Made to Shoulder the Shame: The Sin-bearing High School Leavers. Signs of the failed education and training policy of Ethiopia

Made to Shoulder the Shame: The Sin-bearing High School Leavers

Signs of the failed education and training policy of Ethiopia


By: Abel Eshetu Gebremedhin

(PhD Candidate at Addis Ababa University)


As reported by Ministry of Education out of total of 896,520 students who sat for the national school leaving exam for the 2021-22 academic year, only 29,909 (3.3%) scored above 50% in the exam result announced by the Educational Assessment and Examinations Services (EAES). In same year, out of the total of 985,384 students registered for the exam, 77,098 (7.8%) were not present during the exam for several reasons, whereas exams for 20,170 students including those who voluntarily walked out on the exam were cancelled on accounts of misconducts. The exams were administered in October, 2022 for the first time inside universities and attended by university professors in a bid to avoid cheating and exam leaks which had become a repeated pattern over past year. Some students who scored below 50% were admitted by selected universities for a semester of remedial program so that they may enroll once they passed the exam. 

The following academic year 2022-23 when 845,000 students who sat for the 12th grade school leaving national exam only 27,267 (3.2 %) students scored 50% and/or above to join universities.  Out of the 3,106 schools that administered this year’s 12th grade national examination, a staggering 42.8% of the schools failed to pass their students for the national exam.  Furthermore, the minister said that only five schools have all their students pass their exams, four of these are boarding schools in various parts of the country.  Similarly, five other schools have more than 94.5 % of their students passed the exams. Majority are boarding schools. 

Analysis of the process and outcomes 

  1. Universities as Examination Centers: The decision to administer the school leaving examination in the university campuses away from their families and school environment was mainly aimed decreasing exam cheating. The findings of a study (Dejene , 2021) showed that high school students are engaging in academic cheating at an alarming rate. The study has shown that students see academically dishonest behaviors to be ordinary behaviors. Such a dishonesty transcends to university education and the world of work, thus, requires immediate attention by all stakeholders. However, the process informed that cheating was not entirely abolished. Rather the relocation demanded huge operational expenses, logistic complications and loss of lives for various reasons including car accident, killings, kidnapping of students, ethnic clashes, injuries in a violence caused by students who refused to take the exams. Quite lots of female students reported being embarrassed, abused and sexually harassed by make students for lack of proper protection by security guards. Lots of students refused to travel to the examination centers for fear ethnic clashes, particularly in Oromia region Universities.  The decision to hold the examination in universities and the consequent placements were relatively sudden pronouncements that widely affected trust of parents on the Ministry of Education officials. 
  2. Timing of the Examinations:   The first examination was not administered for almost a year after school was closed. The undefined extension left students with frustration and loss of memories. 

The then civil war and enormous uncertainties made me feel despair on the exact date of the examination. Hence, I stopped revising my books and spent my time on nonsense matters” A grade 12 student

The following year the timing has improved while still quite lots of schools have been suffering from intensified social unrests and disasters in the areas including most parts of Amhara, some parts in Oromia and in almost all places in Tigrai region. 

  • Pseudo-Success 

H.E Berhanu Nega (minister of education) in a press release told local media that out of the 3,106 schools that administered the 2022/23 12th grade national examination, an overwhelming 42.8% of the schools failed to pass their students. The minister also said that only five schools have all their students pass their exams, four of these are boarding schools in various parts of the country. Similarly, five other schools have more than 94.5 % of their students passed the exams. Majority are boarding schools. 

Boarding schools are crème institutions where one can access qualified teachers, adequate books, adequately shelved libraries, fully equipped laboratories and other necessary educational materials. The students are not distracted and disrupted by social and economic burdens for their food and other logistics are cared under organized school administration. How on earth a student in boarding set up and many more in rural and semi-rural schools sit for same exam and compete? If the exam could only evaluate those privileged, the problem would not be on the examinees rather on the exam content itself. The process might have contributed for minimized exam cheating in a yet to be studied efficiency and effectiveness. The Minister once said “the shocking result is a manifestation of snowballing problems in the education sector and reflects the true status of the country’s education quality, making the government and educations community responsible”.   The question here is whether the exam shows the true status of the country’s education quality? Why the previous exam records show quite lots achieved the passing mark while still the education system remained unimproved? Can we attribute exam cheating to the previous results? The exams in the past two rounds became harder so that many failed apart from the minimized cheating rate? 

  • The Input-throughput-Output Scenario

The reported result, if accepted, may show the outputs of the education system. But the output is the direct result of both educational inputs and the throughput process in the overall education system that covers the basic, elementary and high school sub sectors. The staggering teacher training institutions flooded by low achiever would-be teachers (most often teaching field are filled in by low scorer university entrants), coupled by less paying and politically woven sector along with down graded profession can not bear the required qualities of outputs. The ever-increasing unemployment rate in the country has remained to be a negative energy for the young students which might have affected their school performance. 

  • The Political Play of the National Exam 

Do the examination results objectively tell the down fall of the country’s education system? If so, what policy measures are designed to improve the situation and respond to the ever-existed sector problem? Let alone EPRDF, Prosperity Party did not meaningfully improve the sector in the past five years to curb the quality, access, equity, internal efficiency, management, finance aspects that may directly or indirectly affect the outputs of the system. It is a political play of the government to curse the ghost stakeholders of the sector that it entirely manages and leads. As it is voiced by many scholars, the government is denying quite good number of high school leavers from entering to universities as a way of defending itself from being accountable for draining job market. On the other hand, the government is being accused of downsizing university entrants a response to its shortage funds to administer universities. Despite all the odds, the young generation is leaving high schools bare handed and as sin-bearer animals shouldering the fault policy outcomes of the EPRDF and its offspring Prosperity Party.


  • The large proportion of school leavers who failed to enter universities have limited opportunities for further education. TVET offers are not attractive as the attrition rate of industries is declining. Hence Ethiopia is producing a huge number of schooled jobless group who might pose a threat to the national security of the country at large. 
  • Students in lower classes are highly vulnerable to become depressed and demotivated as they observe many of their older siblings miss the pass mark and go hopeless.  
  • Several private and government universities and colleges face shortage of students as the 3% pass mark scorers far less than the intake capacity of universities. A s result the private education sector must begin devising a strategy that helps remain relevant in the industry
  • Quality of education may continue deteriorating at secondary education level in general and in schools that failed to pass their students for the national exam in particular. `

The Way forward

  • Dissociate schools from cadre politics that injected favoritism, ethnic discrimination of teachers, as well as degrading professionalism in school management 
  • It is high time to forge quality in the education system at all levels instead of quantitative growth only 
  • Involve all important policy actors in a policy dialogue aimed at resolving the ever-decreasing quality of education 
  • Introduce national tests that can prepare students on regular basis before they sit for the national exam. 
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