His excellency President Isaias Afwerki conducted an extensive interview with the local media from 27 to 30 of December, 2011, regarding global, regional as well as local issues. Excerpts of the seventh part of the interview follows:
Your Excellency, I would like to ask you the following personal question. I have the information that you are a good reader, with good reading skills. Hence, would you comment on the role of books on the life of individuals?
On my opinion, I believe that reading is a kind of habit. I don’t agree that there is an exceptional human behavior as regards to reading. When you start to read once in your time, you practice it as a habit. As for the root initiations, there could be different stories. As I recall to my childhood, we used to buy and read some interesting second hand books from the market at 15 to 20 cents. The majority of them were fictions, but we used to choose according to our preferences. It could be different from person to person; it is difficult to assess how it goes with others. As to my interests, I prefer to read timely writings in order to get better taste of them. You don’t simply kill your time. Of course, it gives meaning when you spend your time on reading rather than spending it on unnecessary subjects. Through time you develop the habit of re-reading one book until you make sure you fully digest it. You first scan over the pages, and if you find it interesting, you read it through the lines. But presently, reading is totally inexistent as a culture. With emergence of information technology, everything heads its own way. You can gather information as much as you can cop up with the accelerating world.
If you want to broaden your knowledge on interesting and timely issues, the best way is through reading. It is the right time for the youth to broaden his/her knowledge through reading in their early ages so as to be able to digest things easily, but the habit for reading is not established, yet. Life, however, is not represented only by reading, there are a lot of things that could enrich your experiences, sharpen your thinking, and broaden your knowledge. There are innumerable scholars and writers. When you read their writings it is helpful to go up and down through your own important topics and finally you reach into good conclusion. But habit is the core point; if you develop the habit of doing something it becomes inherent.
Encouraging advancements have been registered in the social services sectors such as Health and Education. As regards to the management system and effectiveness it is not that much encouraging. Especially on the education services, it has been assessed substandard as regards to its quality and productivity measures, and as a result, the Ministerial Cabinet meeting asserted that some changes should be enacted. Taking the existing social service as a springboard, what possible measures, thus, could be taken in order to ensure the transformation to quality provision of services? Particularly the question of Education as it shoulders the prospects of generations to come?
With the limited experience in the education sector of this country, there were no qualitative educational institutions. Everything started from a scratch. The number of students has increased exponentially within the past 20 years. But the increase was only in figures, not complemented with the quality, as it should have been. The basic problem is capability of the teaching staff. When working in nation building process, one need to enhance the quality of man power and as a result one gains skill, knowledge and finally one steps towards success. The basic solution, thus, is education and training. The number of teachers is incomparable to the number of students in our case. All efforts that have been exerted for the fulfillment of demanded qualified teachers couldn’t yet meet point we aspire. Expressly in higher institutions, it is run with the help of recruiting expensive foreign instructors. Such an alternative also has its own anomalies; there are not yet teachers’ qualifications that satisfy the exact objectives and support the students. This is the rudimentary problem I can mention. There is no profession that equals teaching. It is impossible to argue that there are other professionals that transfer knowledge to one thousand, two thousand, 10 thousand, 100 thousand youth more than teachers. Proper treatment has not yet been applied even to the issues of few existing teachers, till this last hour. Providing some supports have been tried from different angles; nevertheless, it is impossible to say that encouraging environment has been laid down for the teachers. If you want to win quality education, far more beyond the number of students, there you need to have good teachers. The second major point is teaching facilities. There have been no reliable book provisions. Insufficient activities have been dwindling as to try to meet the major demands, but it was not that much pleasing.
