India-Ethiopia: Cooperation in Education Old Ties, New Prospects

Africa Diary By Dr. Viacheslav Usov

“While the foundation of India-Ethiopia relations in education can’t be static and new forms, like tele-education, have emerged, India’s involvement in Ethiopia’s education system improvement is still one of the brightest and honourable examples of Indian participation in the development of Africa.”

India-Ethiopia relations are often regarded to be an exemplary partnership between India and any African country. Cooperation between the two countries in the field of education can be described as a special theme that has both practical and emotional aspects. From the late 1960s and to early 1970s thousands of Indian teachers, mostly from Kerala, went to Ethiopia under request of the Emperor Haile Selassie to teach the local population in the remotest parts of the country. Even the private secretary and advisor of Haile Selassie, who assisted him in developing the educational system of the country, one of the most underdeveloped in Africa at the time, was Indian. As a matter of fact, Indian presence in Ethiopia was so remarkable that the word ‘teacher’ became almost synonymous with ‘Indian’ and to a great extent explains the tremendous goodwill that India still enjoys in Ethiopia. Ms. Gennet Zewide, Ethiopia’s former federal education minister and the former ambassador of Ethiopia in India, whose fifth-grade teacher was also an Indian, assured that between 1960 and 2012, more than 200,000 Indians taught in her country. Through the 1960s and 1970s, more than 6,000 Indians were teaching in the country at any given time. “It was a flood”, she says.

The policy of ‘Ethiopianisation’ promoted by the Derg regime that overthrew Hailee Selassie in 1974 resulted in many Indians, primarily businessmen and teachers, leaving the country. After the current Ethiopian government took power in 1991 more Indians were welcomed again into the country. As India-Ethiopia relations intensified, the size of the Indian community in Ethiopia raised correspondingly. Now it consists not only of businessmen, but Indian teachers and academics as well.

India: A Centre of Learning

Hailemariam Desalegn, the current Prime Minister of Ethiopia and former Deputy Prime Minister and External Affairs Minister, during the Second Africa-India Summit held in Addis Ababa in May 2011, stated that Indian teachers in schools and universities in Ethiopia were held in very high regard, and India on the whole was seen as a ‘Centre of Learning’. From the Ethiopian point of view, getting more Indian teachers in the country would help in capacity building and the knowledge empowerment of Ethiopian youth and contribute to faster nation-building. As Indian educational institutions are seen as more capable of producing well-educated professionals at a lower cost than Western universities, the Ethiopian government consciously gives scholarships to train Ethiopian students in India. By 2015, nearly 700 Ethiopians had been able to study under the ITEC program alone. Experts from the Centre for WTO Studies in India also held workshops for senior Ethiopian officials to enhance their capacity for WTO accession negotiations. There have been exchanges between Indian Foreign Service Institute and counterpart Ethiopian institutions. Additional scholarships have been provided by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) to Ethiopian students for university studies in India every year. The two countries have also agreed to cooperate in training Ethiopian Government sponsored students at various Indian Universities in the field of Engineering, IT and Social sciences for Masters and PhD level courses in more than 20 Indian universities.

Expanding Ethiopian Education System

Contrary to 1960-70s when Indians in Ethiopia were mostly teachers, in the 1990-2000s the large expansion and reform of Ethiopia’s university sector created a great incentive for Indian academics to come to Ethiopia as well. Until 2000, Ethiopia’s higher education sector included only 2 universities and 17 colleges, a level that had been one of the lowest in the world. For the next 4 years, the number of universities was raised from 2 to 9, mainly by merging colleges and upgrading them to university status, and in 2004, when 12 additional universities had been established. According to the Ethiopian Ministry of Education, by 2016 the university sector of Ethiopia has expanded to already 35 public universities and much more accredited non-government high education institutes and colleges. Pursuing the aim of producing the professionals Ethiopia needs for its fast economic and industrial development, the Ethiopian government in 2008 decreed that all universities, public and private, should modify their curricula so that 70 percent of student intake is to science and technology based subjects and 30 percent to the arts and humanities.

Education reform in Ethiopia, which has being implemented not only at the expense of the World Bank and other donors but at the expense of the military budget, has been very much appreciated by the African Union (AU). In January 2016, the AU Director for Administration and Human Resource Management Amin Idriss Adoum urged African countries to learn from Ethiopia’s best practices regarding the increasing production of skilled labour in the vocational and technical spheres. The Director also said Nigeria is already following the footsteps of Ethiopia while Senegal is in the process of adapting Ethiopia’s strategy for meeting the needs of skilled technical personnel in the country.

Challenges and Solutions

However, the unprecedented growth of Ethiopia’s higher education sector led to a shortfall of experienced lecturers as well as downgrading the quality of graduates. While projected academic staff for 2007 was estimated at no less than 3600 persons, in 2003 only 4 doctoral degrees had been awarded and the next year only 30 PhD students had been registered in Addis-Ababa University, the oldest and the most well-established in the country. Consequently, the percentage of lecturers possessing a PhD has declined in Ethiopia from 28 percent in 1995/96 to 9 percent in 2002/03. Not only the fast expansion of the higher education system, but academic brain-drain from the country to mainly developed Western countries resulted in a great shortage of qualified academic staff in Ethiopia.

