Teachers – In Ethiopia

There are 4 kinds of teachers in Ethiopia.

1st, teachers who care and are skilled teachers.

2nd, teachers who care and lack certain teaching skills.

3rd, teachers who don’t care and aren’t skilled at teaching.

These three types all exist in America.

But, there is a fourth type that is unique to Ethiopia.

Teachers whose skill and care don’t matter because they teach a subject impossible to convey without fluent knowledge of English. Biology or Physics must be taught in a language where terms like respiration and ATP exist. The individual concept may be able to be explained in Afan Oromo but the compilation of an entire subject, built on knowledge learned is not feasible. Besides, they are supposed to be, and most often are taught in English. This is a fundamental, foundational problem. My students are nowhere close to fluent in English. To expect them to learn Chemistry, Physics and Geography in English is laughable.

The idea is the students learn in their local language, in my case Afan Oromo, from 1st to 8th grade. When they reach 9th grade they switch over to English. From 1st to 8th grade they have English class, in theory learning English everyday in preparation for 9th grade. The issue is Primary School teachers do not speak English. There is one exception I have met, my good friend Nezif, but he is a lone exception. I am friends with quite a few Primary School teachers and conversation is all but impossible. The reason being they have only completed 10th grade then go to teachers college for two years. High School teachers have all completed 12th grade and have a 4 year degree. When children are learning English from someone who doesn’t speak English that is a real problem. The students learn vocabulary and have pretty much zero concept of sentence structure. Primary Schools are also much more abundant than Secondary Schools (9th and 10th grade). There are extremely rural Primary Schools, I can’t imagine the quality of English those teachers know, because teachers want to leave those rural areas as fast as possible.

This presents another issue with the Ethiopian school system. My school is as rural as Secondary Schools get. The teachers are by and large my age. They are all educated with 4 year degrees, but from their perspective they want to get out of hillbilly Lalo as fast as possible. They didn’t get an education to work in Lalo, they got it to get out of towns like Lalo.

These are all real problems facing the nation but to be fair I don’t have any good solutions. In theory the students learning in their local language then English makes perfect sense. In practice it doesn’t work. But, it’s impossible in the near future to have primary school teachers know English. The people don’t exist. I walk into a classroom and look at a board with Physics scrawled on it and ask the students if they understand, they chuckle and shout no. The problem facing teachers wanting to leave is a similar problem in America, but there is a starker contrast between towns in Ethiopia.

One thought on “Teachers – In Ethiopia

  1. John, I love reading your messages. You always manage to paint a vivid picture of what your life is like where you are and you talk about that life in such a respectful and interesting way. It seems the dramatic differences kind of echo the dramatic distance from home and family in that your reflections and comparisons are something you learn from each day. When you share those things with us this way, it brings you closer to those of us who love you and want always to follow what you are doing, where you go, who you meet, and how it is affecting you. God bless you and keep you. Love you ………… more, Gram


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