Education

Mushrooming educational institutions and preserving quality through standardized exams and licensure

Mushrooming educational institutions and preserving quality through standardized exams and licensure

A good friend of mine forwarded the following email. At the entrance gate of a university in South Africa the following message was posted for contemplation:

“Destroying any nation does not require the use of atomic bombs or the use of long-range missiles. ​It only requires lowering the quality of education and allowing cheating in the examinations by the students.​”​

Patients die at the hands of such doctors. Buildings collapse at the hands of such engineers.
Money is lost at the hands of such economists & accountants. Humanity dies at the hands of such religious scholars. Justice is lost at the hands of such judges…”The collapse of education is the collapse of the nation.”​

The rapid increase in the number of educational institutions has been a popular topic of discussions in Ethiopia and Ethiopians in the diaspora. When it comes to the growth and expansion of the national system of education, Ethiopia has already outpaced its previous record. Education is the foundational driver of continuous social, economic and political development. However, as the pace of growth and the number of schools beats previous records, the issue of quality remains largely unresolved. Mushrooming educational institutions do not always meet the growing demand for quality education and continued learning. Licensure and the implementation of standardized examination systems could prove of value to Ethiopia. Ethiopia must procure sufficient financial and infrastructural resources to realize the ideal of quality and affordable education for everyone.

Education is the fundamental pillar of democracy. It is also a critical factor for economic, social and political development. Education paves the way to prosperity. It fosters innovation and creativity. Throughout its history, the developed world struggled to create and maintain advanced systems of education. Meanwhile, most African countries could not satisfy even the most basic needs of citizens. At the beginning of the 21st century, the situation began to change a bit in most of the developing countries, including Ethiopia.

The past decade has seen continuous growth in a number of newly established colleges and universities in Ethiopia. Higher education institutions quickly mushroomed. That being said the numbers compared to the global trend tell a different story. According to George West, higher education enrollment in Africa does not exceed eight percent, as compared with 32 percent globally. In Ethiopia, less than six percent of college-age individuals have enrolled in universities, West stated. Compared to what Ethiopia has in the 1980s and early 1990s, Mushrooming educational institutions promise to open new learning opportunities for young Ethiopians.

The initial results of the mushrooming educational institutions in Ethiopia have been mixed. On the one hand, new educational institutions have accommodated many students compared to the past. It has also geographically distributed the newly established colleges and universities throughout the country.  On the other hand, the quality of education in many of the universities remains substandard. The educational reform launched by the government is too idealistic and ideologically ambitious against the gruesome background of resource scarcity that has been haunting Ethiopia for decades. Girma A. Akalu in his article that was published in 2014 is right in saying that, as the global pressure to expand and diversify education opportunities in Ethiopia increases, the issues facing the country’s system of education become more visible and pronounced. These include but are not limited to a shortage of qualified teachers, poor budgetary allocations, loss of institutional autonomy, and inadequate provision of even the basic resources, Girma stated. George West describes a notorious case when students and faculty of a newly established Ethiopian university had to escape the building as it was collapsing. These cases reveal systemic issues that the newly established educational institutions can hardly resolve.

Licensure and standardized exams could improve some aspects of the quality and effectiveness of educational reforms in Ethiopia. After all, a lack of qualified educational staff is one of the biggest issues facing Ethiopian education. Failure to deliver high-quality learning can have profound implications for all aspects of life in the country. For instance, Sharon Kibwana et al. reveal the drastic state of affairs in Ethiopia’s medical education. The professionalism of faculty and the quality of higher education institutions can be critical for the strategic future of many industries, not only health care. Licensure can ensure that teachers and faculty staff have the knowledge and motivation needed to deliver effective learning to students. Standardized examinations could facilitate the formative and summative assessment of knowledge and learn among students.

Kenya has valuable experience in managing the intricacies of educational reform. In the first decade of the new millennium, new educational facilities kept growing in Kenya, most of them being private and self-funded. As the number of financial resources provided by the government continued to decrease, higher educational institutions in Kenya had to become self-sufficient, Caleb Gudo stated.

The lesson is simple: mushrooming educational institutions can address the growing demand for education in Ethiopia. Licensure and standardized exams can resolve the quality dilemmas surrounding the reform of education in the country. Together, these trends can create optimal conditions for achieving excellence in the system of education. The latter will create a foundation for pursuing ambitious economic, social, and cultural goals.

To conclude, the system of education in Ethiopia is facing competing demands between growth and quality. Higher education institutions keep mushrooming, revealing severe inconsistencies in quality and efficiency. Gaps in resource provision and allocation have become particularly pronounced against the growing number of young Ethiopians who seek university enrollment and hope to improve their socioeconomic status. Licensure and standardized examination could open new opportunities for implementing a broad education reform in Ethiopia.

Ed.’s Note: Samuel Alemu, Esq is a partner at the ILBSG, LLP. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School, University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, and Addis Ababa University. Samuel has been admitted to the bar associations of New York State, United States Tax Court, and the United States Court of International Trade. He can be reached at salemu@gmail.com.

Contributed by Samuel Alemu

Note: released first on Reporter English

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