Likewise, there has been scarcity of teaching aid or curriculum supportive materials, laboratories, workshops and computer rooms. Much has been said about ICT but no progress is reflected at all. Had information technology been used throughout the system, these shortcomings in the provision of qualified teachers and teaching aid materials would have been minimized. If we comparatively assess how the rural social life is run in this context, there are a number of challenges. The types of schools, their rooms, teaching facilities, their buildings and living environments are not worth mentioning. Everything is built just for a while. Not differently, a number of colleges and high schools have been established sub-standard. But, taking into consideration time and achievements of the outlined activities, these basic problems need to be resolved; essentially, the issue of teachers. All teaching aid materials have to be fulfilled, even the quality of teaching-learning process. The content of all the edification system and its transmission of knowledge, skill or know how, from teacher to student, is not consistent. The newly established systems of school leaving examinations do not also push towards quality education. Therefore, because all students couldn’t partake into higher education sectors, the education system or strategy should have a clear roadmap. Students should be able to identify their inclinations; which skill, trait and field of study to specialize in, in the early stages of their education. What are the immediate needs in the process of nation building, tomorrow or many years to come? What kind of profession, skill and knowledge does the country need? And how are these trainings going to be carried out? If there are 100 thousand students, and only the 10-15 percent of the total number could have the chance to continue their higher studies, there is no reason for the rest to waste their time in completing 12th grade. They should shift to their inclination of vocational schools during their early high school levels. Such a system doesn’t interrupt anybody from continuing to higher levels. Shifting to one’s inclination vocational school doesn’t necessarily mean withdrawing and lagging behind; different paths can lead you to the highest level. But there needs a carefully understanding of the different traits of those individuals. What’s the estimate number of human power that is needed for different fields of studies or disciplines? You need to roughly estimate the number. It would also be much better if the system of education could be arranged in a way it could fit with the inclination of the student and the demands of the country, today and tomorrow. The general roadmap already exists but you can’t say that there is a conducive system suitable for its application on the ground. If we are speaking about quality and productivity, no wastage should be reflected in the education system. Any wastage is not acceptable at all; you need to reach the ‘zero-wastage’ level. Because, everybody has to contribute their best as per the demands of the people and nation regardless of the level of their education, low, medium or highest positions.
The country shouldn’t face any loss. Is there any system that makes this motive possible on the ground? Are there enough means for the provision of teaching-learning facilities and training centers? However not encouraging, such a system has been tried in different places such as the Center for Vocational Training in Sawa and many other similar centers sited for certificate and diploma programs. As regards to this issue, there is the government’s full responsibility and pays due care; so do parents. It is, thus, crystal clear that such a good motive towards ensuring quality outcomes is handled prior to other programs with enough budgetary supports. With so many restrictions and shortcomings, the issue of education and its system is always under discussion for its development. But now, starting from the year of 2012, we need to do something tangible. The issue of shortcomings should be handled properly so that they can be cured within one, two or three years. Some quick measures need to be applied.
In the last Cabinet meeting, you had raised the issue of the Arabic language education. What plans, if any, have been laid out to facilitate the process?
I think the teaching of Arabic language should exceed six years. It’s true that one might acquire some knowledge during that time, but children or youth who have been taught Arabic for six years can hardly understand nor communicate with it. I have disapproved the teaching process of the Arabic language for long. It had shortcomings. Instead of adopting shorter and simpler ways of teaching the language, complicated techniques were being applied.
Communication is the best way to learn a new language as opposed to starting with grammar or the alphabet. You learn a few words one day, then a few more the next day, and by intuition you can gradually begin to listen and understand people speaking the language. People should be made to talk with just conversational classes for a year or two.
They should be able to greet people or ask for directions and master the basics. In the early years of learning, a person should be able to speak and express himself. The grammar, orthography and other writing technicalities can all be dealt with later. Six years of learning have been a complete wastage. The books are insignificant as they were written in a way that doesn’t meet the needs of beginners. The teaching methodology in itself has been difficult not only for those who don’t have any clue whatsoever of the language, but even to those who are accustomed to hearing and speaking Arabic.
A radical change needs to be made. In order to master a language easily and in a short period, one needs to have an efficient teaching process. This includes the provision of audiovisual aids and teaching materials. Of the thousands of students who have learned Arabic for six or five years, how many can really understand what is being said; leave alone be able to express themselves? The whole nation should not take the same fate. Even though I talked about this in the last ministerial session, I have been looking at the matter for a long time now, hoping that it would improve with time. Anyways, what needs to be done is laying the necessary groundwork towards mastering the language before advancing to the alphabet and orthography.