There can be no doubting the success of Asfaw Yemiru's original school. It has provided an education for over 3,000 children who would otherwise have had none. It has given homes to hundreds of orphans who would otherwise have remained begging in the streets. Seven times it has outstripped all other schools in Ethiopia in examination results.
However Asfaw, his own sternest critic, believes that a radical reappraisal of his ideas has become necessary. He has detected, in his secondary school pupils, a trend which, he feels is a reflection of the general malaise of education policy, in the country as a whole: "I have been becoming increasingly distressed, in recent years, by the growing dislike for manual work, and with the growing numbers who having spent 12 years in school, then find themselves in the hopeless and miserable position of being unable to find employment, because the country does not need them at the present time."
Lured by the material wealth of a small, urban elite, students lucky enough to have had a secondary education compete for jobs in the western-style city centre. Agriculture is, and will continue to be, the basis of Ethiopian life for the foreseeable future. Yet manual labour on the land, the cultivation of the soil, has become a symbol of degradation.
"What is the use of 12 years of education about things alien to Ethiopia, when, after this, there is nothing for us to do? Education is not the important thing. It is whether you are rich; for then you can bribe someone to give you a job or contact a useful friend or relative to pull strings for you." Such is the situation as described by a student about to join this rat race.
The Asere Hawariat school, necessary and vital though it was, could do little to change the harsh realities of this situation.
In 1968, 60% of the urban school age population were at school. Only 3.7% of the rural population were enjoying the same privilege.
To combat this state of affairs, which is progressively widening the gap between the city and the countryside, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, Asfaw is turning his school into a Moya. 'Moya' is an Amharic word meaning a place where people live, spend time and work together, in order to give, take, learn and share every aspect of human problems and happiness.
Through the Moya, Asfaw aims to reorientate thinking back towards the need to work on the land, and towards an egalitarian, co-operative mode of living, which will transcend tribal and religious barriers, and hopefully make it possible to exploit the resources of the country, for the benefit of the country as a whole.
Entrants to the Moya will first undergo a 4 year basic literacy course, which will include some teaching in mathematics, Ethiopian history and geography, and health science. 90% of the students will then go to work on the Moya, learning practical skills which will equip them to work on the land, and cope with basic carpentry and building tasks.
Although he is sceptical of its worth, Asfaw will retain a small secondary school, which will offer an academic course for the other 10% who are particularly suited for this sort of education. In an effort to avert a contempt for manual labour on the part of the 'pen pushers', they will be required to give at least 2 years service to the Moya. It is hoped that this will instil into them a respect for, and commitment to, the ideals of the Moya itself.
When the students leave the Moya they will not be promised jobs. They must be able to create their own employment. Consequently the principle of self-sufficiency, more than any other, will govern the conduct of the experiment. The tools used will be simple, inexpensive, and within the practical means of the peasant, so that the students will be able to obtain or manufacture for themselves the equipment which they will need.
The Moya itself will be built by the members of the community, dependence on outside help being kept to the absolute minimum. Once established it is hoped that the sale of clothing, woodwork, and farm produce, as well as providing goods at the cheapest possible prices for the people outside the Moya, will make the Moya itself almost self-sufficient as a community.
Already the original school is producing an income from clothing made on 20 looms which Asfaw has built by hand, and he will soon be able to dispense with the two instructors he is paying to teach weaving. Such teaching will ultimately be taken over by the older students as part of their training. This is the basis of a larger weaving school which, characteristically, will be built from the ground up by the students themselves. At present, with only 5 sewing machines the school is able to service the poor community around it, as well as the school itself, with necessary clothing and repairs.
Integration with the community outside the Moya is essential if it is to succeed. The role which Asfaw intends for the Moya is not a purely educational one. He sees•it more as an agent for rural development in general.
Perhaps the most ambitious project, and certainly the most expensive, is the community library, the largest section of which will cater for illiterate members of the community outside the Moya. With audio-visual aids to facilitate the teaching of basic agricultural, health science, building, civic and literacy skills, the standards of the community as a whole can keep pace with those of the pupils in the school. Adults can be made more receptive to the new skills which their children are learning. If sufficient money is found, the library can be big enough to accommodate large groups of adults for film shows, lectures and gatherings. As well as the educational possibilities of such a facility, it would provide a focal point for the wider community.
If the Moya experiment manages to close the gap between the school and the needs of the country as a whole, which the present educational system leaves yawning, then it will have achieved a notable success. However the Moya is only one institution, in one place. The real test will come after it has become established - if Moya pupils, when they leave, go to other parts of the country and start new Moyas. Then many beyond the reach of Asfaw's particular experiment will start to benefit, and Asfaw Yemiru really will have initiated a movement which has the power to change education from a privilege available to a small minority, to a liberating force bringing 'material and spiritual benefit' to the whole nation, and providing the people of a dying countryside with the means to remedy their own abysmal poverty.