One of the things I remember about my high school days in the 1980s is the fierce competition among us students. My school, Semienawi Kokob Secondary School, accepted only high-performing students.
Students that failed to score 88% or above in the Grade 8 general examination conducted throughout Ethiopia (Eritrea was a part of Ethiopia then) were not accepted. I don’t know why such students in Asmara were brought under one school administration. Now, I can see how this decision denied Asmara’s other high schools of the opportunity to encourage competition among their students.
In the school, the students were placed into sections according to their scores. Students with high scores were assigned to classes in which other high-performing students were placed. Students with average and low scores were put in sections with other students that scored similarly. Such an arrangement taught us to work hard at all times. We felt that if we failed to do so, we would find ourselves at the bottom of our classes – a very humiliating situation for most students. Due to the fierce competition, many students not only read, but also learned, the lessons completely. It was as if through repeated reading, their minds had photographed the notes.
However, I can’t recall any teacher guiding us on how to approach our notes, how to summarize them, and how to understand our notes and materials. No teacher ever taught us reading and study skills, even in passing, which could have been of great benefit for us. It was as if the teachers cared little about how we approached the content, even though this content was what they wanted us to understand and remember during exam time. It appeared as if it didn’t matter at all to them how we went about studying our lessons. In spite of our teachers’ lack of interest, however, we developed our own study skills, some of which Estifanos Samuel discusses in his book, Finote Awet Temaharai (The Road to Student Success).
According to information that can be gleaned from the book, Estifanos Samuel graduated in Educational Psychology from the Eritrea Institute of Technology in Mai Nefhi. His senior research paper was titled, “Source and Level of Stress among Eritrean College Students”, a subject he discusses in the book. Although he doesn’t list all the books he consulted for the book, one can see that he has a wide reading of the topic. One can also see that he has consulted people as he wrote the book, since he includes their experiences in it. One also sees that to make the book relevant he has provided examples from Eritrea’s elementary, junior, and high school curriculum.
The book has four parts: psychological readiness; educational readiness; educational problems and how to resolve them; and the parents’ role in their children’s education. In Part One, Estifanos explains that students’ goals and their motivation (i.e. their psychological preparation) pave the way for their successes. However, he adds that psychological preparation is not enough. He discusses educational preparation, another factor for student success, in Part Two. To succeed, he argues, students should manage their time, use proper note-taking methods, and practice appropriate exam and memorization techniques. In Part Three, Estifanos discusses exam anxiety, stress, and failure and how these affect students’ performances. He goes on to suggest ways of addressing these issues. In regard to college students, he offers his advice on the factors that should be taken into account when selecting a field of study. Finally, he discusses parents’ role in the education of children and how a parent can positively impact their child’s performance.
Different parts of the book show that the book is primarily intended for college students and their parents. For example, Estifanos discusses issues such as research writing and note-taking and he also offers his advice to college students on various issues. However, Finote Awet Temaharai also has parts that will be useful for parents of elementary, middle, and high school students. He makes reference to elementary, middle, and high school subjects and gives many examples which are applicable to these levels. Likely sensing that elementary and middle school students may not have the interest nor the capacity to read and fully digest the contents of his book, Estifanos addresses their parents. Part Four is a good example of this.
Estifanos wrote the book based on real problems that he observed and had to think over. In the Preface, he lists problems faced by students which prompted him to write the book. Throughout, he interprets and analyses the problems, before offering his research-based advice. In parts, he quotes studies conducted elsewhere and presents his advice in light of the findings of these studies. Looking at his subject from different angles, Estifanos presents the “pros” and “cons” of different actions that students may take. This, I think, is one of the strengths of the book.
In some parts, the book reads like an inspirational or motivational book, with Estifanos writing like a proponent of positive thinking. He attempts to convince readers that students’ beliefs play an important role in their successes or failures. He argues that success or failure begin in the mind and are determined by a person’s mindset. A mind not well-tuned to the psychology of success can in no way succeed, he convincingly argues. He makes a forceful argument for positive thinking, convincing readers that one has to win the battle in their mind before they can be successful in their exams or academic pursuits.
Seeing that Estifanos had spoken with students that had problems in education, it is puzzling that he didn’t use their stories as examples in his book. I think that these situations could have served as case studies, making his arguments more compelling and the book much more readable. Readers would likely have identified themselves with the people in his case studies and been able to glean more from the book.
I also wish that Estifanos had used his carefully selected quotes as part and parcel of the main text. Each quote reinforces the idea expressed on each page in a stimulating and interesting way. However, the reader is forced to interrupt their reading and is distracted when they read quotes at the foot of each page. Inadvertently, Estifanos disrupts the flow of information and frustrates readers’ efforts to make sense of the material. Had he used the quotes as part of the main text, including them as supporting details, such distractions could have been avoided.
In addition, in three or four places, Estifanos has included tips for readers. These, I believe, create confusion. Each “tips page” (located at the end of each section) deals with a different subject, such as the human brain, animals, plants, Albert Einstein (the man, not his work), reading habits, and note-taking skills. To be honest, they provide interesting facts and offer readers a wealth of fascinating information. However, the tips do not contribute to the overall discussion and do not add to the conversation. I see no relationship to the subject under discussion.
To be honest, Finote Awet Temaharai is an excellent book. My regret is that some of the excellent techniques and ideas are not taught in our schools. If they were, our students would have gained so much more from their lectures and readings. It is high time that someone should take notice and do something about the topics that the book discusses.