Neville Alexander

I attended 8-10 of May, 2019, South African – Sweden University Forum (SASUF) 2ndconference in Stellenbosch. In this conference I met two Ethiopians, one living and working in Sweden and the other one in South Africa. While we were discussing Ethiopia and South Africa, one of them, a civil engineer and professor in South Africa was talking about the bad sewerage system in Ethiopia. He said still we don’t have a central sewerage system in Addis Abeba that connects to the private houses and properties. 

After talking for a while about the sewerage system, when we changed topic to talk about something else, he turned to me and asked me if I knew Professor Neville Alexander. I said yes he was a well known person and I told him I listened to him in 2008 or 2009 at the then Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and I just thanked him after the lecture. I told my new acquaintance I heard the Professor died some years back. He was a bit surprised that I said I meet the Professor some years back and listened to him.

My new acquaintance asked me if I knew Professor Alexander´s Ethiopian connection. I was surprised and said no. He told me there are biographs of the Professor and an interview he gave to BBC on his background. His grandmother was an Ethiopian slave who was freed by the British navy from a boat that was on its way to an Arabian country.

That same evening I went to the BBC homepage and found  the link where he gave an interview about his maternal grandmother, an Oromo woman from Ethiopia (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-14357121). I also read about him on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neville_Alexander). The next day when I talked to colleagues from South Africa, I understood many of them knew about him and his work. A professor from Nelson Mandela University gave me a book of tribute with a text from his colleagues and Neville Alexander himself. From this tribute and texts from him I learned that, he is a literary giant, anti- apartheid fighter, activist and an intellectual of his time.

He was on Robin Island for ten years (1964-1974) with Nelson Mandela and the other anti-apartheid fighters. During his stay on Robin Island he was the cause for turning the prison in to a “university”. As an already well educated person before his prison terms, he encouraged both the illiterate prisoners to read and write and his colleagues for further studies. 

When I read more about him, I also understood his struggle both for diversity and unity of South Africa. He dealt with the nationality question and with rights of minorities. He worked for minorities´ right to start their education in their own mother tongue and then in the later stage to start using the languages that are used nationally (Afrikans) and internationally (English).

While attempting to give voice for the minorities, he was also critical to the post-apartheid South Africa´s still using the racial divisions Black, Coloured, Indian and White. He is critical to dividing people on the base of the colour of their skin. He was also critical to the present day South Africa for economic and social injustice that left the poor in the country in the same living standard before the fall of apartheid.

As I mentioned earlier, he is a literary giant of his time and if I am going to go deep in to his work, it needs much time to read most of his work and to try to summarize his main areas of focus. I will keep that for the future. But before I finish this short introduction, I will quote his view on identities in South Africa, that could equally apply for his grandmother´s home land, Ethiopia, “We have to insist that we are all South Africans and that those subnational identities that do not undermine our national unity can and should be accepted as consonants with the democratic project.  Such subnational identities would include those based on gender, language, region, religion among others, …” (In Enough is a feast, A tribute to Dr. Neville Alexander, 22 October 1936-27 August 2012, p.93).   

Building a house on a strong base: Education reform in Ethiopia.

It is interesting to follow the discussion on education reforms in Ethiopia. There are discussions on education policy, quality of education and the role of teachers. Higher education and schools are in the center of the discussion. On the other hand, it is not an exaggeration to say that preschools are quite invisible. 

We hear in the mass media that the country´s new education road map is designed and will be available for public discussion and comments. Hopefully it is a map that shows the educational terrain of the country including the high and low performance areas. We can also expect it will show where there are difficulties to proceed towards the aimed goals. The map hopefully is also open for redrawing whenever new realties demand to do so.

A hot issue for the last few years has been quality of education on all levels. While there is a consensus that the education quality has fallen, there is no common definition of what education quality is, what the indications for the fallen quality were. There are some who explain the fallen quality based on students´ low level of reading, writing and mathematical abilities compared to the students in the same grades some 20-30 years back. Others try to explain that the low quality is the result of increased numbers of students, school expansion to give opportunity for more children, inadequate learning facilities, shortage of trained teachers, etc. Instead of just general explanations there is a need to undertake a research to establish what is a good quality/standard to strive for and how to go ahead to achieve that quality/standard. 