As an answer to the shortage of academics, the Ethiopian government increases expatriate staff, mainly from Nigeria, Cuba, and the UK with Indians constituting the majority of these expatriates. Sophie Thubauville, who explored the field of India-Ethiopia relations, estimates that the total number of Indian nationals in Ethiopia in 2012 alone was 4,000, of which more than 2,000 were Indian academics with their dependents.

India is considered to be a prominent labour-exporting country and its teachers and academics are the major ‘human export’ from the country after scientists, engineers, doctors and IT specialists. Indians are preferred in many developed and developing countries as they have a high command of English and the necessary qualifications. In Ethiopia, degrees from India are highly valued and respected and the Indian academics have been offered a higher tax-free salary compared to their local colleagues plus additional benefits such as free flight tickets and housing. This enables them to have a higher living standard than local academics that have about four-five times less salary than their Indian colleagues.

Despite the official contacts between India and Ethiopia in the field of education mostly based on the system of scholarships that are offered to Ethiopian students for university studies in India, the bulk of Indian teachers and academics are recruited to Ethiopia through private placement agencies or on a basis of word-of-mouth references. Supplied with job offers by the Ethiopian Ministry of Education or by the individual universities, the recruitment agencies search candidates and organise interviews with the institutions that are in need of Indian lecturers. Their websites give all necessary information not only about the job, requirements for qualification, size of salary, tax-free and free air tickets between India and Ethiopia, cost of living in the country and saving potential; but also highlight Ethiopia’s pleasant climate, availability of food, the safety of the country and some good job prospects to get work abroad in the near future “as international experience is considered to be a big plus point”. As the age for successful candidates should be below 65 years old and the retirement age in India is 60, the jobs offered by the Ethiopian universities can be especially attractive for retired Indian academics. It seems that some advertisements of recruitment agencies highlight the eligibility of retired academics intentionally.

The main agencies that recruit Indian academics to Ethiopia are situated in Hyderabad. This city also accommodates a large share of the 3,000 or so Ethiopian students who study in India. The Cure Hospital that offers tele-services to Ethiopian hospitals under Pan-Africa E-Network project can be seen as a real hub for India-Ethiopia cooperation in the education sector.

In spite of the visible privileges Indian academics have in Ethiopia, their future position in the country is not as reliable as one might assume. Ethiopian reliance on Indian academics can be only a temporary solution for Ethiopian universities and as soon as enough local professionals are available to take over the positions, foreign academics who receive a much higher salary, will not be hired any longer. Together with the inevitable resentment from Ethiopian academics who have much less salary and some local difficulties such as the absence of international schools and a lack of healthcare and entertainment out of Addis Ababa, this means that academic positions for Indians are quite insecure and attractive only for a limited period of time.

While the main aim of the Indian teachers and academics that chose to move to Ethiopia is financial gain, many Indians “built a cultural connection, lifelong friendship and bond” with Ethiopians. However, after India implemented an unprecedented rise of wages for its staff in the education sector in recent years, Ethiopia's once-lucrative offers to Indian tutors do not seem so tempting. "It's a big problem for us", says Gennet Zewide. 'We still want quality teachers from India as seeds around which our own teachers can learn and grow. But it's proving much harder to afford them any more". Although some Ethiopians complain about the dominance of Indians in the field of education, many, especially those who had a personal experience and contacts with the Indian teachers like Gennet Zewide, regret this development.

Facing a number of constraints in its education sector the Ethiopian government tries to find different solutions to the problem posed by a shortage of teachers and academics. Besides the invitation of foreign nationals to move to Ethiopia, it also widely uses advanced technologies, namely tele-education. Concerning tele-education in Ethiopia, India again plays a major role. In 2007, India launched the Pan-African e-Network project (PAN) through which it offers tele-education, tele-medicine services, consultation and video-conferencing for 53 African countries, members of the African Union. Brain-child of Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, it was first presented to the Pan-African Parliament in 2004. The idea is that India in collaboration with the African Union will help create in every African country an e-learning centre and a tele-medicine centre that will be linked to learning centres and medical institutions in India and provide services. As part of its intended transfer of technology and skills, the Indian government set up a pilot project in Ethiopia for tele-medicine and tele-education under the Pan-Africa e-Network project in July 2007. The Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa is still working well and is considered useful by the Ethiopian side. The Tele-Education project has been replicated by the Ethiopian side and linkages have been established between the Addis Ababa University and the Indian Institutes of Technology at Delhi and Kanpur. The entire cost of $2.13 million was borne by the Government of India as a grant.

India-Ethiopia cooperation in education is a distinctive phenomenon in the realm of India-Africa relations. Five decades of teaching the people of Ethiopia led to the emergence of several generations of those teachers in India. Their special meetings took place in Kerala in 2010, where most of these teachers were recruited. Nowadays, Indian academics have once again become an integral part of Ethiopia’s attempts to get out of poverty and underdevelopment. While the foundation of India-Ethiopia relations in education can’t be static and new forms, like tele-education, have emerged, India’s involvement in Ethiopia’s education system improvement is still one of the brightest and honourable examples of Indian participation in the development of Africa.

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