecks. You brought a national dilemma upon that country. You have caused mothers and fathers to feel ashamed and devastated at the dreaded news. It is going to take monumental effort to salvage this wasted national treasure. I wish you were not even born.

  7. First, the main-problem in Ethiopia has always been “The Economy Stupid” JC 1992

    No funding to expand education that was started by Menelik II, accelerated by HS I, before the Italian invasion, & continued expansion after the war, due to several reasons Urban education was ahead of the rural education,
    (1) funding shortages
    (2) rural farmers favoring (with quantifiable & “present” ) farm-help from their offspring’s than sending them to an invisible (unknown) result (“future” benefit) of ‘education”. Slowed down education.

    Second, the main-problem since 1994 has been, “Mother-tongue-teaching” debacle !!!

    ” They want to gain power, but they want someone else to die, for them to achieve power…” Abiy Ahmed.
    (“read between the lines”).
    The kids of tomorrow are paying the price (with their life, and future) for the “politicians” to “appear they are doing the right thing”…

    “At the end of the day” , (one generation later) the result shows, the children are worse off as a result, and the “nation” in general..
    It is all a façade!!! (A power grab, agenda) ..

    Here is (portion of) a research out come of these “Mother-tongue-teaching” façade of post 1994- present.


    Mother tongue

    Amharic has traditionally been the Ethiopian lingua franca; there are about 90 different Ethiopian languages or dialects.
    Primary schools taught children in Amharic until 1994, when the government promoted use of ethnic languages as the medium of instruction. Children whose mother tongue is not Amharic are still disadvantaged since they also have to learn Amharic. Amharic shares the Ge’ez script with other Semitic languages such as Tigrinya (Tegrigna), the Gurage languages and related Harari. Afan Oromo is the mother tongue of about a third of Ethiopians and it, together with Wolaytta, Afar, Sidama and Somali, use a Latin script. This can cause interference with learning English because the sounds represented differ from those used in English.[26]

    There are particular difficulties in trying to introduce mother-tongue teaching when the mother tongue is only spoken by a small minority. In North Oromo, there are eleven main ethnic groups with their own languages as well as non-tribal people speaking Amharic. Local languages do share common features but, since language is a marker of identity, no one language could be chosen. Attempts to introduce hybrid languages caused language riots, so the four main ethnic groups were allowed to use their own languages. However, at that time textbooks and teaching materials were only available in Wolaytta and a hybrid language. Some children were still disadvantaged if their mother tongue differed from the local language because they were left with no language that could be used beyond the local area. Children whose mother tongue was insufficiently developed for use in instruction could be taught in Amharic. Parents and children could dislike mother-tongue teaching because the mother tongue could be learned at home while Amharic and English provided work opportunities and access to higher education.

    Practical difficulties included recruiting teachers by ethnic group rather than language ability.
    Consequently, some teachers were expected to teach their ethnic language even if their ability was poor while other teachers, who could speak the ethnic language, were not recruited. Teachers who could speak the local language had no training in its structure or written form. Local languages could lack standardization and their vocabularies might be too limited to cover the curriculum. Lack of dictionaries and grammar books meant that teachers had no guide to the proper use of language and textbooks were the only written material to help students with reading. One solution to these problems has been to allow bilingual instruction and Amharic sections in some schools.[26]


    1) Other than Amharic, all the other languages/dialects are NOT sufficiently DEVELOPED, are spoken only languages with no Alphabets, no grammar, no dictionary, no text books to learn from… etc.

    2) No sufficiently number of trained-teachers available to tech these Ethnic-languages, the ones that speak them only speak them out of hearing in the community, therefore they have limited (surface) knowledge of known & often used words, therefore, cannot possibly teach anyone to be proficient in them, than one could learn them by just hanging out in the community themselves.

    3) Out the 5 languages that were approved,
    (a) most are spoken in fewer population sizes
    (b) students whos ethnic language is other than the 5, are disadvantaged even more by being to learn yet another language which does not have alphabets and nor structured…. yet they still have to learn Amharic which is used by the larger population nation wide as well as in the work environment…
    c) no text books other than in Amharic.

    The idea, or an attempts to “engineer” a “future” multi language society, ignoring fact that only Amharic has all the necessary tools, structures, text books, dictionaries, as well as sufficient trained teachers widely available , and 90% of the population nation wide speaking it, is nothing but a “dying-dream” of a FEW; (“politicians”).
    But, this “dying-dream” (bad-dream) it still killing the future of our young people for the generations to come.

    It will not succeed, (even the engineer itself , TLPF is dead) to expect this “legacy” to thrive is pure fiction amd madness.
    It does not have to be this way, the result is clear, our children are disadvantaged across the board, but these people are blinded with the idea of gaining-power using this baseless idea, and their mantra is “IBG” & “YBG”.
    Very selfish with no concept of nation-building, but nation-breaking!!!

    They say, “It is our time”.
    So, said the Bolsheviks, the NAZI’s, the fascists’…, etc. etc.
    Their Mantra = IBG, YBG, no problem.

