Lessons from the recent desert locust infestation incident in Tigray
Gebreselasie Gebretsadik (M.A)
13 December 2019
t is to be noted that the people of Tigray have recently made history by way of united action against a posed danger by desert locust in parts of the region. While the concerted action by the people is highly commendable and signifies the power of unity among Tigreans, it is equally heartbreaking to note that Tigray is reliant on traditional ways to tackle such an issue in the 21st century.
This instance shows, on the one hand, huge potential in united human power that could further be tapped, and the long way that Tigray has to go in terms of tackling such issues using homegrown techniques and technology, on the other. Reportedly, the use of chemicals has negative effects on plants and animals and can only be used in barren areas. I also heard that there are local materials such as ash that is effective in tackling locust. If that is the case, why it is that the educational and government institutions, namely Universities, Tigray Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), and Tigray Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development (BOARD) have not been able to do this? These institutions have been there for a long time. While Mekele University is over a quarter of a century old, the Agriculture Bureau and Research Institute have been there for much longer. Mekele University has got a number of 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 reliant on traditional techniques. The question is why have these institutions not been able to come up with a local solution to such problems?
There is no single answer to the question of lack of invention and innovation by the Universities and Institutes such as Tigray Agricultural Research Institute (TARI). It is the result of a number of factors 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. There are three major issues in the education system, namely 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 that an overhaul of the University level education system in terms of teaching and learning and research practices as well as changes in attitude on the meaning and purpose of education is crucial in bringing about to innovative thinking, which is an impetus for technological invention and innovation. The teaching/learning should be linked to practice and be able to produce innovative labor force, and research should be practice oriented and contribute to solving practical social and economic problem of society and supporting the development policies and programs of the region. Meanwhile, addressing attitudinal issues, namely the meaning and purpose of education, is equally important. Rectifying the attitudinal issues and developing a common understanding on the essence and purpose of education is believed to create a sense of direction and expectations among the academia and the society respectively.
The Education System
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 works at least immediately after graduation. Similarly, a horticulture graduate may not be able to grow vegetables or even identify some of the vegetables in reality.
This is because the education system is highly theoretical with very little or no practical exercises or demonstrations. Understandably, the issue has to do with logistical constraints in the case of the newly established universities. However, there is not much attempts to link it to practice even among the old ones. 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.
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.
Suggested Way Forward
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)
ü revise/develop qualifications based on the prevailing market demand;
ü 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;
ü use interactive teaching techniques such as group works, role plays, audio-visual materials etc. as appropriate; and
ü 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 in the current circumstances in the region.
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:
ü appropriate against the high number of student per class, i.e. ensures better follow-up and marking of student research papers,
ü more practical and contributes to improved practices and productivity,
ü promotes better learning than individual research work,
ü it is authentic and closes room for plagiarism, and
ü 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 still 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, if not more, 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 to develop 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 mainly for the title (the prefix Doctor) and in most cases they are not 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.
Suggested Ways Forward
ü As the essence of education is behavioral change, the personnel in the higher educational institutions are expected to demonstrate behavioral change in terms of professional and personal integrity, and take the lead in bringing about social change and development,
ü Lack of personal and professional integrity has been a major issue with the educated section in Ethiopia. However intelligent one is, without personal and professional integrity, it is not far from being good-for-nothing. Hence, 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,
ü 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,
ü 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.
ü 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.