Suggested practical ways forward on the education system in Tigray
Gebreselasie Gebretsadik (M.A) 11 October 2020, Melbourne, Australia
It is heartbreaking to note that Tigray is reliant on traditional ways to tackle desert locust in the 21st century. This instance shows Tigray has a long way to go in terms of tackling such issues using homegrown techniques and technology. Tigray has relevant educational and government institutions, namely Universities, Tigray Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), and Tigray Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development (BOARD). These institutions have been there for a long time. While Mekelle University is over a quarter of a century old, BOARD and TARI have been there for much longer. Besides, Mekele University has got several relevant colleges and institutes, namely, College of Dryland Agriculture and Natural Resources Management, Institute of Geo-Information and Earth Observation, and Ethiopian Institute of Technology - Mekelle (EiT-M). However, apparently, there is no technological capability, and the region is still reliant on traditional techniques. The inability of these institutions to innovatively prepare to the looming danger of desert locust is a reflection on the education system. A country’s technological advancement and economic development is normally spearheaded by the educational institutions and the educated section of its population. However, this is not the case because the education system is highly theoretical with no linkages to practice and hence does not encourage analytical and innovative thinking. The education system is suffering from quality of teaching & learning and research, as well as attitudinal issues.
Understandably, there are several factors besides the education system ranging from lack of financial resources, to limitations in technological capacity etc. However, the root cause to the problem is lack of innovative thinking among the educated section that resulted from the education system. The main issues with the education system include the teaching and learning being theoretical with little or no linkages to practice, the focus and practice of research being on academic research with particular emphasis on methodology and meeting study requirements, and attitudinal issues on the essence of education and taking educational qualification as a title and an end.
I strongly believe an improvement in the education system will promote innovative thinking, which makes technological invention and innovation possible. Hence, the education system needs an urgent overhaul to this effect. Understandably, this needs detailed research and entails huge logistical and financial requirements. Meanwhile, there are some practical steps that need to be taken as soon as practicable. These include the teaching/learning to be linked to practice as much as possible and research to be practice oriented and rectifying the attitudinal issues on the essence and purpose of education. Pending detailed scientific research, below are suggested practical ways forward on the education system in Tigray, namely the teaching/learning and research, as well as attitudinal issues on the essence and purpose of education.
Apparently, the education system especially at university level is entirely theoretical with little or no linkages to practice. As a result, students come out of the universities by knowing jargons of their respective fields of study and are unable to link it to practice at the work places as well as their personal lives at least for the first few years. For example, a graduate of mechanical engineer is unable to do simple mechanical work at least immediately after graduation. Similarly, a horticulture graduate may not be able to grow vegetables or even identify some of the vegetables.
This is because the education system is highly theoretical with truly little or no practical exercises or demonstrations. Understandably, the issue has to do with logistical constraints as the universities are relatively young. However, in general terms there are not many attempts to link it to practice. As a result, in extreme cases industrial engineering students complete their study without any practical experience of an engine or visit to a factory. Similarly, students of crop science might not do any practical field level experiences. Besides, University teachers do not put their technical knowledge in practice. For example, a mechanical engineering teacher does not have a mechanical workshop, a crop scientist a crop farm, an animal scientist animal farm, and a dairy scientist a dairy farm, and hence they are unable to support their teaching with practical examples or demonstrate theory in practice.
Universities are meant to support the region’s development through the production of job ready (job creators) and innovative workforce. Hence, teaching/learning should be dynamic and higher institutions should do as follows to make it more linked to practice (the list is not exhaustive, nor research based)
· revise/develop qualifications based on the prevailing market demand.
· re-design/adjust courses to fit to the local realities e.g. courses on soil, crop etc. should be based on the study of local soil and indigenous crops.
· use interactive teaching techniques such as group works, role plays, audio-visual materials etc. as appropriate; and
· include experiments, field exercises, visits, and internship/practicum as appropriate in each course.
The need for such changes in the higher education system is an apparent necessity and is crucial in supporting the region’s development policies and programs. It is believed to promote innovative entrepreneurship among the educated section of society, which is not the case currently. It enables them to take a leading role in entrepreneurial activities and play a pivotal role in realizing the region’s development policies and programs. In other words, it will enable the educated section of society to use their knowledge and skills in business and manufacturing activities, which is crucial for the overall development of the region.
Notwithstanding the number and quality of academic research papers produced by the Universities, the focus and practice have been and currently is on academic research with particular emphasis on methodology and meeting requirements. Although I cannot substantiate my point with factual data, despite the high standard academic research papers, the vast majority are junk ones written to fulfill the requirements of the study program. This being the case, the extent to which the high-level academic research papers are put into practice is another issue.
Universities are meant to contribute to the region’s development by solving practical social and economic problems of society and support the development policies and programs. The suggested way forward is for the higher educational institutions is to focus on practice-oriented research and be able to contribute to improvements in current practices as well as the level of productivity in all sectors of the economy.
