Recently, a colleague asked me about my post-graduation plans. With little hesitation, I responded, “I’m going home.” I then proceeded to let her know why. Specifically, I shared a short story as narrated to me by a professor with experience teaching throughout Africa and the United States:
“I’ve taught for a long time, in Eritrea, in Africa, and in the United States. Generally, most places you go, students want to learn. Something I noticed in Eritrea, however, was that the students had a burning passion for it. When I teach in the USA, 5-10 minutes before class ends I begin to hear papers rustle. Bags being packed. Books are closed. And, of course, youthful eyes turn their attention towards the clock. In Eritrea however, things were different. Students sit mesmerized until the absolute last second of the class period. What’s more, they pleadingly ask whether they can forfeit their break or lunch recess in order to let class run-on. That’s passion. And I love it. We should encourage that.”
There is little question that my country, Eritrea, faces daunting challenges in many areas, including education. At the same time, a lot of progress has been achieved in a short period, and the country continues to seek improvements. Understanding the central role that education plays within broader development, it is encouraging to see attention focused on this important sector. Below, I summarize several key points from the country’s 2013-2017 Education Sector Development Report.
- The Government of the State of Eritrea considers education to be the cornerstone of all national development efforts, particularly in human resources development, economic growth and poverty alleviation.
- Total enrollments more than doubled at elementary level between 1991/92 and 2010/11, and tripled at middle and secondary levels over the same period.
- Enrollments in adult literacy classes reached over 40,000 in 2010/11, helping to improve adult literacy. In 1992 adult literacy was 20%, in 2002, it was 56%, and in 2010 it was 74%. The goal is to increase to above 90% in the next 5 years.
- Gross enrollment ratios have reached 93.2% at elementary level, 70.2% at middle level and 31.5.5% in secondary education.
- Gender disparity is improving. The Ministry of Education places top priority on the expansion of educational opportunities for females. It is expected that female gender parity with males will be achieved in elementary and middle education by 2015/16, and in secondary education by 2016.
- Currently, government expenditure on education hovers between 8-10% of the total national budget or between 2.6 – 3.7% of GDP.
- Progress in just the past 5-6 years includes:
- Number of kindergartens growing from 462 to 476
- Gross enrollment ratio (5-year olds) increasing from 21.6% to 31.4%
- Middle school enrollment increasing from 148,082 students to 167,928 students
- Enrollment in Technical and Vocational Education went from 1547 in 2005 to 4640 in 2010 – an increase of 200%.
- Education is based on equality and accessibility. For example: education curricula have been implemented in all 9 languages.
- Information and Communications Technology (ICT) labs are expected to be established in 204 schools.
- Solar power is expected to be installed in 68 rural schools.
- It is expected that the 2013-2017 education development program will increase the supply of much-needed teachers for the rapid expansion of lower levels of the system. The College of Education located together with EIT at Mai-Nefhi will enable the output of about 1000 trained teachers per year, 700 at diploma level for basic education and 300 at degree level for secondary education.