Lycée Guebré –Mariam School celebrates 65th anniversary
Lycée Guebré -Mariam (LGM) was founded in 1948. The school is a melting pot of students from around 40 different nationalities and is accredited by the French Ministry of Education. The Lycée Guebré -Mariam School recently celebrated its 65th Anniversary with a series of colorful events. Capital’s Eskedar Kifle sat down with the school’s Principal, Jean-Pierre Pasquiou, to discuss the school’s history, its teaching methodology and the celebration of its 65th Anniversary.
Capital: Can you give us a brief introduction to Lycée Guebré-Mariam?
Jean-Pierre Pasquiou: The School opened its doors in 1948, which makes it one of the oldest schools in the country. The friendly relationship between Emperor Haileselassie I and Charles De Gaulle, the former President of France, was one of the foundations for the establishment of the school.
There was a time when the two countries were in a similar situation; General De Gaulle was organizing a resistance against Germany during World War II, and at the same time Haileselassie I was organizing a similar resistance against the Italians, to try to free their respective countries from the invaders.
The second reason that contributed to the establishment of the School is the Emperor’s steadfast commitment to modernize the country.
In 1950, Guebré-Mariam had 1,000 students, at a time when there were only 60,000 students in the whole country, which means one student out of 60 was enrolled and learning at this School, which is quite significant.
The School is situated on 5 hectares of land which was bestowed by Ethiopia; the property belongs to the country and we want to make sure that our contract with the country in regards to the land will continue.
Capital: How did you celebrate the 65th Anniversary of the School’s founding?
Pasquiou: We had several reasons for holding the celebratory events. The first is that the School’s alumni asked for it, because it was a good way for all of them to get together again, reconnect and meet different generation of students.
It was also organized because we wanted to renew the history of the School. You know, 65 years is such a long time and quite a lot of things have happened from the day the School was established upto the present. Ethiopia is now modernizing at a fast pace. This event provided the opportunity to speak about our history; the history between France and Ethiopia, and also to explore what the future holds for us.
One of the first events that were held to celebrate the anniversary was a Gala held at the Sheraton Addis in May. During the event, the alumni from different generations got together and said: “We are young; we have been working in our various professions, locally and abroad, and now we want to contribute to the development of Ethiopia.” They said that they wanted to provide their children with the same quality education they received at this School. So it was a really good moment to celebrate, to reminisce and to make promises.
It was also necessary to show and explain to parents of students who we are and what the school stands for. Currently, we have around 2,000 students, which I think is the largest among international schools, but I think the majority of parents don’t really realize why it is one of the best schools in the country.
Because of this, we organized an open-house event where parents and basically the public can come to the school and visit the classrooms, the libraries, the laboratories etc. so they can understand and appreciate what we provide for the students. A lot of people did come to this event and were really impressed with what they saw.
We also wanted to show the importance of the school in regards to the relationship the two countries have. It is important for the development of Ethiopia and for the economy of France too. It is a School that prepares the youth of Ethiopia for the future.
Many of our graduate students proceed from here to work in prominent private and public institutions including international organizations. For example, the school has graduate students that are working in the management section of Ethiopian Airlines, in the European Union, the African Union and many other such places. There are others who are prominent in business too. It is necessary to record our success stories so that others can perceive what we can contribute and this can also help us receive financial aid from the alumni and the societies in France and Ethiopia.
Capital: A lot of people think that the majority of students in your School are foreigners and that the school fees are high. Is that true?
Pasquiou: To be exact, currently we have about 1,700 students, and out of those, Ethiopian students account for over 1050; so the majority of students are actually Ethiopians.
The tuition rate differs from student to student. The average tuition rate for Ethiopian students is much lower than for foreign students, and when you compare the rate with other international schools like the International Community School or the German School, it is as much as ten times lower.
We give out scholarships to kids whose parents cannot afford to pay tuition due to various reasons. The children of employees are also offered scholarships. Currently, we have 150 students on full scholarship.
Since June 2012, we have made a new agreement to change our policy. The new policy allows us to offer more scholarships, while the special rate we used to offer Ethiopian parents has changed; parents are now paying more than they used to. We have numerous new families with a lot of money, who can pay more than what the special rate was, and are willing to do so.
By introducing this new way of operation, we do not want to lose low-income families; that is why we offer more scholarships now. We believe it is a progressive policy.
Capital: In general, schools in Ethiopia are reputed to be plagued by low quality education and disciplinary issues, even in international schools. How do you make sure the School does not go below the standard that has been set for it?
Pasquiou: Many of our teachers come directly from France. Overall, we have 246 employees in the school. Out of these, 140 are teachers and around 50 of them are from France.
In France, we have a really good public education system. It is one of those rare countries where the government grants a lot of money for education. There, everybody has the opportunity to get a really good education, even those with very low income.
I am one example of this; my father was a construction worker and my family had a very low income. Here in Ethiopia, if you are born from a construction worker, there would be no way for you to get a good education, because your parents could not afford it. The child would be forced to go to a school where there are over 60 students in just one class. In France, this is not the case; everybody has the possibility to receive high-quality education.
At Guebre Mariam we have a lot of well-qualified teachers; the 50 teachers who come from France offer dynamism to the school and benefit all the teachers. A lot of money is spent training employees in the school too.
The fact that we have a very good public education system in France allows us to maintain excellent standards in our School here. A lot of money is spent to pay French teachers to keep such standards. These teachers are paid the same salary they would be paid in France, but of course, it is much more than the salary paid to other teachers here.
The number of students in each of our classrooms does not exceed 27; the School is equipped with an advanced and up-to-standard laboratory, and other educational materials.
Capital: What is your annual budget?
Pasquiou: Our school overall budget is 7.2 million euros; out of that, 4 million euros is allocated by France. It may seem like a lot of money, but there are a lot of expenses such as health care, which is really expensive but also maintaining the school in a good standard costs a lot. So when you compare the overall expenses of the school, 7.2 million euros is not really that much