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Eritrean colleges strive to meet the demands of national appetite

Today, more than ever before in human history, the wealth and poverty of countries depend on the expansion and quality of higher education. In fact, according to Richard Wolff, a respected scholar and economist, “the single most important factor shaping the future of any economy in the world is the quality and the quantity of the educated, trained labor force it produces” (Wolff 2013).

The knowledge, skills, and inventiveness of people are increasingly critical to the socio-economic growth and development of a nation. High quality human capital is developed within high quality education systems, and tertiary education provides the requisite advanced skills. Most developed countries have seen a substantial rise in the proportion of their young people receiving higher education.

In this case although many capable youth are receiving free educational opportunities, Eritrea is far from reaching its vision. According to the “State of Education in Africa Report” of 2015, only about 6 percent of the young people in Sub-Saharan Africa enrolled in higher education institutions (compared to a global average of 26 percent). Higher education in Eritrea is becoming increasingly necessary and perceived as mandatory; moreover, institutions seek to translate the dreams of the country. To this effect, in 2004 and 2005 the Government of the State of Eritrea made a decision to expand tertiary education and established seven colleges throughout the country. The institutions are now striving to produce men and women willing to fight an academic battle for national reconstruction and social justice and be confident players in the globalized world. Currently, Eritrea is reaping substantial socio-economic benefits from increased investment in improved and expanded higher education.

Higher education simultaneously improves individual lives and enriches wider society, indicating a substantial overlap between private and public interests in higher education. Higher education raises wages and productivity, which makes both individuals and countries richer. Developing countries are currently under great pressure to meet increased demand for higher education. An important element in the public interest in higher education is its role in creating a meritocratic society that is able to secure the best leaders and civil servants such as doctors, teachers, lawyers, engineers, businessmen, and civil servants. 

Higher education holds the potential to be an agent of equalization through its capacity to empower marginalized or disadvantaged groups. For example, women almost everywhere find it difficult to compete in the labor market. They have usually received inadequate primary and secondary schooling and been faced with obstacles to higher education. Importantly, during the 10th commencement ceremony, the Adi Keih College of Arts and Social Sciences illustrated a positive gender balance in graduates. This reflects the tremendous effort made by Eritrea – individuals, families, communities, and the state – toward improving higher education and gender parity. Remarkably, women were over 50% of graduates.

Beyond their attainment of individual progress, women’s participation in tertiary education has also proven to be an effective catalyst for social development and economic growth. The recently concluded Millennium Development Goals, signed in September 2000, sought “to create an environment which is conducive to development and the elimination of poverty.” Goal three of the MDGs states, “Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005 and to all levels of education no later than 2015.” On the occasion of her graduation, Sabrin Abdu, a graduate from the College of Arts and Social Sciences, noted that “the time that I spent in Sawa and later in College helped turn me into a full, competitive and confident being. Young girls must benefit from the educational opportunities given by the government for their development.”

The figure below illustrates the percentage of female graduates in four out of the nine Eritrean institutions of higher education:

The figure is a positive reflection of Eritrea’s aim to ensure females’ full and equal access to and achievement in all levels of education. Eritrea has worked hard towards the elimination of gender disparity in all areas including education. Sustainable socio-economic development cannot be realized without the full participation of women, which comprise half of the population. The policy direction of Eritrea on higher education is also anchored on expansion and sustainability. The strategic principles which define the core policies of higher education include relevance, access and equity, quality, sustainability and research and development (NBHE 2013).

Globally, but especially in developing countries, many high achieving and talented students face difficulties in gaining access to higher education when the costs of education exceed their limits. In Eritrea, education is regarded as a basic human right of all citizens; education is free from primary through to tertiary levels (including post-graduate studies). Eritrean students and their families have no fears of the many challenging questions about higher education related to its cost. Eritrea, well aware of the importance of education to nation building, has made considerable investment in higher education. By making free education for all, the expensive college education has become accessible to students from low-income families. With college cost being one of the most recognized barriers to college access and success elsewhere in the world, it is encouraging that Eritrea – a young, developing country – provides free education to its citizens. In Eritrea, a graduate leaves schools free of any debt and imbued with a sense of commitment and service to the society.

The phrase “education for all” represents the world’s commitment to provide education to all who are qualified. The global commitment to the provision of education to all has a long history. The first such commitment was perhaps begun in 1948, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was established. In that declaration, education was recognized as a fundamental human right for the multifaceted development of individuals and society. In particular, it was declared that elementary education should be free and compulsory and that higher levels of education should be accessible to all on the basis of merit (Article 26). In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Millennium Development Goals. The MDGs are “a set of time-bound and measurable goals and targets designed to decrease poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental devastation and discrimination against women.” All governments agreed to ensure achievement of the MDGs by 2015. Thanks to the commitment of the Government of State of Eritrea, the goals related to education, health and others were successfully achieved and the country was positively described as having “achieved the most from the least.”

Higher education is a critical focal point in the socio-economic and political development of any nation. Education is also an important tool for the formation of citizenship. Education helps to inculcate civic responsibility to its entire people, especially the youth. In short, education is one of the best vehicles to promote sustainable development, and investing in education has both private and social rates of return.

In Eritrea, the mandate of the colleges includes teaching, development and research. Generally, Eritrean colleges strive hard to be centers of innovation and knowledge incubation needed by the country and aim to provide research to solve societal problems. Every summer, our colleges pour talented and qualified graduates into the labor force to bring about a positive difference. In response to the growing demand for human resource development in our country, the Adi Keih College of Arts and Social Sciences is at the forefront of contributing to the growth  of highly qualified learners which will address the scarce and critical skills in the country.

Last week, on July 4th, the school held a ceremony to celebrate and confer to its young students their degrees, diplomas, and certificates. The hard work and resilience of the young and energetic graduates had finally culminated in this momentous occasion. The smiling and beaming faces of graduates and their families and the cheerful and proud faces of their instructors brightened the CASS auditorium. The graduates collectively pledged their commitment to their society and communities, stating “there is no greater calling than to serve our society and there is no greater satisfaction than to have done it well.” During the event, Ms. Natran Leake, a History graduate who recently concluded one year of community service as a teacher at the  Warsay Yikealo Secondary School in Sawa, pointed out that “I have been the recipient of love and service from the people and Government of Eritrea; therefore, I happily love and serve them to my full potential.”

Eritrea’s institutions of higher education, despite all of their limitations, aim to produce responsible, adaptable, creative and productive citizens that unlock the door of modernization and sustainable development. Higher education is believed to be the best remedy for societal transformation and national reconstruction.  Our colleges are the trusted institutions that rinse the society from the filth of ignorance and make visible the bright, harmonious future of Eritrea.

Simon Weldemichael
Adi Keih College of Arts and Social Sciences
July 2017

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