The government of Eritrea through the Ministry of Education is striving to ensure equal access to education in all corners of the country. As a result, numerous schools have been constructed in all parts of the country, providing the required education services. As part of continuous endeavors in this sector, seven colleges have been opened in four regions of the country, broadly increasing the chance for Eritreans to attend higher education classes. Shabait conducted an interview with Dr. Tadesse Mehari, Executive Director of National Board of Higher Education, regarding the education sector in general and higher education in particular. Excerpts follow:
Could you briefly tell us about the distribution of colleges in the country as well the number of students and teachers in these colleges?
The distribution of colleges has improved greatly in the past few years. The newly constructed 7 colleges are distributed in four different regions of the country. Annually, over 3,000 students enroll in these colleges, which is almost double as compared to the number of students in previous years. The total number of students in these colleges reaches up to 10,000 and this number is increasing even more. Moreover, rigorous efforts are underway to upgrade educational facilities and thereby promote a higher number student attendance. As for the number of teachers, there are about 750 teachers working in the colleges, of which 33% are expatriates.
If you could tell us about the government’s investments in hiring foreign teachers?
The government makes a substantial expenditure in hiring foreign teachers. The government spends over 5 million USD per year for this purpose. However, since such an approach cannot sustain us for the long run, we are taking steps to address this difficulty.
What role have Eritrean intellectuals played in the development and strengthening of these colleges?
The input of intellectual citizens in strengthening the colleges is very commendable. When the colleges were first established, all the teachers, staff members, administrative bodies strived diligently to promote the efficiency of these colleges. Overcoming all hurdles, they have extended all the support that is required from them.
What fields of study are the majority students encouraged to pursue? Which courses of study do we need to strengthen and why?
Although all fields of study are imperative for development of a country, science and scientific files are more preferable. We all know that the contemporary global advancement was achieved through scientific discoveries and innovations. On the other hand, it is also impossible to exist as a society and a nation in the world without history, culture, and social life. So we can easily see that both fields are equally important.
For how long will the government be able to continue providing education without any payment?
I don’t think the provision of free education would continue forever. Students, especially college students, will at some point be required make some sort of payment like in many other countries when the economic situation in the country improves. This means students will cover their expense borrowing from banks and pay it back slowly after completing their studies.
How do you evaluate the participation of female students in higher education? Are you taking any steps or adopting policies to make female students more competitive?
Their participation from elementary up to secondary level is the same as that of male students. But, in higher education they represent less than 25% of the student body. Considering the various difficulties girls face, we have made some provisions to encourage more enrollment, such as lowering the admission grade for girls. Though we need to conduct a research to identify the basic problems female students face, traditional misconception, underage marriage, housework, family pressure could be cited as an example. So it’s everyone’s responsibility to work hard to increase their participation in higher education.
Can you tell us about the opportunities for higher education at graduate level?
In the past few years, graduate education opportunities were temporarily put on hold since there were no clear policies as regards this case. However, with the establishment of the National Board of Higher Education, we have outlined clear and distinct policies and already a number of graduate assistants within the higher education institutions in the country have been able to pursue their education on abroad.
In this academic year alone, about 30 teachers are preparing to go to China and 10 others to United Arab Emirates as well as to Germany and India. Further efforts are underway to extend this opportunity to all nationals. (For the time being this opportunity is only given to staff members of institutions of higher education so as to combat the shortage of local teachers.)
Nowadays people are pursuing higher education through correspondence programs on individual level. How does such distance learning relate with the policy of higher education in the country?
On our part, we are striving to establish partnership with several renowned universities around the world so as introduce distance learning through which citizens could upgrade their potential. Such programs will begin in the near future. Until then however, people shouldn’t be deceived with false information disseminated via internet.
Does the National Board of Higher Education have any particular plans you would like to discuss?
There is a plan to establish Board of Regents, which is basically an administrative body working under National Board that would supervise each college. Besides, our long-term plans include the establishment of post-graduate programs and the strengthening of access to distance learning. Furthermore, we are endeavoring to connect all higher education institutions in the country with prominent international universities so as to provide qualitative and completive education as well as to gain international recognition.
There is also a plan to establish junior colleges in all corners of the country based on ‘Road Map’ scheme, which provides training in certificate and diploma program.