    There is only one solution, reverse gear to pre 1974 education format & standard across the Nation; else the current baseless, structureless, & futureless and “hotchpotch” education-plan will bring nothing but total disaster, generation after generation.

    It is time to cut our loses reinstate pre 1974 Education-standard and forge forward decisively!

    Let’s not fail our young people, because of the “venomous idea” some so called “politicians” carry in their head.

    Be well.



  9. Quotes from HIM:

    “A well organized education should not be one which prepares students for a good remuneration alone. It should be one that can help and guide them towards acquiring clear thinking, a fruitful mind, and an elevated spirit.”

    Haile Selassie

    “A good leader… maintains a balance between emotional drive and sound thinking.”

    Haile Selassie

    “In the history of the human race, those periods which later appeared as great have been the periods when the men and the women belonging to them had transcended the differences that divided them and had recognized in their membership in the human race a common bond.”

    Haile Selassie

    Be well.

  10. Professor Birahnu’s work has made a diagnosis of the education sector and identified key elements that need to be digested, confronted and resolved. It is the first and most important step, however uncomfortable,disappointing and discouraging it is to all, required to solve the myriads of problems faced by the nation. A return to meritocracy in every facets of life is needed.

    Policy decisions by government MUST BE DATA DRIVEN. Fifty years of ideology politics have brought nothing for the nation.

    Key questions to ask:
    1) how and where did the EPRDF spend funds that were allocated for education in the past 30 years?
    2) who was responsible for curriculum design at the elementary, secondary levels
    3) what quality controls were used at the regional or killil level in the design of education materials
    4) how was the teaching workforce trained, what was the accreditation process for educators

  11. Thank you Dr. Yonas Biru, for an outstanding & timely article on what is ailing our beloved nation to the core.

    “Professor Berhanu Nega Almost Saved Ethiopia and Then He Changed His Mind”, Dr. Y. Biru

    ” Tribalism is primitive and degenerative by nature. It brings savagery out of perfectly fine human beings. That much has been recorded throughout human history. Professor Berhanu Nega’s contribution to human development is providing evidence that tribalism stupidifies and ደነዝifies.” Dr. Yonas Biru, [ Jan 2023]

    The professor, as a Minister of Education has done what his power allows him to do.

    It is now up to the Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed who has the power & needs to STEP UP & bring this “tribal-experiment ” that brought about this devastating-outcome to our young people & our nation’s future, to a STOP.

    The Prime minster cannot find a better REASON & TIME than this one, to Scrap the Ethnics-based-Constitution as well as the ethnic-based-regions (prison & isolation) once and for all; It has divided and damaged our nations fabric, that healed us together as one family for thousands of years, and it has to be discarded.

    We have a few “weeds” that tried to contaminated the moral & ethical compose our peoples and the quality & clarity of thinking. And now we see the result of the work of these few misguided-cadres of “Poisoned Tribalism” and we need to have the courage to dismantle it and save the future-generation hence our “nation’s future”.

    And this it the TIME!!!
    We NEED to END this, by Removing the Cancer TPLF inserted.
    We need to hit the brake, Change direction, and move-forward-together, before the foundation our forefathers preserved with their sacrifice time & again to pass on a united & one nation, rich in diversity.
    Diversity is a strength.

    Be well.

    • Dear, Mr. Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed.

      By scrapping

      (1) the tribal constitution
      (2) the tribal borders (language prisons)
      (3) bringing Eretria back to unite with its family in the south
      You will be untangling Ethiopia from all its ills and set us all FREE from the venomous-tribalism and colonialism before it that left a DARK-mark between us and our brothers in Eretria, so we become ONE & whole again.

      It is in your hand now!!!
      We are all with you, standing on your side, ready to do what our forefathers did !!!
      Whatever it takes!!!

      Be well.

  12. Dr. Yonas, when and if you get the time, can you generate an article, using your economics background, that gives us a picture of the funding for the education center, if possible by decades, as far back as possible. Basically, we need to have thorough and independent analyses of the funding for the education center of the nation, not politicized or whitewashed by the regime’s cadres.

    In fact, the funding for each sector, transportation, health, telecommunications etc in the budget and how,why and where spent must be made transparent to the public.

    How on earth was it possible for the 1940s and 1950s Ethiopian generation, with less than 3 or 4 PhD Ethiopian public servants, virtually only one Ethiopian finance minister with economics degree, and largely with help of foreign consultants out of necessity able to build from scratch:

    1) Ethiopian Airlines
    2)all the high schools
    3) AA university
    4) Haramaya college
    5) Gonder Medical college
    6) Ethiopian Army
    7) Ethiopian airforce
    8) all the major hospitals
    9) institute of Pasteur
    10) several classic hotels
    11) Anbessa bus line
    12) Ethiopian electric power
    13) Koka dam
    14)Merkato market center
    15) City Hall
    16) 2 Palaces
    17) several monasteries, worship centers
    18) providing the opportunity for the building of Mosques.

    What role did the private sector play in all these??? Maybe it is the destruction of the private sector first by the derg under Communism then the usurpation and dominance by these so called parastatals under TPLF and now under PP, that have resulted in economic decay and collapse, soaring unemployment and rampant inflation.


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