OSA: STATEMENT ON THE ATTEMPT TO ALTER THE QUBEE (ALPHABET) OROMO WRITTEN ALPHABET
For Immediate Release
June 9, 2017
The Oromo Studies Association (OSA) believes the Ethiopian government’s decision to rearrange the order of the Qubee Afaan Oromoo which has been in official use for a quarter century is misguided.
On June 3, 2017, the state-owned TV Oromiyaa (TVO) reported that the Oromia regional state, apparently at the behest of the Federal Ministry of Education of Ethiopia, had decided to alter the order of the qubee (alphabet) used in written Afaan Oromoo (the Oromo language). According to the TVO report, the Oromia Education Bureau made the decision over a year ago and introduced a new primary school curriculum in which the order of Qubee Afaan Oromoo was altered. New textbooks were distributed and early grade teachers were trained to implement the curriculum. Surprisingly, this changes were implemented quietly without consultation or input from the public and experts in the field.
The news report also stated that the changes were prompted by a finding of a USAID-funded study, the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA). The study was conducted in 2010 in eight regions and six languages by an American consultancy firm, RTI International. The critical finding of the study that ostensibly occasioned the curricular change was: “by the end of the second grade, a third of students were unable to read at all and about half read at much lower level than the proficiency benchmarked for that grade.”
OSA scholars and experts have scrutinized the EGRA document and several other studies conducted with the support of the USAID-funded Reading for Ethiopia’s Achievement Developed Technical Assistance (READ TA) Project. The EGRA researchers did inquire if the scripts and writing systems used in the various regional states had any differential impact on reading skills. The report found no direct link between the two variables and made no recommendation that altering the order of alphabets would improve early grade reading skills. In fact, the study posits that children learn to read faster in their mother-tongue. Accordingly, the USAID project mentioned above supported mother tongue instruction to improve early grade reading. In light of this, OSA maintains that the Oromia regional state’s attempt to leverage external support to implement its ill-advised scheme is a disgraceful act that should not be allowed to stand.
In addition to the EGRA study, officials of the Oromia Education Bureau and its associated experts offered an additional justification for the alteration of the qubee order. They claimed that a “word frequency test” they administered showed the Oromo language had more words whose first letter is the alphabet “L.” This was offered as the rationale for rearranging the qubee order. That means, early grade students will henceforth learn alphabets begin with L, A, G, M, rather than the customary A, B, C, D. If this were in the US, Big Bird and Barney will have to relearn their A, B, C, D, and their alphabet songs.
OSA members and other experts have run similar tests and found that by far the most frequent word in the Oromo language has “A” as the first letter. In fact, “L” is ranked as 13th in one of the tests, 19th when the letter is followed by the vowel “a” and 42nd when the upper case “L” is used in the test.
Viewed from the technical vantage point, there is no linguistic or pedagogical basis for altering the qubee order. In the absence of any study that shows the qubee alphabet as a drag on reading skills or word frequency test results that shows “L” to be the most frequent occurrence, nothing warrants the Oromia Education Bureau’s decision to change the order of the qubee alphabet and secretly implementing a structural curriculum change. OSA rejects the justifications given by the Oromia regional state officials and the experts as reasons for the ill-conceived scheme.
In fact, the OSA leadership believes that this scheme has a strategic objective. To implement curricular changes that are so radical and disruptive can have no constructive purpose. There is only a political goal to the unjustified changes. Given that the use of the qubee alphabet has gone on for a quarter century, the change to the order of qubee could only create resentment and frustration with the use of the qubee alphabet. OSA believes that tinkering with the Qubee Afaan Oromoo is a slippery slope that shouldn’t be embarked on. It must be opposed.
OSA reaffirms its unflinching support for the use of the Latin alphabet as the sole means of written Afaan Oromoo. The studies that the government has cited as the basis for its action identifies inadequacy of textbooks, reading materials, low student-teacher ratio, truancy and teacher absenteeism as factors for the low level of reading fluency throughout the country. The tried-and-true means for improving reading proficiency is more reading and reading more. The Oromia Education Bureau should focus on what works and turn away from the meaningless proposition to alter the sequence of the Latin alphabet which has almost nothing to do with improving reading fluency.
OSA believes that the decision to change the order of Qubee Afaan Oromoo constitutes violence against the long and bitter struggle Oromo struggle for written Oromo language. In the 1840s, Oromo slaves began to use Latin alphabets to write in the Oromo language. In the 1870s, Emperor Menelik’s conquest precipitated the adoption of the Ge’ez script for written Oromo literature. For the next century, the Oromo language languished under the clutches of the ill-fitting Geez script. The use of the Latin alphabet in Oromo transcription re-emerged later in the 20th century, exactly a century later. It was adopted as the official alphabet of written Afaan Oromoo on November 3, 1991 when over 1,000 Oromo intellectuals assembled in the Ethiopian parliament and made a historic and momentous decision to adopt the Latin alphabet in writing in Afaan Oromoo. In light of this history, the Oromia Education Bureau has a choice to make: either stand with the Oromo struggle for written Afaan Oromoo or take the side of those that seek to continue the violence against written Afaan Oromoo that commenced with Menelik’s conquest.
When qubee was adopted as the sole means of written Afaan Oromo, ABCD was the order of the alphabets. This order is synonymous with the Oromoo qubee. What was adopted in a solemn occasion cannot be undone surreptitiously and in such a nonchalant manner as Oromia officials have done. It is bewildering why the Oromia government officials even contemplated changing by an administrative fiat the sequencing of the Latin alphabet that evolved over several millennia. The order of the qubee alphabets is what unifies the Oromo nation with the rest of the world that uses Latin alphabets. There is no justification for changing this relationship.
Today qubee is the identity of a new generation of Oromo, it is a monument to the triumph of Oromo nationalism, and a symbol of the bitter sacrifice the Oromo have paid to be free from oppression, domination and marginalization. It is engrained in the minds of the new generation of Oromo and entwined with the Oromo struggle for self-determination. A violence against qubee amounts to a violence against the Oromo struggle for freedom and justice and freedom from violence. OSA asserts that the order of the alphabet used in written Afaan Oromoo is sacrosanct. It is inalterable.
|Ezekiel Gebissa||Mekuria Bulcha|
|President, Oromo Studies Association||Chair, OSA Board of Directors|