I’m always inspired when I visit Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia. I’ve been here 10 times over the past six years and the place never fails to amaze me. This country offers fascinating history, sophisticated culture, diverse topography, unique food and generous people. It has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. There is so much construction and development in Addis Ababa; it feels like the city is expanding before one’s very eyes. Of course it takes a trained workforce to create such infrastructure and make it functional – which brings me to the reason I have visited Ethiopia so frequently. The aspect of this country that impresses me most is its astonishing commitment to the expansion of higher education. I write this from Addis Ababa where I’ve spent the past 10 days.
The leadership of Ethiopia is fulfilling an ambitious plan that includes opening dozens of new universities to train tens of thousands of young adults. It strikes me as a brilliant and much needed strategy for development via the expansion of higher education. Of the 90 million citizens of Ethiopia, there are about 55 million school-aged children. I’m told that only 300,000 people have ever graduated from university in this country. Until now, there simply hasn’t been the capacity to give such an opportunity to young people.
My experience here has been involved almost exclusively related to medical education. The growth of medical education in Ethiopia is an impressive story. The first medical school opened at Haile Selassie I University (now Addis Ababa University) in October 1964. Ten years ago, there were only three medical schools in the country. By 2008 there were six medical schools. Now there are 33 medical schools. Ten years ago there were less that 200 medical students enrolled each year in the whole country. This year over 3000 students started medical school. The scale-up of training has been spectacular.
My small contribution to this grand scheme has been to advise and assist in the development of a new post-graduate clinical specialty in Family Medicine at Addis Ababa University. The program has successfully concluded its first year. Seven residents will be moving on to their second year of the program and this week we welcomed a new cohort of first year residents.
I am convinced that the education of young people is one of the smartest investments that any society should choose to make. There is no other place where I’ve witnessed the kind of commitment to expanding higher education opportunities comparable to what I have observed here in Ethiopia. A generation from now this country will be a very different place – in no small part because of the determination to multiply educational opportunities for young adults.
There is a Hausa proverb that says, “Arziki dan ilimi ne” meaning “Prosperity is the child of education.” This seems to aptly describe the hope that drives such an impressive investment in education. If a country is to be peaceful, productive and prosperous, its leaders must ensure that every young person has access to a great education. Here in Ethiopia, I’m fascinated to see a nation moving ever closer to the dream of education for all.