While discussing to improve the quality of education, there is a necessity to review the situation of teachers in the country. It is obvious that teachers are facing diverse problems to alleviate some of the problems. There is a need as a first step to increase their income. Then there are other major needs such as creating a good working environment, improving the quality of teacher education and also start working on gradually increasing the status of the profession. What we are investing on teachers will also positively influence the quality of education on all levels. 

Higher education which also includes teacher education should focus on transforming and developing the country. More of critical thinking, more of creative and innovative citizens in the higher education can contribute to a better understanding of the society at large as well as see the hindrances for its development.  More competent teacher graduates can work for improving their own lives as well as for the socio-economic development of their society. 

The largest number of students are not attending higher education. They leave school after attending elementary or secondary classes. These groups also need to attend quality education with relevant knowledge and skills that will allow them to be economically independent. Basic societal services could be provided by these students who as part of their education could be trained as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, etc. The education system should consider to open opportunities for these groups if they need to pursue further education to improve their knowledge and skills in the same or another field. 

Debates are taking place about higher education and schools but one group that is not given enough attention is the preschools, where the youngest of the society get their first contact with institutional education. Different problems are facing this level of education. First the shortage of preschools, secondly in the available preschools there are no sufficient education facilities, thirdly, there are no sufficient well qualified preschool teachers, and fourthly, there are no sufficient preschool teachers training institutions in the country. 

Preschools are the primary socializing institutions after the family. Here children learn to take care of themselves, to cooperate with their classmates, to compromise with other children and when they are in a problem to resolve their conflicts in a peaceful way. If the country wants to build a future democratic society it should invest on high quality preschools. 

Anyone who wants to build a house does not start with the roof. S/he will start building the base with strong material to enable it to carry the whole building. The building will rise gradually and when it is completed, it will stand the wind, the rain, the sun, the earthquake and other problems. Preschools are strong bases in a society in which citizens can start to become well prepared for matching the future needs in their society.                

Teachers role in promoting democratic education in Ethiopia.

 

In a short note a while ago, I tried to write on the relevance of education for promoting democracy in Ethiopia. For education to be a tool for promoting democracy teachers play a vital role.

During their working hours teachers are meeting small children to adults from preschool up to tertiary education. They are the ones who are providing knowledge about the past, the present and the future of Ethiopia and other parts of the world. In addition to parents it is  through them the young generation learn the skills necessary for their day to day life as well as long term development of the country.

Teachers are not only transferring knowledge to their students. Teachers who are aware of their responsibility give space for their students for asking, commenting and coming up with   solutions for problems. By allowing participation of their students, teachers make the young generation contribute to knowledge development. In addition, general knowledge, teachers need to understand the situation in their local community to be able to integrate it in to the education they are providing. Students need to recognize the reality of their life in their education.

A country like Ethiopia with the large population of school children and a possible shortage of teachers might have a problem to at once  focus on quality instead of producing a large number of teachers. But the long-term strategy should be on having teachers with high motivation, social competence and necessary skills for exercising their profession.

The government should take the lead in up lifting the profession. This could be done by encouraging teachers who are already working by increasing their salary, improving their working environment and providing them with on the job training to improve their skills and update their knowledge in the field. It is also a government responsibility to give the necessary support and directives to teacher training institutions to recruit students with motivation and to give them a good quality education with the necessary skills to be good teachers.

Teacher training institutions are responsible for providing student teachers with the accumulated knowledge of the profession including the teaching and assessment skills.

It is important during their education student teachers are out in the field to observe the reality in schools. This will introduce them to their future working places as well as give them a picture of the problems schools are facing at present. These problems could be brought to teacher training institutions for further discussion – and hopefully finding possible solutions.

