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Apr 20, 2022

Education and Ethnic Conflict in Ethiopia: Flourishing in Uncertainty with Adamseged Abebe (video)

Where education fails to meet its core aims, it may leave space for ethnic mobilization and conflict.

By Templeton Staff with Luana DeBorst

This recording is the third in a series of public seminars given by scholars lecturing at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford as part of the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF) supported project, Education, Purpose and Human Flourishing in Uncertain Times (EPHF). EPHF explores new understandings of education, purpose, and human flourishing through annual convenes and publications.

The above video features Adamseged Abebe, DPhil. candidate, Department of Education, University of Oxford. Drawing on extensive interviews with students and teachers primarily in the Amhara and Oromo regions of Ethiopia, this presentation discusses the role of education in Ethiopia's ethnic conflicts, and in the country’s flourishing.

In this talk, Abebe brings up the philosophical question of education’s purpose, suggesting that, where education fails to meet its core aims, it may leave space for ethnic mobilization and conflict. Rooted at the intersection of literature in Peace and Conflict Studies as well as in Education, Abebe’s paper challenges his audience to examine the very real barriers to human flourishing in the Ethiopian context. 

Abebe uses Gert Biesta’s “Three Purposes of Education” framework to unpack the relationship between education and the making of “Inadequate Youth” or “Beque Yalehone” — or certified, but not qualified students, who may be educated but may not adequately be able to create prospects for their own future lives. Some of the core challenges to studying educational pathways or barriers to flourishing include that:

  • Education’s role (negative and positive) is limited by larger political and structural issues in the country
  • Ethnicization of student’s identities may be happening outside of schools
  • Given the context of the poor education system at large, education’s role must be studied as a composite system
  • There are significant challenges in defining the purpose of education itself. 

Abebe goes on to analyze the relationship between education and conflict by framing Ethiopia’s context through the lens of Biesta’s three purposes of education: Qualification, Socialization and Subjectification.


Qualification in Ethipoia's context refers to the making of certified but not qualified youth, leading to unemployment, which in turn contributes to frustration and hopelessness, potentially leading to violence and ethnically-based mobilization.


Failure of socialization in democratic values and the lack of a unifying national identity might contribute to:

1) The use of violence as a means of conflict resolution
2) Lack of unity that allows easier ethnic mobilization.


Subjectification refers to a lack of training for critical thinking and individual empowerment, which may facilitate ethnicization and political mobilization. 

Flourishing in the Midst of Challenges

In the midst of these challenges and notes of hopelessness, one teacher Abebe interviewed commented: “You just work hard for the very rare and few students who are motivated to learn. You have consciousness and it’s your profession. So, for the sake of one or two students, you try your best. Otherwise, the majority will break you.”

Stay tuned for the next video from this important exploratory series. We'll be posting them here at TWCF's Future of Flourishing blog each week. 

Adamseged Abebe is a Rhodes Scholar and DPhil. candidate in the Department of Education, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. His research focuses on the role of education in ethnic conflicts and peacebuilding in Ethiopia, particularly on notions of hopelessness and historical narrative.

Dr. David Johnson, Junior Proctor, University of Oxford, Reader in Comparative and International Education, and Fiona Gatty, DPhil., Research Project Coordinator and TWCF Fellow in Comparative Education, are Principal Investigator and Co-Investigator of the EPHF ProjectLuana DeBorst, Research Assistant, University of Oxford, assists with the project.