Articles in this series:
2. The Educational Philosophy of Tafari Makonnen
The founding of the Tafari Makonnen School, mentioned in last week’s issue, was followed, in January 1926, by the introduction, by Regent Tafari, of an Education Tax. Based on a six per cent ad valorum tax on all imports and exports, it was expected to raise a revenue of 240,000 Maria Theresa dollars a year. One-third of that amount was needed to defray the costs of the Tafari Makonnen School leaving relatively little for the country as a whole. Tafari therefore appealed to the nobility to meet educational expenses.
Glimpses of the Regent’s Philosophy of Education
Glimpse into his philosophy of education can be seen from his public speeches of the time. One of the most important was delivered at the Tafari Makonnen School, for its prize-giving day, 4 July 1927. Expressing the hope that the school, which then had 180 students, would within five years have an enrollment of a thousand, he declared:
Foreign Languages Needed
“Although in past times in our land of Ethiopia there were a few people who had, through their own enterprise, gone abroad and returned with some knowledge of foreign languages, there were no foreign language schools in our country. This led to considerable difficulties in relation to language. Later, however, Emperor Menilek, convinced of the need for Ethiopia to have many young men well versed in foreign languages, established a school which taught foreign tongues, and had many boys taught in them
“A Thousand Students” to “Serve their Country”
“It was because I too was convinced that it would be of great benefit to Ethiopia that I established this school in which students would learn foreign languages. When it was first founded it had only thirty students, but now, after two years, their number has increased to 180, and for this I thank God. If this progress is continued, after five more years there should be a thousand students being educated here”.
The Regent concluded his address by thanking all who had made “monetary gifts to the school”; and expressed the hope that they would, in the future, “also recognise the advantage of education, by founding schools in the various provinces”. He ended by wishing “long life” to the students, so that, on completing their studies, they might serve their country.
The Menilek School
Further insight into Tafari’s views on education is found in a speech he delivered a few weeks later at the Menilek School, on 21 July 1927. Setting education in the what he considered the wider context of Ethiopian development, he observed:
The World Community
“Although, as the world knows, our land of Ethiopia has since ancient times been an independent and self-sufficient state, in 1915 [i.e. 1923 European calendar] by joining the League of Nations she became a partner of the world community. We are all convinced in our minds that to strengthen this partnership we must increase the number of schools.
“Emperor Menilek, after ruling many years in accordance with the traditions of our country, recognised that the educational system of our country was inadequate, and that it had to be brought into line with that of other countries. He therefore established this school [i.e. the Menilek School] to meet the immediate need for a knowledge of foreign languages. As an example to the people, and priesthood, he had all his young relatives, and others, who had been brought up in the palace, to enter this school. I was myself one of the boys who went to this school when it was first founded.
“Valuable to their Country”
“No one can doubt that Ethiopia’s children are lovers of learning, and that their minds are open to receive education. Evidence of this is to be seen in the fact that beside the boys whom we have chosen from time to time to send abroad, there are many others who have run away from their fathers and mothers and gone abroad for education on their own volition. There are many others, too, who have, by their own will, effort and perseverance, obtained education here, in our land, and have thus succeeded in becoming valuable to their country.
“Then again there are many who have come here [i.e. to Addis Ababa], from both towns and rural areas, to obtain education. If in the future they can obtain education in their own districts, as a result of increasing the number of schools, this will be to their advantage. Such a development would also be a source of pride for their Government, and happiness for their fathers and mothers.
Ge’ez and Amharic
“No one is blind to the fact that an uneducated child is a curse to his father and mother, whereas an educated one is a blessing to them. Furthermore, as there is great value in being taught Ge’ez and Amharic, the learning of our country, it will be necessary for all provincial governors to provide such education by establishing, in their respective areas, schools for reading and writing. Only when students have received sufficient education to prepare themselves for foreign learning should they come here [i.e. to Addis Ababa]. My reason for laying down this rule is that one who proposes to study foreign knowledge without a grounding in the learning of our country is like a man who builds a house on loose sand.
