In order for an educational system to be beneficial, it must strive to equip citizens with knowledge, skills and attitudes for tackling societal problems and to enable people to know, appreciate and develop the culture of the country. It must also aim to develop in each citizen an inquisitive mind and confidence in one’s own ability to learn and contribute to the society. Education should be of relevance to the society, and every educated individual must serve the society. Education has to foster the social goals of living and working together for common goals.
Education in Eritrea is a fundamental human right and a lifelong process in which all individuals are given opportunities to attain their potential as well-rounded citizens. The national education policy of Eritrea states that since Eritrea’s greatest asset is its people, arming citizens with relevant education and training is the only means by which the overall socio-economic development of the country can be achieved. The general objectives of education in Eritrea, among other things, are to produce skilled and knowledgeable citizens, to teach a sense of commitment to self-reliance, to raise self-consciousness to fight poverty and to make education accessible to all. Eritrea is spending large sums of money on educating the youth so that in the future they may make large returns to the country.
The government of Eritrea pursued a correct (although demanding) policy to address education for all by spreading it to all parts of the country. As a result, the education sector has undergone significant improvements to reach previously unreached areas. The government’s determination to expand education and make it free and accessible to all citizens is special in Africa. Education in Eritrea is free and has enabled young citizens to be beneficiaries, helped eradicate illiteracy and backwardness, as well as improved the health conditions of the society. Education and other community services together have instilled on the Eritrean youth a sense of commitment to the general public. Innocent Sanga has perfectly described the reality of Eritrea’s educated youth in another context; “In the allegory of the mountain, those who climb the mountain of knowledge to the apex and manage to come back to the valley of challenges become the source of liberation for the illiterate societal members towards the realization of their political, social, economic, psychological, health and other related problems” (2017, 3). The education policy of Eritrea liberates the individual and society from the chains of backwardness, ignorance, neo-colonialism, diseases and all forms of exploitation.
Eritrea is a diverse country consisting of nine ethno-linguistic groups. During the British Administration, the educational policy was designed to “divide and rule”, specifically separating Eritreans along religious lines. Chefena et al., in their article “Multilingualism and Nation Building: Language and Education in Eritrea” state that “The British grand strategy to partition Eritrea …was drawn up so as to inflame religious animosity between Christians and Moslems to the point that no unity among Eritreans seeking independence would become possible.” Following Ethiopia’s annexation, the Amharic language was imposed on Eritrea to weaken the educational and cultural foundations of Eritrea. Ethiopia and other colonizers have attempted everything they could to colonize and exploit Eritreans and to destroy the Eritrean identity. During the liberation struggle, the EPLF took a counter initiative to correct and to uproot the adverse and vile activities instituted by colonizers. The current Eritrean educational language policy has its ideological roots in the EPLF’s National Democratic Programme. At the second national congress in 1987, it was outlined that the mother tongue would be a medium of instruction in elementary schools (EPLF 1987, 70). In keeping with the experience of the liberation struggle and the linguistic diversity of the Eritrean society, the government seeks to ensure equality to all groups and languages to promote integration and cohesion. Eritrea’s national education policy (2003) stipulates that “the language of instruction at pre-school and elementary levels will be the child’s mother tongue. In multi-ethnic/multi-lingual school environments, the medium of instruction would be the language of the majority of residents of the particular area where the school is situated. The medium of instruction for the middle school level and above is English for all schools that adhere to the standards set by the MOE” (2003, 11). Failure to provide mother tongue teaching is a form of discrimination that can perpetuate inequality. Beyond the issue of social rights, to be educated by one’s mother tongue is pedagogically effective for the learner. UNESCO has often suggested that Africa is the only continent where the majority of children start school in a language they cannot speak at home.
The educational language policy has its origins in the principle of equality of languages. Using the mother tongue as a medium of instruction “embodies an appropriate balance between the reinforcement of the learner’s own identity and cultural continuity and the acquisition of a language offering wider communication and opportunity” (National Curriculum Framework, 2009, 56). The curriculum for elementary education has been developed and implemented in all nine Eritrean languages, and instructional materials have been produced in all these languages.
Eritrea is determined to ensure social justice centered on a fair distribution of resources and services that give citizens equitable opportunities. Likewise, education as a social service is made all inclusive and the government is working towards realizing equitable educational opportunities to all citizens, regardless of their background (ethnicity, gender, socio-economic level, religion, etc.). Aware of the needs for socio-economic development, the government works towards the elimination of gender disparities at all levels of the education system. Sustainable socio-economic development cannot be realized without the full participation of women. Comprehensive efforts have been made at all levels to eliminate gender disparities. The national policy of education indicates clearly that sustainable development cannot be realized without the full and equal participation of all groups in society. Supportive programmes to help socially disadvantaged groups and other populations such as the physically disabled, nomads, semi-nomads and others have been implemented to promote equality in educational opportunity. The educational policy of Eritrea reflects the government’s view of education as a human right and as a pillar of social justice. Every citizen has full right to education, and special attention has been paid to disadvantaged sections of the society.
Expansion of education to the remote areas has been a primary focus of the government. In December 2008, the Ministry of Education conducted a National Workshop on Nomadic Education and drafted a nomadic education policy and initiated pilot interventions (UNICEF 2012). This expansion of education enhances access to females, the disabled and vulnerable children. Bringing schools closer to the homes of the students contributes to increased enrolment and reduced dropout rates. The comprehensive efforts have improved the enrolment of women and students from remote areas in all levels of education, including vocational and tertiary levels of education. In Eritrea, the issue of gender gap and social exclusion are solved through the spread of education.
Eritrea’s emphasis on social justice is clearly articulated in the educational policy which states that “Our education system aspires to produce all-round citizens along with a firm commitment to country, people and social justice. This aspiration includes the development of creative and productive individuals who are capable of contributing towards the attainment of a modern, competitive, harmonious and self-reliant Eritrea.” The overall expenditure on education is very high. For example, the government spent a total of 1,036.4 million in 2011 alone (Education Sector Development Plan 2013- 2017, 5). This figure has grown exponentially as enrollment figures have skyrocketed since then. Social justice in education means the provision of equitable access to relevant education and that those enrolled are retained to complete a certain level of education. Those disadvantaged in any way will be supported to complete their education by various means of affirmative action as a temporary measure until a level playing field is created. Social justice requires that there is equality of results among learners from the educational opportunities open to all. Equity is, therefore, an enduring commitment of Eritrea (2013, 31-32).
The nation building of Eritrea is anchored on the principle of self-reliance, social justice and unity in diversity. The educational policy of Eritrea reflects those principles. The National Charter of Eritrea states that “Education is the foundation of development. To provide equal opportunity for educational opportunity means to provide equal opportunity for development.” We can only develop through self-reliance and full participation of the people. As noted, Eritrea’s reliable resource is its people. Therefore, giving training and education for the people is imperative to ensure sustainable development. Furthermore, the expansion of education and the equal participation of the population reinforce the national unity of Eritreans. The full participation of the society in education widened the room for social integration and enabled every citizen to be included. The inclusion of citizenship education in the curriculum also is beneficial in way to cultivate national and cultural pride in learners.
Education is a fundamental right to which every Eritrean is entitled. The Ministry of Education has worked toward the vision of no child left behind. The expansion of educational opportunities avoids social exclusion and marginalization in the society, and promotes social cohesion and national integration. In Eritrea, significant progress has been made in distributing national wealth through the expansion of educational and health services as part of the commitment of the government to ensure social justice. The aspirations of Eritrea’s education system include developing productive and confident individuals that channel their knowledge towards a socially harmonious and self-reliant country.