Finding Beauty & Balance in Ethiopia Despite The Education System

I first want to start by saying “I really want some grapes. I could kill a sabertooth tiger for some grapes. If he wrtr eating some grapes with his little tiger family in a cave, I would stump in there like I was the queen of the fucking jungle and just eat them delicious grapes all the while giving them looks. After I had my fill of grapes, then I could get mauled.” End rant. Drop the mic.

It is the end of the work week and I can officially say I’ve survived my first week of teaching. In my time here, I’ve started learning some things not only about myself, but about the education system particularly in third world countries like Ethiopia. First, let me get started on the education system. It’s really bad here. Students are taught to spell words incorrectly, the teacher speaks for the majority of class and so students aren’t really given a chance to speak and practice the language, cheating is acceptable, there is such a need for books and more qualified teachers, and for god sakes a decent school with cut grass. During practicum, I spent a majority of time learning how to adapt a lesson to be more student centered/active learning and I found it to be quite enjoyable. I came to Chiri ready to take on the challenges but I didn’t know I was going to be  in over my head. Ethiopia uses Plasma, which is a 25 minute television broadcast where a man speaks about the lesson and on the right bottom corner, is a translator for the deaf. Plasma is broadcasted 12 hours away from Addis Ababa by the Ministry of Education and so with the remaining 15 minutes of a 40 minute class, the teacher is expected to review what was taught by the Plasma lesson that day. My first day was also my first time teaching with a plasma and I went home that day with a killer headache. This past week, there were supposed to be 3 lessons using plasma but because Ethiopia has unreliable electricity, only the first day was used for plasma. In my opinion, I would rather spend the effort and time to make a 40 minute lesson plan every day than watch plasma. By using plasma, what was learned in practicum for a month seems unimportant. Plasma does not allow for an active learning/student centered approach. My 11th grade students can write sentences relatively well, but hide underneath books when asked to speak out loud. Girls talk with their fingers in their mouth and boys let the “gobez” kids take the lead. I can admit I have never been more upset with the education system and how it limits the students voices. My first week was successful in me acting a fool, asking my kids to dance around the room with me, singing, skipping across the room, putting themselves in order by birthday, etc. It isn’t the most conventional means by a long shot but there is a purpose to my insanity. I want my students to feel free to ask anything. I want them to feel secure in the fact that it is okay to mess up. I even use my horrible and broken Amharic to get them to see that all I am asking from them is to try. Effort and perseverance to learn the language will get these students and soon-to-be-adults into a life that far exceeds what their parents could ever had by not knowing the language.

Today, we had our first 10 word vocabulary test. It is my hope that every Friday, we can have a chill day and instead of actual class, they will have a vocabulary test and then we can do something goofy together for the remainder of class. An accumulation of 10 new words weekly and with their previous words, the student will then make definitions and sentences to check for comprehension. 8 of 36 students cheated on their first lesson and I was forced to give them a 0. From day one, I was very clear that I do not tolerate cheating and if I see you, or I see that two people wrote the same thing then both will get 0. I promised to them that I will help improve their English because in order to go to University here, your English skills in speaking, writing and listening must be up to par but they had to work with me. In the end, I need to watch out for those lagging behind but I can’t make them ask me for help. Overall, the next couple of months will be very interesting.

As far as what I’ve learned: I’m grateful for when I’ve had more because it taught me how to give and I’m grateful for when I’ve had less because it taught me how to receive. In a third world country, public transportation is hectic. It takes forever to get anywhere, bus drivers are late, etc. Being in Lalmba for almost the last two weeks has taught me to really be grateful to have met people that can and are willing to take me along on their runs to Bonga. When I first came to Ethiopia, I always felt like it was an inconvenience to ask on getting rides because we’re all busy people. I wasn’t used to asking for help because I had the things I needed. I had a roof over my head, I had a job, a car, plenty of food and overall just set. But being in Chiri has taught me to slow my pace, watch my surroundings more and not be afraid to ask. It’s taught me to be really thankful for things that most people take for granted. I didn’t think having a bed could be such a luxury, or having running water, good walking shoes or even consistent electricity. The days that I have lost power has been in abundance, but the days when I have nothing to eat have been far in between. I am lucky thousands of miles away to have found people who look out for me.

Ethiopians really care about one another. They might be a little nosy by asking personal questions the first time they met a ferenji, but that’s the way they get to know a ferenji better. I will end my service after two years with such an appreciation for small talk and gotten better at it too. I’m looking forward to not only knowing my students more but the community that I’ll be living in. Some days are really rough, but somehow this place has some magic juju to get me back to balance; whether it is the beauty of watching the sunset or overall just a good conversation.

I will officially be moving into my house where I’ll be on my own starting on Sunday. No more luxury of a sink, a western toilet,  internet, someplace to shower with a shower head and a good homemade cooked lunch. My posts will be more spaced out in between and most likely a little lengthier. Until next time world!


2 Comments Add yours

  1. John says:

    With me it was root beer, not grapes.


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