To improve the education system by strengthening the teacher profession needs measure from different actors. Teachers can play their part by occasionally making effort to improve their knowledge and skills by reading and participating in available courses to strengthen their  professionality, government and teacher training institutions by working to provide the necessary material and other facilities to produce competent teachers. Parents and the general public need to show respect for the profession and give necessary support for teachers who are responsible for upbringing future skilled and democratic citizens.

Getahun Yacob Abraham (PhD).

Education for democracy in Ethiopia.

The last three to four months the Ethiopian government is moving ina hopeful direction. Releasing political prisoners, calling for opposition parties within the country and in the diaspora to work together, showing a good will to bring together the country that was divided in ethnic groups for the last 27 years, etc. is a positive stage forward. we hope this radical reform process will continue until it achieves its goal of establishing a stable democratic system in the country.

The new Prime minister in his speeches on different occasions is raising important issues. One of those issues that attracted my attention was education and the respect the society should give for teachers. For now, I will start with the issue of education in general and I will be back in another occasion to discuss about teachers.

One of the great American educationalists, John Dewey, wrote in one of his texts from 1889 “Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife.” This strong statement by Dewey is emphasizing the importance of education for promoting democracy. In the education system from preschool to tertiary education there is a need to install the values of democracy and social justice. Already in the preschool children should start to learn to respect each other, to learn that it is ok to have different opinions on the same phenomena, to practice the equality between boys & girls, understanding and respect cultural and linguistic diversity, start caring for their flora and fauna. When on all levels we are orienting our children the respect for democratic values, we can see the future generation which is aware of its rights and will also respect others rights. A generation that will discuss, compromise and resolve conflicts in a peaceful way.

To build a future democratic society there is no alternative to investing in our education system from preschool up to universities. This includes both human resources and infrastructure. In this process, we also need to think to be fair in our treatment of the rural and urban areas of the country. There is a need for careful planning, implementing and evaluating our achievements. This process will help us to learn both from our successes and failures.

The few points I raised above could be the starting points for further discussions. This is not an issue we can reach a conclusion with just a few lines of comments. This issue has been there and discussions about it will continue for generations. Those working with education need to identify educational needs, share experiences, describe, analyze them and come up with recommenda­tions for transformation.

Getahun Yacob Abraham (PhD).

 

 

Summer memories from a village at the southern shore of Lake Siljan.

 

 

One day in the Spring of 1994, I attended the funeral ceremony of my wife´s aunt Karin who passed away at the age of 94. She was not married and she had no children. Before she died my wife Margareta and I used to visit her in the old age home in Dalarna´s regional capital Falun.

After the funeral ceremony in the church in Leksand there was a memorial service in the parish house. Then those of us who were family members gathered in Hjortnäst, a small village 5 km away from the church. In Hjortnäs we came to a village road, “Presgattu” that led us in to an open compound, “Callesgården”. This was where Karin and her seven siblings were born and raised, one of them my wife´s mother.

It was a wonderful sunny day and for me it was a first visit to Hjortnäs and “Callesgården”. It was green all over and it gave me a positive feeling to come to this place.

In “Callesgården”, we were gathered under a roof of one of the houses, which belonged to Karin´s brother Erik. Soon a talk about Karin´s little house started. Then I didn´t know what she had or had not. I learned then that some 50 meters from where we were sitting, there was a small log house, locally called a “Harbre”. It was originally used as a storage for grain but in 1940s one of Karin´s brothers, Anders, rearranged the interior of it and modified it to a Summer cottage for his family. Later on, when Anders and his family moved to the main house in “Callesgården” Karin and her sitter Anna took over and lived in the “harbre” during the Summer. Anna had died earlier and Karin remained as the last owner of this small house.

While sitting under the roof of Erik´s house the talk about the “harbre” continued.  A question came from one of the relatives, “What can we do with this small house? Could we move it somewhere? By the way is there anyone who is interested to have it?” There was a silence for a while and my wife and I looked at each other and without exchanging words, we agreed to take it. We told them “we will buy it” and they as inheritors agreed to sell it to us.

We paid the small amount they requested and for the first time we in 1994 owned a small Summer cottage. We only owned the small house, the land on which the house was standing was owned by Hans-Olof, one of my wife´s cousins. There was no water and no latrine in the house.

