The first modern school in Ethiopia, the Ecole Imperiale Menelik, which was opened in October 1908
Establishing modern schools was not an easy adventure for Emperor Menilek at the end of 1880s because of strong opposition on the part of the Orthodox Church, which saw such education as a challenge to traditional Ethiopian religious values.
Later in the 1900s however, the monarch resolved the issue with the help of Abuna Matwos, the Head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church who was of course an Egyptian Copt. It was agreed between the monarch and the Abun that modern Ethiopian education should be entrusted to Egyptian Copts: it was agreed that they could be counted upon to introduce modern methods of schooling, while at the same time instilling the Orthodox Christian faith among Ethiopian students. On the basis of this agreement, education in Ethiopia was entrusted to Professor Hanna Saleb, an Egyptian Coptic educationalist. He was accompanied by a number of his compatriots, and co-religionaries. They were brought into Ethiopia to teach various subjects, at first at primary and later at secondary level. These included English and Arabic, as well as humanities and science. The main language of instruction was, however, French, which was envisaged as the principal foreign language of Ethiopia, as it was of Egypt.
Schools run by Coptic teachers, were duly established, in 1908, in Addis Ababa, as well as Ankobar, Dessie, and Harar. Ethiopia’s first modern school, the Ecole Imperiale Menelik, was opened by the Emperor in October 1908, shortly after the abatement of that year’s rains. This Coptic-run school offered instruction to about a hundred boys from different parts of country.
Teaching included French, English, Italian and Amharic, as well as mathematics and science, physical training and sports. Board and tuition were both entirely free.
The first big event at the school took place, on 16 July 1911, when prizes were awarded, after a public examination. The first prize, of 100 Maria Theresa thalers and a gold watch, was given to Abbaba, the son of Fitawrari Yebsa. Other prizes consisted of 50, 20, and 10 thalers. This picture was taken in 1901 when they visited the school.
Source: “History of Education, Printing and Literacy in Ethiopia” by Professor Richard Pankhurst