In Eritrea every time has its own historical and cultural value that deserves veneration and celebration. September, the ninth month of the year has a special place in Eritrea, home of nine ethnic groups.
The first bullet of the armed struggle for the liberation against Ethiopian “recolonization” was fired on the 1st September. Sheik Ibrahim Sultan, one of the founding fathers of Eritrean nationalism, passed away on 1st Sep 1987. The sham federation between Eritrea and Ethiopia started on 11th Sep 1952. Cultural and religious Holidays such as yohanes, meskel, Abune ambes and other feasts are celebrated in September. In addition, the gates of our schools open and classes of every academic year start in September.
My intention is not to give a discourse on September but rather to share some thoughts about the role of a teacher in nation building as we find ourselves at the threshold of a new academic year.
A teacher is “a person who provides education for students” seems to be an angular definition of a sacred and pronounced profession. A teacher is someone who opens the eyes and mind of students to the world of knowledge.
Many of you may not be satisfied with these descriptions. John Adams argued that “a teacher is a maker of man. He is the foundation of all education, and, thus, of the whole civilization of mankind, present and future.
No nation reconstruction is possible without the active cooperation of the teacher.” Teaching as a profession is a mother profession which incubates, gives birth to and nurtures all other professions into maturity.
Though it seems to be an abstract idea nation building, would be easier to understand when interpreted within the role and contribution of a teacher in the overall development of a country. In short nation building is a heroic process of liberating and developing the psychic and physical space of citizens of one country.
It involves the development of behavior, values, institutions and infrastructure that enable one to live a dignified human life and insure the sustainability of development, identity, glory and independence of a nation.
There is a very close correlation between a teacher who is said to be “the invisible leader” and nation building. A nation is built by its citizens and citizens are molded by teachers. A teacher has been described as the maker of a nation.
Therefore, the existence of qualified and dedicated teachers is vital for the development, peace and stability of a country. A dedicated teacher is an engineer of society who shows the right path, a craftsman for progressive culture and nation building.A teacher has multidimensional roles including pedagogic, political and social.
In every society no other personality has an influence more profound than that of a teacher.The teacher’s teaching, affection, character, competence, moral commitment and style have influential power to attract others especially students.
A popular teacher becomes a model for his students and for the society.A teacher can lead them anywhere. It has been said that an incompetent and decadent teacher can harm a nation more seriously than a corrupt and perverted judiciary, army, security, bureaucracy or politicians. A corrupt and incompetent teacher is not only a wicked individual, but also the harbinger of a corrupt and incompetent generation. A nation with dishonest and inept teachers is a nation at danger, with every coming day the arrival of its imminent obliteration.
The history of Eritrean teachers in bringing and maintaining independence is profound. During the liberation struggle for independence Eritrean teachers saw the seeds of Eritrean nationalism in the minds of the students of that time. They contributed a great share in wining our independence by infusing hope and confidence in students and by enabling them to be proud of their culture and identity. They were among the most highly respected and remembered personalities in Eritrean society largely because they adorned themselves with societal values and morals. The role of Eritrean teachers in defending the country against the Weyane invasion was also so great that many were martyred.
What is needed in Eritrea today is a combination of a nationalist sprit, intellect and genuine sense of service of teachers. Whether or not Eritrea has arrived at a stage of knowledge-driven development is determined by the quality of teaching of its teachers. For a prosperous and developed Eritrea to become a reality, an important responsibility must be assumed by teachers. Every Eritrean teacher in whatever capacity has a special role to play in shaping the future of the country. It is the task of every teacher, from kindergarten to tertiary level, to prepare students to become responsible citizens and channel their energy toward the betterment of the society.
The current educational system has been criticized by many for its subject-matter focused education. Such a system has produced students who have knowledge of the world but do not have knowledge of themselves and their own society. We have seen that stability of society is threatened by the breakdown of ethics. Therefore, Eritrean teachers should aim to produce men and women of knowledge and culture. National values such as solidarity, patriotism, justice, honesty, love of truth, discipline and human respect must be carefully infused to the young learners. A qualified teacher can maintain and nurture positive and workable values more than anyone else to bring about a sea of change in Eritrean society.
To build a nation first the citizens of the country and the youth particularly have to embrace a developmental character, which is an assignment of a teacher. As a strong foundation is essential for a strong building, a strong character is required for nation-building. Teachers play an important role in nation building by building the character of the students. So teachers must play their role of inspiring, teaching, guiding, and disciplining the students responsibly. In building an economy the most decisive factor is human resource, not natural or capital resource or foreign aid and investment (national charter, 1994).
The students who are now sitting in the class room will after sometime become Presidents, Ministers, army commanders, lawyers, teachers, doctors, engineers and managers among others. The development of a country’s human resource is the responsibility of the teacher, and there is no doubt that a nation cannot develop meaningfully without adequate human resource. The national charter and Educational policy of Eritrea have clearly articulated the decisive role of human element in development. Just as the liberation of Eritrea would have been impossible without conscious and determined fighters, the prosperity and modernization of Eritrea is also unlikely without diligent and competent teachers committed to spreading knowledge and building their students character.
In our national charter and other national documents we have made promises to solve our problems and reshape the destiny of Eritrea. The problems encountered after independence, among others, were the dismal ignorance, poverty and backwardness. Those problems couldn’t be resolved solely by the construction of schools and other facilities. The teacher ‘should be given central position in tackling those social evils. Every country that has become great has achieved that greatness through its teachers’ sense of responsibility for the development of their own nation. Our country will grow and develop and poverty and illiteracy will be removed when we have committed teachers.
In discussing the issue Dr. Fqreyesus Amahatsion, an Eritrean volunteer from diaspora who has been in the service of teaching and research at the College of Arts and Social Sciences, said that “This is our country to which we belong, we are responsible for its development and welfare, and we are going to convert our teaching into dedicated service to our fellow citizens”. Mr. Semere Habteslasie, a lecturer in Department of History opined “I am not a mere employee; I am a citizen. These young students in front of me are my budding fellow citizens; I am here to help them acquire knowledge and character”. Mr. Ghirmawi Araya also said out that “Whatever Eritrea will be in the next generation will depend upon what we do to our students today in the classrooms. I always strive with my capacity to shoulder national responsibility and loyalty”.
Eritrea needs the services of thousands of teachers who have trained minds and dedication to the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge. The whole of Eritrea is there in the many classrooms guided and educated by teachers. We can only accomplish nation building effectively through what we do in classrooms. A teacher is a silent builder of a nation, and teaching is not only a profession but a mission.