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December 06, 2017

Indians, Education and Bahirdar University – Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post No – 34

Indians are among the most ardent travelers in the world. They have traveled to Africa too, but the reception and reputation that the Indians have got for themselves has been a mixed bag. The Indian freedom movement started in South Africa and Indians are admired and Nelson Mandela has been a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and his non-violence movement.

Both Great Leaders Dr.Abdul Kalaam and Nelson Mandela

But everything is not honky-donky about Indians in Africa. Most Indians have prospered in Africa and have made a name for themselves as traders and as businessmen. But the Indian way of frugalness and uncanny skill of making money in any situation is not very much liked by the easy going Africans. In some countries Indians were seen as exploitative and not assimilating enough with the local community.

Indians leaving Uganda in 1972
This antipathy and resentment sometimes had taken an ugly turn and Indians have been thrown out quite unceremoniously in Uganda where Idi Amin dumped almost the entire Indian community. Indian businessmen are not very much liked in Kenya and even in Zimbabwe.

But luckily, in Ethiopia most of the Indians came on teaching assignments and Ethiopians proudly say that they have been taught by an Indian some time in their life. The last Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie had been a friend of India and he was the person who encouraged Indians to come and teach in Ethiopia.

Last emperor of Ethoipia Haile Selassie with Mrs.Indira Gandhi
For a long time there were very limited number of government universities in Ethiopia and in early 2000, the Federal government of Ethiopia started many new universities and one of the newly set up university was Bahirdar University. Bahirdar University was not a new university. It was coming together of two institutes POLY (the polytechnic institute that imparted engineering education) and PEDA (the pedagogical academy that taught  Arts, Science and Commerce streams).

The new university was set up in 2001 and we were among the first foreign faculty who were specifically recruited for Bahirdar University.

Ethiopian Students
I belonged to the Faculty of Business and Economics and specifically to the Management department and there was another called the Accounting department.  The Management department’s head was Addis Gedefaw and we had another Ethiopian Teacher, Abraham. We also had a Nigerian teacher by name Ibrahim. The Management department had as many as four Indian teachers; Mansoor Ali Khan, Chidambaram, Dr. T. N. Murthy and myself.

Typical batch of Ethiopian Students 
At that time in 2002 the management department had a couple of diploma programmes, one in Marketing Management and another in Sales Management. The duration of the diploma programme was two years. In 2001 a four year course called ‘B.A in Management’ was introduced. It was quite strange to be asked to teach diploma and degree students as I was already teaching Post graduate students of Management. In India BA is not associated with management and at that time BBA was not in vogue. .  But I cheerfully accepted the challenge.

Ethiopian education system follows the American pattern which is credit based. The entire focus is on picking up credits and the credit weightage. For Example the subject ‘Introduction to Management’ could be a 1 credit, 2 credit, 3 credits or a 4 credit course.

So a one credit course is allotted 10 sessions of one hour each and a four credit course is given 40 hours. And correspondingly a student taking a four credit course in ‘Introduction to Management’ shows more interest in the subject and more respect to the concerned teacher. This was puzzling to the Indian teachers who are used to the system of standardized subjects without any difference in weightage.

The grading is based on the normal curve distribution. Students are given grades according to their position in the normal curve. ‘A’ grade is worth 4 points, ‘B’ grade is worth 3 points, a ‘C’ grade is worth 2 points and a ‘D’ grade is worth  1 point.

To pass and move on to the next semester a student has to have a minimum of 2.0 CGPA (Cumulative Grade Point  Average), which means that a student can actually get a D  (a fail grade) in a subject and still progress. All this was quite new to us but we quickly got into the flow. 

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