Behind the Scenes of a Unique Initiative for the Program, 'Preparing former Ethiopians for Teaching'

Apr. 14, 2016

Dr. Shosh Millet is former head of Achva Education College, Israel. Today she is head of a teacher educators' specialization – 'A Developing Dialogue' at the MOFET Institute and a lecturer in the M.Ed. program at Achva Education College.

First there was an idea... Then, a vision emerged, gradually materialized, and finally became an initiative for a unique program. For ten years, there was a struggle to actualize notions of humanistic education, multicultural education, and a Freirean dialogue of social justice. Now there is a book that sums up the story of my beliefs and world-views alongside practices.

The idea originated over 50 years ago. I was in elementary school where I served as the editor of the school newspaper. An editor of a famous children's magazine came to the school. After his visit, he wrote in a national children's magazine that he had been impressed with my essay "What Can We Learn from the Children of Faraway Africa?"

Years went by… As head of Achva College's School of Education, I visited many schools. The phenomenon of numerous Ethiopian-born students and not a single Ethiopian teacher irked me. The all-time low occurred when I was invited to a steering committee on the topic, "Absorbing the Aliyah of the Jews of Ethiopia". Present at the meeting were donors from the USA as well as representatives of the Welfare, Health, and Education Ministries. There was not a single representative of the Ethiopian community. It was inconceivable that there was no reputable, educated adult at the school – a teacher – with whom the Ethiopian students could identify. Usually, the Ethiopian adults at school were cleaners. There were no Ethiopian-born students at the college. This was 15 years ago.

I investigated the matter and concluded that we had to inaugurate a unique and flexible program for former Ethiopians so that they could be accepted, study, and succeed. I wrote three position papers. There were many objections on the way, but eventually the Ministry of Education gave its approval on condition that we recruit 20 candidates with 12 years of education including matriculation. We recruited 25 boarding-school graduates from all over Israel – and we were on our way.

Without the wonderful partners at the college and the Ministry, the enterprise would have failed. It succeeded because of our belief in the immigrants, the study and understanding of the culture, the students' needs and expectations, and their belief in us.

Now, a few emotional moments that occurred during this journey:

***When I was the college president, some students visited me. They spoke, I listened and responded. Concluding the conversation, one of them said, "You're not a farenji. I mean, you're not foreign. You're one of us."

***When interviewing a graduate of the first class of Ethiopian students at Achva, he said: "You opened the gates of Achva before me... the gates of Jerusalem." Such a powerful statement. I wept. Today he holds a senior educational post.

***A representative from Oranim College called: "We heard about your program. Can we meet to hear about it?" That was very exciting recognition. Today, several colleges implement various models of the program, and a national forum of representatives of the programs met with the Israeli president.

***While writing the book, I read Guber's article on the Freirian dialogue, which deals with critical pedagogy. The author asks a question: "Do the immigrants from Ethiopia not have anything to teach us? Is it only we who have something to teach them?" Suddenly I was once again the little girl with her intuitive essay. Then, I sought to become knowledgeable about nature, different behaviors; now, with educated and informed results, at least 150 graduates, and four graduates' "roots" journeys to Ethiopia, I possess a great deal of knowledge regarding the heritage, traditions, and customs of Ethiopian Jewry.


The experience of going with an idea, a vision that is not perceived as being accepted or feasible, taught me that one must persist in his beliefs and not capitulate. The righteousness of the way and the right partners constitute a combination of forces that has the power to make dreams come true.

In the teacher education system, there is definitely room for initiatives that seem like fantasies. Brainstorming, investigating a topic, understanding that there might be objections, and adhering to the goal enable us to move forward. Opponents of the program related to it as a separation. However, it is not a separation but rather the merging of two streams of education for multiculturalism: particularistic education at first and pluralistic education later on. The program is built on 'alone' and 'together'. "A multicultural model that combines components from both stances was devised. The basic conception is that in order to become a moral and democratic pluralistic society, it is necessary, at the preliminary stages, to stress the separatist and particularistic aspects of the various cultural groups in society. This would enable the self-image of those groups to be improved, their uniqueness to be reinforced, particularistic traditions to be experimented with, and a communal identity to be formed. Only after this would it be possible to consolidate the components and the principles of the pluralistic conception." (page 97 of the book).

"The unique program for former Ethiopians in the framework of their teacher preparation is based on the inclusive stance... This is expressed in the combination of components of particularistic education (in the first year of their teacher preparation studies) and components of pluralistic education in the remaining three years of study (page 98). A lecturer attests as follows: "The students were not alone; each one succeeded in experiencing a process of empowerment and a feeling of belonging to a group that facilitated their integration into Israeli society" (page 107).

*The students attest: "We taught everyone about us... We have things to teach." "After the activity, I felt satisfaction and joy. They [the students] displayed great interest." "It was one of my most beautiful experiences at the college. I can introduce others to my community's... I didn't come from nowhere but rather from a place that has a tradition, a religion, beliefs, and festivals" (pages 112-113).

*A center for the study of the heritage of Ethiopian Jewry was at the college, and the former Ethiopians guided there proudly (pages 18, 68).

*New courses such as 'The Culture of Ethiopia' were created (pages 108-109).

*A unique enterprise is the students' "roots" journeys to Ethiopia. This is an example of empowerment, of meeting needs, of building a creative process of the integration of Ethiopian-born teachers. "The journey helped us realize the long distance we had traveled, from being herdsmen to people with an academic education..."; "We can… we did it" (pages 23, 106).

Without the unique program, they would not have acquired an education; they would never have got there because they failed to meet the acceptance conditions.

The initiative, the planning and development processes, and the ever-changing implementation as a result of continuous evaluation all prove that things can be done differently in large-scale systems.

Gilad, E., Millet, S. (2015). Learning from successes: Personal story of an Ethiopian teacher education graduate as an expression of a cultural narrative of will, determination and power. Asian Journal of Management Sciences & Education, 2, 110-118.

Gilad, E., Millet, S. (2015). Teacher educators' perception of multiculturalism in a unique programme for Ethiopian pre-service teachers in Israel. The International Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities Invention, 2(1), 935-950.

Millet, S., Gilad, E. (2015). Humanistic education in a unique pre-service teacher education program for Ethiopian immigrants: A foundation for bridging the gap. International Journal for Innovation Education and Research, 3(8), 115.

Millet, S., Gilad, E. (2015). Manifestation of the Freirean pedagogy in a unique pre-service teacher education programme for Ethiopian immigrants in Israel. Journal of Studies in Social Sciences, 10(2), 58-76.

Millet, S., Gilad, E. (2014). Theory and practice in a unique programme for Ethiopian pre-service teachers seen from a multicultural view point: A case study. Journal of Educational Policy and Entrepreneurial Research, 1(4), 8-15.

Updated: Apr. 14, 2016