Haqim Warqnah, Kantiba Gabru and Others
“Indeed those who have already in our own time become pillars of state – men like Haqim Warqnah, Nagadras Afawarq, Blattengeta Heruy, Kantiba Gabru, Alaqa Tayya, Ato Walda Maryam, and many others – succeeded in fitting themselves for public service by in the first place studying the learning of our land of Ethiopia: it was not by devoting their energies solely to the study of foreign languages.”
This identification of his administration with traditional Ethiopian scholars was not the least interesting aspect of the speech.
A Double Joy
“The advice which I offer you, students of this school, is this: it is a double joy for a father to see his children’s children: so become yourselves teachers of the knowledge you have acquired with the natural gift with which God has given you. I beg you to become servants of the State, rather than mere seekers after the advantages of the day.
“If you devote your energy and efforts to study, and the acquisition of knowledge, those who now despise you will respect you, and those who hate you will come to love you, and as your honour increases so will you become increasingly happy”.
Turning to the then Ethiopian sovereign, Empress Zawditu, who was present on this occasion, Tafari concluded:
“Your Imperial Majesty!
“All the schools in Ethiopia would be glad if as a mother takes an interest in all her children, you could go and visit them all. If Ethiopia attains a high level of culture, we shall derive advantage from the resulting development and advancement of the State – a consideration which it is my duty to recall.
“May God grant to Ethiopia good fortune and prosperity, and long life to the realm: I pray God the Omnipotent that he fulfill this my desire.”
Another Prize-Giving at Tafari Makonnen School
A year or so later, on 7 July 1928, at the Tafari Makonnen School prize-giving the Regent reverted to the need for all Ethiopians who could to do so to assist in the founding of schools, and referred, among other things, to the anticipated establishment of a Manan School for Girls.
The Manan School for Girls
Speaking of the confidence he had in the great nobles, he recalled that it had been his hope that after his founding of the Tafari Makonnen School, and in accordance with Emperor Menilek’s wishes, many schools would be built in Ethiopia by feudal initiative.
It was for this reason, he continued, that:
“Three years ago, when we were celebrating the first opening of this school, I said in my speech that love of Ethiopia should be expressed not in words, but in deeds. I then declared that in the course of time this small educational beginning would grow, and that schools would be built in all the provinces of Ethiopia. Much of what I said is now, by God’s goodness, well on the way to fulfillment”.
In support of this claim he announced that his wooing of the nobility had led to three notable developments in the educational field:
Wayzero Sahin, Wayzero Manan, and Ras Berru
Firstly: “Wayzero Sahin [the mother of Tafari’s wife Manan] was, as you know, a very clever and intelligent woman; and here is proof of her serious preoccupations. On making her will prior to her death, she made a bequest in these terms: ‘I charge you to have a school built at Dase with my money for the education of poor children’. For premises I have had renovated the house of her son Ras Hayla Maryam, and in the coming Maskaram [i.e. September-October] it will be opened and lessons will begin.”
Secondly: “Wayzero Manan, coming to the conclusion that when Ethiopian boys have completed their education they will want educated wives, and moreover that it will be to the country’s advantage, has decided to institute a school for girls at her own expense. You must have heard that the foundations of the building have already been laid.”
Thirdly, “Dajazmach Berru has informed me that he is proposing to build a school and a hospital, and to engage
a teacher and a doctor, at his own expense, to help the people living in the province which he governs. He asked for my assistance, and I gladly welcomed his proposal. It has been decided that I shall send him a teacher and a doctor, despatching them in time for the school’s opening in the coming Maskaram [i.e. September-October].”
And the Regent concluded:
“As it is my business to watch over and assist without reserve, all the schools which have been or will be established for the benefit of the children of Ethiopia, if there is anybody, whether of the nobility or of the people, who has decided or may decide in the future to establish a school, I shall not grudge him my help to the full extent of my ability”.