Pedagogy of Freedom and Curriculum Scandal in Oromia: Reflection
Gizaw Tasissa (PhD)
In a democratic society School curriculum serves to reproduce culture and introduce contemporary knowledge, improve the livelihood of the society and contribute to the development of the nation. This is amicable if the curriculum meets the needs of the learner and society. However, it is unlikely to expect colonial and oppressive system to develop and implement a curriculum that addresses needs of the learner and the society. The so called new primary school curriculum developed by the Ministry of Education of Ethiopia, USID and Oromia Education Bureau in 2014 and gestured to introduce in 2017 appeared with entire repressive politics and unjustified change, and thus scandal. In this article, I will briefly show how this scandal is inflicted and account on features of this intention.
The above authorities made this scandal through oppressive Symbolic representation and altering and omitting Afaan Oromo alphabet. Omitting essential part of the curricula (Oromo alphabet-Qubee) is not a mere error but intentional political and ideological oppression and is in contradiction of the pedagogy of freedom.
According to the operating Ethiopian education policy of 1994, the role of the Federal Ministry of Education is to set national standards like competencies at a given level of education. There is no legal document that authorizes Ministry of Education and other external body to develop and implement primary school curriculum of regional states. Regional Education Bureax are responsible to prepare and implement primary school curriculum, in line with the set international and national standards. But this is controverted by these actors. As it could be noticed from student text and teacher’s guide of this curriculum, the main actors of this curriculum development are the Federal Ministry of Education and USID, where Oromia Education Bureau remained a duct. The Ministry of education and USID are external forces to impose their political and cultural intention through curriculum by the disguise of resourcing the project. By doing so they also dispossessed constitutional right of the regional state and pedagogical rights of the Oromo learners and parents. This is the first scandal and oppressive act.
The second scandal and oppressive act is that the curriculum came up with infringement of principles of basic education, literacy. This is the lapse and change of Afaan Oromo alphabet (Qubee) pattern in grade one. It is organized in a way it creates confusion to the learners, and eventually affect learning other subject in Afaan Oromo. The fact that Oromia Education Bureau is in limbo about the current curriculum that came up with the messing up of Afaan Oromo alphabet signifies that they were alien of what is going on about education in Oromia.
According to Ethiopian education structure and curriculum, students begin learning and identify respective language alphabets at the first lessons of grade one. There is no convincing reason why Afaan Oromo alphabet is omitted or changed from its original pattern in grade one of the current curriculum. Some commissioned educators and main actors (Ministry of Education and USID) refer this to the findings of Ethiopia Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA). However, there is neither tool utilized to test impact of Afaan Oromo alphabet in reading nor recommendation to change Afaan Oromo alphabet in EGRA’s findings, if at all their finding is taken for granted.
It seems that there was no awareness by Oromo scholars and authorities that omission and messing up of Afaan Oromo alphabet was intentional and a systematic approach to stagnate the development of Afaan Oromo as written language, and eventually curb the current national question of Oromo people, Afaan Oromo to be national language. This is a joint international and national investment played by the pedagogy of oppressors, and it is political, not a mere error. From pedagogical point of view, there is no way learners develop reading before identifying letters and phonography of that language.
In this curriculum, omission of Afaan Oromo alphabet in grade 1 seems adopting Western Countries, (eg USA, UK) education system where children start learning alphabets at either private or public preschool provisions, kindergartens, before they are enrolled to primary school. These provisions are abundantly available in these countries. They are in the market by different education providers, depending on the needs of parents and children. However, the case in Ethiopia is different where learners start learning alphabets at grade one. Even though there are few private preschools in some urbans, the curriculum is more of socialization and play activities. They are not expected to master alphabets as a ladder to the next level of education in these settings. If Afaan Oromo alphabet is not taught at preschool level and there is no adequate provision for this and also not taught at grade 1 , it is difficult to imagine where these authorities thought of teaching this; witty and a scandal!
The third scandal is unjustified change of curriculum and wastage of human and financial resource. As pointed out earlier, the actors contend that omission of Afaan Oromo alphabet at grade1 is based on the findings and recommendation of Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) 2014 and is pedagogical. But it is difficult to accept EGRA findings as instrument for curriculum change because they missed decisive factors.
As stated by EGRA, they assessed student’s knowledge of phonological awareness, decoding, fluency, reading comprehension and listening comprehension, and inform this to the stakeholders through discussion and improve it 1. However, firsthand information I have from stakeholders depicts they have no idea about the process and findings of this study. For instance, one said, ‘we heard from the media at the same time you heard’.
Besides linguistic factors, EGRA claims to have assessed factors which contribute to poor readings and comprehension like students’ characteristics, wealth, parents help and availability of reading materials. In such assessment of students learning, students’ security and safety is one of essential and unprecedented factors to be assessed. However, miserably, students’ safety and security either in school or out of school was not taken into consideration in EGRA’s assessment. From 22 items of students’ questionnaire they surveyed, no single question about students’ security and feeling safe in school and out of school environment was addressed. Neglecting this essential factor and assessing subordinate factors means reaching at wrong conclusion, and this undermines the findings and conclusion of EGRA.
