The Roots and Fallouts of Haile Selassie's Educational Policy/overview

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Overview of the issue and its national/regional/international context[edit]

This paper attempts to assess the impacts of Haile Selassie’s educational policy on Ethiopia’s educated elite. It also enquires into the reasons why the policy was adopted in the first place. The negative role that the Ethiopian educated elite has played during, and since, the overthrow of Haile Selassie’s regime provides the context of the enquiry. Admittedly, the continuous political crises and economic stagnation of Ethiopia since the 1974 Revolution point to the leading role played by Ethiopian educated elite. The paper raises the question of knowing whether the adoption of an education system that completely relied on Western teaching staff and curriculum – and systematically turned its back on Ethiopian legacy – does or does not explain the infatuation of Ethiopian students and intellectuals with Marxism-Leninism in the 1960s and 1970s. The suggestion is that their propensity to opt for polarizing and confrontational methods of political competition may be the result of a decentering education system responsible for cultural cracks into which radical ideas, which were then in vogue, were injected. The enquiry unravels two major reasons for the adoption of the educational policy: *(i) Haile Selassie and his close associates had basically endorsed the colonial idea according to which non-Western societies were backward, thereby conceiving of modernization as the internalization of Western values and institutions;

  • (ii) Haile Selassie was all the more willing to push for Westernization as the marginalization of Ethiopia’s traditional values and institutions was the sine qua non for the establishment of his autocratic rule.

Though this study deals with the case of Ethiopia, its regional and international implications are obvious, given that it illustrates nothing less than the impacts of Western education on non-Western societies. It adds to those studies that argue that the cultural drawbacks of colonization and neocolonialism are far more serious than any economic downsides. The fact that Ethiopians became psychologically decentralized, as in any colonized country, even though they were not submitted to colonization, confirms the universally uprooting impact of Western education.

Current or proposed policy framework[edit]

Educational policy in most countries has been designed as the best and unique method to achieve rapid modernization. As a result, the way modernization was perceived conditioned the educational policy. Unfortunately, only with few exceptions, the conception of modernization that has become predominant is the colonial conception, namely, “modernization versus tradition”. This erroneous understanding led to an educational policy that advocated full Westernization through the extirpation of the traditional legacy of lagging societies. The aim of this paper is to show that, so conceived, modern education does no more than continue and even expand the colonial paradigm, which also happens to favour dictatorial regimes for the simple reason that the devaluation of tradition is also how native ruling elites adopt colonial methods and subsequently rise above their own societies.

Research results in support of this framework[edit]

The research results establish that the education policy is the answer to the question why Ethiopia ended up by showing all the symptoms of a colonized country while not being formally colonized. The alienating effect is concretely referred to the impacts of an education system based on an alien curriculum and involving foreign teaching staff. Cultural analysis easily establishes that the infatuation of the educated elite with radical ideas and polarizing political agendas and methods is a major outcome of an uprooting education system. On the other hand, the need to eliminate the traditional constraints that limited the power of the Emperor, such as regionalism and the ideological authority of the Ethiopian church, explains Haile Selassie’s choice for a policy that undermined tradition. In a word, this paper concretely establishes the conceptual and socio-political roots of Haile Selassie’s educational policy.

Recommendations for policy-makers[edit]

The study suggests that the way out from the present predicament is the radical reformulation of the educational policy. However, reformulation does not mean much if the attempt to Ethiopianize the curriculum is not associated with an effort to reinforce Ethiopian traditional values and culture. The revival of traditions in the specific sense of ensuring the emancipation of the study of Ethiopian history and culture from Eurocentric concepts is, therefore, the most urgent and primary task. In so far as this task is not carried out Ethiopianization of the curriculum will be without avail. Stated otherwise, the Ethiopian thinking must cease to posit modernization in terms of getting away from tradition so as to achieve westernization. Instead, borrowings from the west must be used to renovate tradition in the fashion of Europeans, who called ‘renaissance’ the breakthrough that inaugurated their modernization through the assimilation of ancient Greek rationality.

This work is excerpted from an official document of the United Nations. The policy of this organisation is to keep most of its documents in the public domain in order to disseminate "as widely as possible the ideas (contained) in the United Nations Publications".

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