Teachers: the Agents for Change
A paid occupation… an occupation that one professes to be skilled in, in other words, a profession, a vocation… Each one of us has his or her area of work; however, some jobs are more than just a paid position of a regular employment reduced to a task or piece of work but goes beyond that. Some professions have high responsibility or duty to a society requiring dedication and devotion. Some will be involved in saving the lives of others, while some will be responsible for educating a population. Health and educational sectors, hence, remain the most valuable careers while being the agents of success and well being of a society for generations to come.
The passion and devotion required within these areas of expertise go far beyond the ambition of ‘being rich’ but more of a satisfaction and feeling of contributing and helping each other.
With the idea of passing the torch to the next generation, creates, undeniably, a sense of ownership and responsibility. This is actually what teachers do in their daily life. When one notices how teachers are respected and always called ‘memhir’ or ‘teacher’, while youngsters will feel embarrassed if their teachers caught them doing something silly… These are all sign of esteem teachers still own in Eritrea while it is becoming rare in many parts of the world.
As a beautiful profession, however, many youth would not choose this field and the lack of motivation and desire create shortages in terms of human resources as well as decrease in quality of teaching in the country. With a growing idea that success is synonym to wealth and materialism, teaching, although highly respected, is perceived as a low-paid job. Accordingly, many youth will, as an alternative, choose fields within the business and financial sectors, a charismatic and devoted teacher, Mr. Tesfamariam Woldeab, explained.
Overcoming the idea of success to be solely about money is a challenging task to Eritrea. As the country is still struggling in providing better access to education to all corners of the country as a national priority; the Government of Eritrea is currently undertaking an aspiring plan in ensuring and promoting the important role of teachers in the country.
In doing so, the Asmara Community College of Education (ACCE), formerly known as Teachers Training Institute (TTI), has taken a step forward in overcoming these challenges. Thus, the ACCE opened its doors to my colleagues and I this past Monday, and in today’s issue, we will look at the promising program implemented by the ACCE in partnership with the Government of Finland.
In context, TTI has been up and running since 1943 and was solely focusing on producing primary school teachers and, to some extent, junior high school teachers. Nonetheless, with the growing enrollment of children in schools nationwide, numbers of stakeholders and consultants came together to revise the quality of teaching and after 4-5 years of hard work; the Asmara Community College of Education implemented a new system of recruitment of future teachers since 2012.
As being the 8th College under the umbrella of the Ministry of Education and the National Commission for Higher Education, the College implemented an ambitious program aiming at producing quality teachers by implementing a strict admission procedure. Mr. Alem Ghebrekal, Director of the ACCE, explained that it came at a critical juncture to reshape the system of recruiting teachers in the country. Indeed, initially, students who had low results during their 12th grade matriculation were enrolled in a one-year program at the TTI to learn how to teach at elementary and primary schools level.
By upgrading its status as a College allows the school to revise its methodology by solely focusing on producing high quality teachers from early stage. In doing so, the most challenging part was to make the school attractive. The determined plan was possible by attracting future teachers with excellence through a recruitment process from 10th grade level.
Mr. Alem explained that the recruitment process aims at selecting the best 10th grade high school students by passing an examination as well as an interview prior their enrolment to the ACCE. By being able to have their 11th and 12th tuition at the ACCE allows students to firstly, be taught by highly qualified teachers, with the ability to pass their matriculation without having to go to Sawa Educational Training and, to then, continue at diploma level at the ACCE or degree level at the College of Eritrean Institute of Technology (EIT) in Mai Nefhi.
Being taken care of during their high school years by providing a good atmosphere of learning, free accommodation, services as well as textbooks have clearly attracted many to apply. This new system, which seems very ambitious at first, has the characteristic of looking at teaching as a valuable job, which requires highly skilled professionals.
When we walked around the school we noticed that students came from all parts of the country. Despite the fact that the ACCE has about 900 students enrolled with 700 new entrants including 200 at diploma level and a ratio of 57% being female students, classes have a capacity of about 25 students, which is clearly lower than national average. With having the mother tongue as the elementary and primary school language of teaching, it was primordial to attract students from all background and
regions so as to ensure that there will be sufficient qualified teachers in all areas.
In addition, producing quality teachers after completion of their high school year is possible through a newly implemented program at diploma level. In fact, with its implementing partner, the Finn Church Aid, the Government of Eritrea, is now embarked in a program where the teaching system is being revised from a content focused-teaching to a more didactic or pedagogic method of teaching as the Education Experts, Ms. Katri Meriläinen and Mr. Jukka Tulivuori explained.
With an initial system, which remains very subject-concentrated and knowledge-content, the new program is aiming at shaping the teaching system into a more pedagogical one by letting teachers to be more creative and more autonomous in terms of schooling method. In doing so, the Finn Church Aid, in partnership with the National Commission for Higher Education, has started a program since October 2015 in training teachers through pedagogical forum, reading circles as well as providing personal support and coach-teaching, evaluating and discussing scientific articles in regards to pedagogy and psychology.
The program is designed to transform the traditional method of a teacher standing in front of the class while students listen and ingurgitate knowledge towards a system promoting a sense of sharing ideas between students and teachers. Mr. Jukka informed that this “traditional teaching method of having to know everything was also present in Finland in the 1970s, however, now, a teacher is not supposed to know everything and instead he or she should be able to say I don’t have the answer but let’s find it together. And this is the type of pedagogy we are working on with our Eritrean colleagues”.
Further, the diploma program is divided into three lines of studies passing by natural sciences, social sciences as well as educational administration without failing to recall the practical teaching exercises.
Improving the teaching standards on a sustainable basis is the aim of the program and therefore, it was important to train teachers who are already doing the job. To strengthen this, summer programs have already started these past years allowing teachers to also upgrade their certificate level to a diploma one after completion of summer courses. While the quality of teaching is being revised and improved, it is, without a doubt, important to also look at the current curriculum. Hence, as part of the work of six different Finnish universities with the Ministry of Education is to look at the course planning and improve the teaching curriculum with the idea of including further subjects at primary and secondary school levels.
Clearly, sharing knowledge and ideas with Finland, as one of the renowned educational system in the world, the Government of Eritrea is clearly embarked in improving the quality of education for generations to come.
“By knowing how to teach, when I will go back to my hometown as a teacher, I will be able to pass on my knowledge and ensure that my younger brothers and sisters will learn properly and effectively from early age;” as Sabrin Osman, a student at the ACCE explained.
Teachers, as being the agents for change and the motto for educating a society from the first years of one’s life, remain a rewarding profession, which continues to be respected in Eritrea. Yet, the educational system will have to overcome the issues of incentives by revising the question of wages and giving access to attractive benefits as civil servant to the Eritrean society in order to inspire others to follow this vocation.