The change to Qube sequence has gone virial on social and mainstream media this time around. OPDO officials came out on TV screen to deny and or defend the change in a hair-raising way. One of the defenders who appeared on Oromia Radio and Television (who presumably presented himself as a language scholar), tried to explain the “rational” of the Qube change, though implausibly. He mentioned 5 points, defined as reading components viz. phonological awareness, grapho-phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
There are plenty of reasons that retrigger linguistic and pedagogical questions in these claims. Are they really the causes to change the sequence of Oromo alphabet? The OPDO officials/experts denied the change to ABCD sequence in Afan Oromo curriculum. However, they couldn’t hide that the teaching method for Afan Oromo from grade 1 to 8 has been changed as far as Oromo language teaching is concerned. What does that mean? On the one hand they say Oromo alphabet order is not changed. On the other they tell us the order is changed from ABCD to LAGM? Are they confused or try to confuse us? Leaving aside the denial tricks, let us raise some mechanical (writing), linguistic and pedagogical points.
1. The issue of mechanics (grapho-phonemics)
The OPDO TV panellists said “L” letter is the simplest sign for children to write. As we all know, Qube alphabet has got two sets of signs, which are different in shape-small and capital (lower case and upper case). Which of the signs the OPDO linguists are talking about “l” or “L”? If they are talking about small “l”, yes, one needs to write only one vertical line and if that is the case what should logically follow is ‘i’ not “a” or A, then “j” not, “g” or “G”. If they are talking about capital “L, it needs to draw two lines, vertical and horizontal and connect them at the bottom end, and the logic of simplicity becomes questionable. In that case one may probably accept the logic of drawing two lines to write “A” capital. But it needs three lines, the two which form a coned shape and connected them at the middle by another line. Worse, yet, “g” or “G” are entirely different in shape from both “L” and “A”. Where is the mechanics of simplicity, then? This fact automatically dismisses the simplicity of visual and mechanical logic claimed for writing the letters.
2. The issue of frequency of “L” sound (phonological awareness)
The magic of “L” sound in Afan Oromo is simply a surprise for one to believe. What is the magic for frequency of an “L” sound in Afan Oromo? What special linguistic quality makes it appear repeatedly when all sounds have equal value in the language? Moreover, in which text and in how many written materials the magic sound occurred in the so-called Primerpro software? What is the factor that triggered the recurrence of an “L” sound? Even if that is true, can an expert experiment become a cause to change a nation’s curriculum? There is no sufficient evidence as yet provided by the OPDO “experts” to defend their “discovery”.
3. Reading components?
The OPDO “expert” claimed fluency, vocabulary and comprehension has stirred the change to alphabetical order. These concepts have nothing to do with alphabet teaching or ability of alphabet discrimination. Alphabet is learned in preschool classes and in the case of rural Ethiopia in grade one. Alphabet teaching is not an all time exercise (from grade 1-8). However, fluency in reading, vocabulary mastery and comprehension skills are a lifetime exercise. How on earth these components serve to change sequence of a language alphabet. How much can kids read at grade one in a country like Ethiopia and what does it have with the shapes of alphabets?
4. A Counter argument
If one tries to group sounds, here is linguistic argument. One can arrange sounds based on linguistic features, in their point and manner of articulation instead of the shape of the letters that represent them. For instance, one can argue “K”, “G and “Q” are produced in the same area in oral cavity, so it is easy for children to memorize them if they are put in sequence in alphabet teaching. The same logic works for “T” and “X” of Oromo Qube and “S” and “Sh” alike. Thus, the change made to Afan Oromo alphabet has nothing to do with linguistic features.
5. Confusion of alphabets in two languages
The OPDO officials/experts talked that English alphabets will continue to be taught to children in the natural order of ABCD. As we all know, English teaching starts in grade one in Ethiopian schools. One can imagine the benefit of learning the alphabets in the two languages alike. Why do they create this confusion to children, while it is not in the interest of the children (as we watched on Oromia Television a teacher in Sululta reflecting students’ dissatisfaction and that of the teachers with the confusion of changing the alphabets)?
6. The psycholinguistic factor
One of the TV interviewees was heard saying psycholinguistic method was one of the factors that triggered the change (means, cognitive faculty captures simple words than complex ones). Apparently this claim sounds logical. But what has it got with learning “l” first and “a” next? Is “a” difficult than “l”? Dr. Firdisa Jabessa, an established educator at Addis Ababa University, told a journalist while asked the change OPDO made to Qube, that children first pronounce “A” and “B” when they learn talking at toddler stage, not “L”. They start with “Aba”. This is true for all children in the world.
7. The socio-linguistic factor
Since the coming to effect of Qube, Oromos know Qube in the order they have learnt it from day one of their acquaintance with the writing system. Kids chanted ABCD, renowned singers including Ali Birra, produced pieces of lyrics and Oromos across the world cherished ABCD unanimously. Why the TPLF masters and OPDO surrogates want to intervene in this public business? Don’t they know, the level of Oromo attachment to the Qube issue?
8. Detachment from the world
One would hardly believe that Oromo children are less intelligent than the children around the world to learn their alphabet. There is no a story of similar step where countries or communities changed their regular alphabet to teach them to their children. Alphabet teaching is not a rocket science. It needs a lot of elements to help children identify alphabets and read texts properly. Therefore, to alter the order of alphabets known to the world has nothing to do with teaching letters.
Aleqa Kidanewold Kifle, an Amharic lexicographer argues (may be before 50 years back) that Amharic should change its alphabet order from “ሀ ለ” to “አ በ ገ ደ” because the world alphabets start with “A”.
9. The true reason for kids to fail to identify alphabets
One of the scary reasons is that the majority of kids in Oromia are unable to read and write when they complete first cycle school (grades 1-4) is a policy issue. This fact is boldly told to the public by one of the OPDO officials during the TV briefing, though those who are aware of the current Ethiopian education system prettily know it. The major problem here is the so-called self-contained system where one teacher is assigned for the kids to teach all subjects in the first cycle.
Moreover, there are a lot of factors that affect the learning-teaching process at this formative stage, some of which are lack of well trained teachers, teacher-student ratio (up to 80 students in a class room), textbook-student ration, lack of pedagogical facilities such as teaching aids, (fillip chart, flash card, picture books, realia, paly boars etc.), lack of motivation from the part of the teachers, lack of incentive and party membership nepotism, lack of academic freedom among others
10. Preschool policy
The Ethiopian education system is devoid of a preschool policy. There are no publicly funded preschools or kindergartens in Ethiopia. Cities have an assortment of private preschools and kindergartens but there are fewer or no institutions in rural areas. Typically, the children from poor, urban families or those living in rural areas do not attend preschool at all. That means, children enter grade one before learning how to pronounce and spell sounds. This is a country where 85% of the population lives in rural areas and there is not policy as to how to teach basic alphabets and arithmetic to the kids and there are no preschool institutions. Therefore, one can see no liability in the order of Afan Oromo alphabet for the failure of children to read or write.
11. The undercover project
The fact lies somewhere. The change that OPDO made changes to Qube is a political intrigue, which is part and parcel of destabilizing the Oromo society. Known to all, the OPDO goons would not take any policy initiative by their own be it bad or good. The project owners are the TPLF masters. They want to narrow every space they believe benefiting and promoting Oromia. Afan Oromo is a big capital and a unifying force. TPLF wants to infiltrate in this business and disrupt the pace and progress of Afan Oromo development.