Academic research focuses on the application of scientific method to investigate any relationships amongst natural phenomena or to solve a technical/medical problem. On the other hand, in practice-oriented research, the research goal comes from professional practice and the knowledge created in the research contributes directly to the professional practice. It involves inquiry into the methods, systems, programs, and policies of professional practice. Hence, besides academic research, the higher educational institutions should be able to contribute to improved productivity, technology, and practices through practice-oriented research.
Practice oriented research could be conducted by groups of students, which is good for the following reasons:
§ appropriate against the high number of students per class, i.e. ensures better follow-up and marking of student research papers,
§ more practical and contributes to improved practices and productivity,
§ promotes better learning than individual research work,
§ it is authentic and closes room for plagiarism, and
§ promotes collaborative research between departments for example agriculture and mechanical engineering, accounting, management and IT, etc.
Examples of areas of practice-oriented research include:
ü A Faculty of Business and Economics could contribute to improved management practices of city councils (kifle ketemas), regional bureaus or offices. For example, four students each from accounting, management and IT departments could document the current financial, human and material resources management, and IT practices of a kifleketema, bureau or office, and recommend improved practices, thereby support the development policies and programs of the region,
ü A group of students from accounting and management departments could undertake comparative analysis on the bid practices of bureaus and office, such as the least price bidder versus quality approaches and forwarded practical recommendations,
ü A group of students from a Faculty of Agriculture could research on the current production inputs (seeds, fertilizers etc.) and farming systems (tools and implements) and take productivity of individual crops or vegetables a step forward,
ü A group of students from Mechanical Engineering Faculty could complement the efforts of the Faculty of Agriculture by researching on the farming implements and innovatively improving them or inventing new ones. A typical example to this situation is the ox plough technology, which has reportedly been invented a couple of millennia ago that remains unchanged. This is a practice of tillage and cultivation of crops with animal drawn implements, the main part being the ploughshare ‘mahresha’. A small improvement, for example doubling the ploughshare could have halved the time required to cultivate a given plot of land.
ü A group of students from a Civil Engineering Faculty could research on the current practices on existing road and building designs etc., identify gaps and suggest ways for improved and efficient alternatives,
ü A group of students from a Veterinary College could research for example on the itch disease of horses (do not know its scientific term) and alleviate their suffering. The Mechanical Engineering Faculty may complement the effort by innovatively improving the horse carts etc.
Last, but not least, redressing the attitudinal issues on the meaning of education and educational qualification is equally important in making the change a reality. The essence of education is behavioral change in terms of integrity, honesty, compassion, being ethical, punctual, etc. Education is not only about scoring grades or graduating with distinction but developing personal and professional integrity as well as being able to think analytically and innovatively. However, education is construed as scoring good grades, being fluent in the English language, and theorizing with peers. Good grades or graduating with distinction means nothing unless the individual develops personal and professional integrity and is able to think analytically and innovatively; English is just a language; and being able to discuss theories is not far from being an indication of one’s ability to memorize information.
In a related issue, Ph. D qualification is considered by many as a title and an end by itself with no contribution to solving practical social and economic problems of society. In more cases than not, people go for Ph. D. study for the title (the prefix Doctor) and in most cases they no longer engaged in practical research after completing their study. In sum, the height of one’s capability to contribute in solving practical social and economic problems of society is being wasted in vain, mainly for lack of innovativeness and not being practice oriented that results from the education system and related attitudinal issues.
§ As the essence of education is behavioral change, the personnel in the higher educational institutions should demonstrate behavioral change in terms of professional and personal integrity, and take the lead in bringing about social change and development,
§ Lack of personal and professional integrity has been a major issue with the educated section. Personal and professional integrity is very important and the more one is educated he/she should be more ethical, honest, respectful, a person of integrity, use his/her knowledge responsibly and productively, etc., and contribute to solving practical social and economic problems of society,
§ The higher educational institutions should be the agents of change by focusing on solving practical problems in all fields of study through research whereby they become centers of innovative thinking and play a pivotal role in societal change and economic development of the region,
§ In this connection, it should be noted that a Ph. D degree is an indicator of one’s academic level and the expectation thereof in contributing to solving practical social and economic problems of society. Hence, it should be one’s performance in solving practical social and economic problems of society that should warrant being called a doctor, not just holding the qualification. For example, a Ph. D holder in agriculture should be called a doctor if he researches and takes the productivity of potato, tomato etc. from X to Y kilograms per hectare, or a mechanical engineer halves the time to cultivate a given land, etc.
§ In sum, we need to develop a culture that views education in terms of personal and professional integrity, ability to think analytically and innovatively, and ability to contribute to practical social and economic problems of society.
Contributor: Gebreselasie Gebretsadik (M.A)
Gebreselasie is an Australian of Ethiopian origin. He holds B. A. in Sociology from Addis Ababa University and M. A. in Social Change and Development from the University of Wollongong in Australia. He went to Australia as a skilled immigrant at the end of 2006 and has been living and working there ever since. He worked in different capacities with community services agencies and taught in tertiary colleges in Australia. He has also worked in the capacity of Economic Security Delegate for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Pakistan and South Sudan, as well as in the capacity of Advisor for Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in the latter.
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