Every Summer since then we tried to improve the cottage. The first Summer we could change some broken tiles in the roof to stop leakage of rain water, the following Summer we cleaned and prepared the chimney and extended the veranda. During following Summers we bought the land the house was situated on, we joined the local association for drinking water and we also hired a carpenter who built a simple wooden out house with two “rooms”, one for a storage and the other one for a dry latrine. Gradually we added to our property a small plot of land with a one room very small wooden hut. This year we are expanding the original small house (harbre) with one room.

More important than the gradual development of the property is for us the possibility to spend (part of) our Summers  in our “harbre”. We have a very positive relation with our relatives in “Callesgården” as well as with our neighbours. During mid-Summer, we are together with relatives decorating and raising the mid-Summer pole around which children and adults dance together. A big grill party comes later during the evening.

Our Summers for the last 23 years were enriched by people and nature in the area. During warm days, we are swimming in Lake Siljan. Various cultural activities, some of them coming every year, are to be found. Among the ones coming repeatedly is a theatre, “Himlaspelet” (Heavenly play) written by a local writer in the 1940´s.  Several of the roles are played by locals and so are the musicians participating. In addition to cultural activities, exploring and experiencing nature is a major activity. Around Lake Siljan, there are spots from which you have beautiful views of the surrounding areas and hiking tracks are numerous.  During the Fall, there are possibilities to pick different types of berries and mushrooms.  Through the years we have had the opportunity to experience what the human and natural environment provides.

Different contexts in different languages.

Language is a wonderful communication media to get your message to others and to get a message from others. Language is more than just a media to exchange messages, it is also used to express feelings, to describe situations as well as to evaluate, analyse and give judgment on phenomenon.

Just now I am not trying to write a special fact based article. I am rather trying to discuss my own relation to languages. I suppose the first language I heard as a new born baby could be Amharic. My mother is an Amhara with a full command of Oromiffa, but I was born in Addis Abeba, the capital of Ethiopia, and my relatives there mainly spoke Amharic.

It was not long after that I heard Oromiffa. My father’s mother, who died long before I was born, was an Oromo. Oromiffa was the major language of communication in Illubabor region of Ethiopia where I grew up. To be honest, I don’t know which of the two languages I learned first. All my life, whenever I have the opportunity I am speaking both Amharic and Oromiffa.

When I was about 10 years old my father, as a government employee, got transferred to the Shekacho province in the then Illubabor region and the whole family moved there and within a short time I commanded the language. Whenever any one from our family was out to the market to buy food items, I was there as a translator.

Unfortunately, after two and half years in Shekacho province, we moved again because of my father´s transfer, this time long away to the Kambata and Hadiya provincein Shewa region. New languages and a new environment. As there was not any Shekach speaker in this province, I completely lost my new language.

Years later in school and later at the university, I learned English. After moving to Europe, where I am living and working, life made it necessary to learn the Swedish language. At present, I speak Amharic, Affan Oromo, English and Swedish and with the exception om Affan Oromo, I can write in these languages. I am not writing in Affan Oromo because, when I was a child it was only a spoken language and I was gone for years when the Qube writing system was introduced in Ethiopia.

Dear reader, maybe you are wondering why I am writing all this about my relation to language. As I mentioned it earlier it is through language we are communicating with each other and sometimes what is an opportunity for one could be a hinder for the other.

When I am writing in Amharic I can reach the Ethiopian audience and when I write in Swedish I can reach the Swedish audience. But there are Swedish friends who are not able to read Amharic and Ethiopian friends who cannot read Swedish. Maybe by writing in English, it is easier for me to reach a larger audience.

Depending on what Issues I am raising and its relevance for Ethiopian or a Swedish context, I will use one of these two languages. It could be difficult to translate something typical to one of the contexts to the other context because of the differences in historical, cultural, economic, social and political realities. When it comes to direct translations, today there are many apps to translate texts from one language to another language. One app, google translate, will be used in my page and I hope it will make it possible to follow my idea on what I am writing.

Greetings,

Getahun