Lived history shows that schools and students in Ethiopia have never been in a peaceful situation since 1991. It is beyond the scope of this article to show all the scenario. Leaving aside the last 5 nastiest years of Ethiopia and school situation, I will pick two scenarios among many to substantiate this. The first one is, in February 2009 police shot and killed a 19-year-old student protester, Wendimu Damena, and police shooting that injured a 20-year-old student, Belay Motuma, during the same demonstration. In the same month and year, police shot and killed one student, wounded another in the chest and arrested two more during protests at Gedo Secondary School in West Shawa zone, Oromia.
In late March 2002, school students in several towns in Oromia protested economic and educational policies. Security agents used excessive, sometimes lethal force to quell the demonstrations, resulting in the acknowledged deaths of five school students and the wounding of others. The Oromia State Council admitted having made arrest after the demonstrations. In connection to this, abducting, arresting and killing of students and teachers continued since February of the same year. At least 270 high school students were in jail, five schools were closed on one go of this demonstration. At the same time there are numerous Afaan Oromo teachers imprisoned due to showing empathy to the development of Afaan Oromo and culture. Whereabout of these teachers is not yet known while others are fired from school.
Therefore, it is difficult to expect students to achieve standard reading (the so-called bench mark EGRA and MOE set) level under such circumstances. Students are compelled to go to school in such hostile environment. This is counter to the principle of pedagogy of freedom that stipulates every learner should be assured an environment that is physically and psychologically enabling to their learning and thus conducive to improving the quality of education, in this case the quality of reading. These daunting situations in Oromia schools are unprecedented and must be assessed to reach at pragmatic conclusion and change curriculum depending on the findings. It is unfortunate that EGRA missed this primary factor and assessed subordinate factors which could be biproducts of the primary factor. This factor is unprecedented because learning is a voluntary business that requires physical, mental and emotional readiness and wellbeing and freedom of the learner, which is essential for learning. It is unfortunate that children in Oromia, in school or non-schooled are not free and under a perpetuated threat. Availability of reading materials, teacher’s/parents help and family wealth become weak to assess reading achievement of learners if their security and safety is in danger. That is why EGRA’s findings is swerving and not reliable to suggest primary school curriculum change in Oromia.
The fourth oppressive scandal is portrayed by symbolic oppression, one of which is flag. Ethiopian flag on the cover pages of teachers guide and student textbook of the primary school curriculum introduced this year (2017) is a symbolic representation of this oppression. It is designed to make students salute to this alien symbols and obedient what so ever it is, and this underpins pedagogy of oppressors. Ethiopia’s flag is a symbolic banner by which Ethiopian regimes oppressed and marched armed forces against the Oromo and other oppressed people of the country over time. On top of the long history, during the last 25 years, many Oromo and other people were killed by Ethiopian military and armed forces marched under this flag. Marched under this flag, Since February 2017 the Liyu police (paramilitary) killed and displaced many Oromo compelling them to flee. While the Ethiopian authorities or the Parliament did not dare at least to say sorry, it is unpalatable to see the Oromo celebrating the so called national flag day with oppressors on 15/10/2017 . At the surface one may say this flag is nothing but a garment. But the embedded meaning is different both for the oppressed and oppressors. Colors of these flags have meanings and explanations by the oppressors. For instance, Ethiopia’s flag red strip symbolizes ‘’the sacrifice and heroism of Ethiopia who spilled their blood in defense of their homeland’’. Ostensibly, this explanation applies to the actions that the current Ethiopian regime, the same as its predecessors, is taking to persecute, abduct and kill the Oromo and other oppressed people. They still try to indoctrinate through curriculum and salute to this symbol without the will of students , as opposed to the principles of pedagogy of freedom. Pedagogy of freedom advocates that learners should not be militated by offensive symbols, but exciting and motivating ones. Learners should have exciting experience with symbols and contents of what they learn that respects freedom, rather than alien and repression.
To recap, it is impossible to expect students perform to the standard, quality reading in this case, in aversive condition in schools in Oromia. Learners are attend school in hostile environment and are not free to learn. Thus, EGRA study and the curriculum which is based on this study is nullified. Education and pedagogy of freedom is to emancipate the self and sociopolitical system, despite it is abused in Ethiopia. Nevertheless, there cannot be pedagogy of freedom in oppressive system like Ethiopia, and thus freedom is unparalleled precondition for pedagogy of freedom that the Oromo should strive for. That is why freedom seekers assert freedom today and education tomorrow.
1 Ethiopia Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA,2010), Data Analytic Report: Language and Early Learning.