Always Burn Bright: My Memories about the Queen Sheba School Years

Articles and Analysis

Always Burn Bright: My Memories about the Queen Sheba School Years

May 11, 2011

Desta, Asayehgn, Sarlo Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Development Economics, Dominican University of California

It would not be an exaggeration if I admit to you that not a second passes by without my reminiscing to acknowledge the solid educational foundation as well as the ethical and moral values bestowed upon me during my formative years at the Queen Sheba Primary School of Adwa, Tigrai, Ethiopia. Except for some of the teachers who were telling us to revise quietly without teaching us properly, and those teachers who enjoyed using profanity, in retrospect, reflecting on my experience, I would say that most of the teachers of the Queen Sheba Elementary School went beyond their call of duty to carry out their teaching and advising services.

The most dedicated teachers taught the students to integrate successfully various theoretical education methods with experience-based techniques to produce learners who would become well-rounded contributors to the local community. When teaching mathematics, for example, the teachers heavily encouraged us to use the abacus to do the calculations. Some teachers also spent their limited incomes buying the students the local round-shaped bread called ‘hembasha’ so that the students could slice the bread while learning concepts related to one halves, one quarters, one eighths, etc. Though the students were diminishing the limited income of the teachers, the heuristic devices of the teachers motivated the students to master the abstract concepts in mathematics and science. As a result, many of those who graduated from the school have now become renowned mathematicians, scientists, medical doctors, engineers, financial analysts, etc. In the teaching of social studies, in addition to the concepts in a textbook entitled “The Old World, Past and Present,” the teachers heavily used local resources and made the students write short stories to emphasize our yearly field trips and record other encountered weekly events. Though the English teachers were using hyphenated English in pronouncing the words, the readings depended heavily on “Aladdin and the Lamp” and “The Vicar of Wakefield.” These teachers were very caring and passionately dedicated with teaching styles that were very innovative.

In addition to making the students master their academic subjects in very creative ways, the teachers gave additional lessons on weekends to the senior students in order to prepare them for the Grade Eight General Examinations. Relating to cleanliness, the teachers went beyond their duties to encourage students to wash and iron their own clothes. The teachers insisted that we wash our feet every day while we crossed the swiftly running ‘River Asem’ that was located near the school. Another innovative aspect of the Queen Sheba Elementary School was that students were assigned plots of land where they were required to grow organically-sensitive vegetables such as carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes. In addition to giving practical lessons on gardening to the students, I would say that the school gardens also served as demonstration centers for the community.

The most enjoyable aspect of the school was the requirement that students participate in weekly debates, art work, and extra curricular activities. The most thrilling days of our school year were when the entire neighborhood was invited to attend school dramas and debates, or watch the football (soccer) and volleyball competitions of the students and the teachers of the Queen Sheba School against the 10th Army Division team. The most exciting event, however was to see all the parents lining up in the centre of the town around the beginning September and singing farewell to their children as the primary school students left the town of Adwa to pursue their secondary education in cities such as, Makele, Addis Ababa, Harar, or other major cities of Ethiopia.

It was also a special obligation for the former students of the Queen Sheba School to return every summer to Adwa and give back to the school that gave them a solid foundation in their early education. For example, the former students rendered tutorial classes, encouraged the current students of that time to participate in athletics, and to be involved in beautifying their classrooms and athletic fields. In retrospect, I think it might be because of this effective socialization process at the Queen Sheba School in our youth that most of us are disciplined, organized, successful, productive, and internationally renowned in our areas of specialization. In short, subjective as it might be, I wholeheartedly believe that the rock solid foundation that we acquired during the formative years that the Queen Sheba School has produced graduates who are well-known and influential politicians, medical doctors, philosophers, professors, lawyers, engineers, business people, teachers, poets, authors, entertainers etc.

Leaving aside my nostalgia, the Queen Sheba School is now not at all proud to see that only a few alumni have been generous enough to keep in touch with or at times have returned to pay homage to their alma mater. A number of the Queen Sheba graduates have totally forgotten the whereabouts of their former school. As a result, it has made the community heart ache to see that the once renowned “Queen Sheba School” has become insignificant and hardly visible in the academic arena. Because the school has limited qualified teachers, books in disrepair, and no modern library, few students ever pass the 12th grade exam. Also, since the teachers teaching in the vocational school are not adequately trained, the students are not given adequate theoretical and practical training in order to master their professional courses. As result, it is sad to see that only a handful of graduates from the vocational schools have acquired productive jobs. Now, it has become crystal clear that the Queen Sheba School which gave us such a solid foundation is in disarray. The windows and doors of the classrooms are totally shattered. In the once gorgeous library, we find now outdated books, ravaged by termites.

Given this pathetic situation, I don’t want the Queen Sheba School alumni members to despair. Given their energetic potential they can once again rekindle their formative school to return its capability to provide the educational functions and the moral and ethical values of its founding. They can make it prosper once again. To deliver adequately its vital academic discipline, enhance the vocational training programs with experience-based learning and offer marketable skills to its learners, the alumni have an obligation to give back to their formative school. This is more or less like the parable of the fish and the fishing net: “Give someone a fish and he or she will be hungry again the next day. Give him or her a net, and he or she may never be hungry again.” Therefore, with the rebirth of the “Queen Sheba Schools Alumni and Friends – International,” it is my hope that the alumni will have the awareness and the desire to reestablish ties with their school, reconnect with former classmates, share camaraderie and act as ambassadors of our former school. As footnote, I would like to emphasize that while talking is important, listening is vital. As I have observed in a number of meetings, if the alumni were to listen only to themselves, it would be counter productive. Therefore, the alumni can touch the lives of needy ones if they are prepared to appreciate the opinions of and learn from current students, community, faculty, staff members and other stakeholders closely associated with the teaching and learning environment of our educational mother, the Queen Sheba School. To reiterate what I have said repeatedly in my earlier writings, “Paying back to an alma mater is not a charity but a blessing.” However, it is worth underlining that “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending” ( M. Robinson Quotes).

Desta, A. ( 2010). “Do Alumni Have Moral Obligations?”
Robinson, M. “Maria Robinson Quotes,” Retrieved May 10, 2011.

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