Education has long been recognized as a central element in development. It is a vital input in modernization, where developing countries, particularly in Africa, began their drive for social and economic development since their independence. Education is a means of raising political and social consciousness and increasing the number and level of skilled workers. An educated, skilled workforce is critical to a country’s development, and there is no nation that fails to give attention or direct investment toward education.
The Government of the State of Eritrea considers education to be the cornerstone of all national development efforts, particularly in human resources development, economic growth, and poverty alleviation. The broad principles underpinning the need for balance in national development were articulated as early as 1994 in the government’s macro-policy framework. This macro-policy outlined a vision for the creation of a modern, technologically advanced, and internationally competitive economy, with education as a key input. This policy emphasized improved agricultural production, knowledge intensive and export-oriented industries, and broad educational provision that incorporates widespread dissemination of skills. Accordingly, it is making significant investments in the development of human resources by providing education to the entire population.
Eritrea offers free access to education with the overriding aim of providing access to quality education that is responsive to individual and national development needs and takes note of all segments of the population. To ensure this, the educational sector has undergone broad and extensive reform in the last independence years.
In order to implement the national development strategies and macro-economic policies on the ground and expand the educational service across the country in an equitable basis, Eritrea has invested heavily in this sector. Notably, Eritrea allocates about 4% of its national GDP toward education, while only about 10% of states in the world invest 3.7% of their GDP toward education. This demonstrates the commitment of the government towards creating an educated, adaptive and flexible workforce.
As well, the number of schools and people who have access to education across the country has increased considerably. During the early independence years, the number of elementary, junior, and secondary schools was only 292 and the number of students was around 168,000. Today, these figures stand at about 1000 schools and approximately 750,000 students.
Globally, education is considered as critical for change. It is also a human right. Education enables people to have knowledge about their environment and allows them to exploit the opportunities and resources available to them. Unfortunately, in many states, education is not easily accessible and free education is still a dream. However, in Eritrea, education is considered a basic human right that enables people to realize their other rights. Education is compulsory to all, from pre-school to the secondary school level. The government firmly believes that early childhood development is an integral part of the wider educational process.
To this end, policies and strategies have been developed to support the growth and expansion of the pre-school system. This support involves partnerships between families, communities, and government institutions. Within the context of these partnerships, government efforts have focused on providing early learning services to the most disadvantaged and underserved areas in order to reduce equity gaps in access to school readiness facilities.
Providing “basic education to all” is an overriding concern of the Government of Eritrea (GSE, 1994: 39). In line with this concern, the Ministry of Education has made concerted efforts to expand basic education (primary and middle level schooling), particularly in remote and disadvantaged regions of the country. These efforts have created a situation where today 80% of primary schools and 72% of middle schools are located in rural communities. Within this framework, primary schooling has been identified as key in the drive to achieve basic education for all because this cycle lays the foundation for further learning and for the sustainable development of human resources.
The provision of secondary education is necessary not only to meet the micro-level needs and aspirations of individuals, but also the macro-level needs and priorities of the society. Being the final phase of formal schooling, this cycle provides learning opportunities with a view of equipping students with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to pursue further education or enter the labor force. Within the framework of this provision, students are offered common courses and optional learning experiences through available curriculum programs and activities. These programs and activities have been reviewed to include work-related practical studies with relevance to national and labor market needs.
Prior to the reform of the tertiary education level in 2004, access to college education was very low. Of those who enrolled in college entry examinations, for example, only between 10-15% were able to access college education. This was a serious problem and had ramifications even at the high school level (many high school students, thinking they were unlikely to make it to college, became disinterested in their studies). The most rational way of increasing access to tertiary education was to increase university level facilities. This would also be consistent with the educational policy of the country. Accordingly, in 2004, the government decentralized tertiary education, and established various colleges throughout different parts of the country.
Those unable to join the colleges are directed towards technical and vocational development centers. Skills development is considered essential for economic growth, and is also regarded as a key strategy for wage and self-employment. The Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) subsector in Eritrea aims to produce semi-skilled and skilled intermediate-level technicians in order to meet the country’s growing demand for labor and improved productivity.
The overall objectives of this sub-sector are to align the skills development system with the needs of employers, the labor market at large and the country’s economic development priorities, and to raise quality in order to increase the productivity of enterprises and the incomes of individuals. The TVET sub-sector is in the process of developing an outcome-based curriculum, strengthening instructor training at all levels, re-equipping existing technical schools and establishing new ones, and developing textbooks. Importantly, the government has also made significant investments to equip vocational and training centers with the necessary materials.
The end of the long “no war no peace” through cooperation and friendship agreements with Ethiopia will usher a new chapter in our history. It will add an impetus to the development of ongoing projects. Massive investments will inflow to the market. Nations with security and stability attract investment because investors are willing to invest capital in areas where there is risk. Eritrea’s considerable investments in education and skills should soon pay dividends.
Besides the formal vocational education and training sector, it is important to note that the informal sector plays an important role in the development of human resources. This sector encompasses a wide range of economic and capacity-building activities that tend to be overlooked in statistics.
In Eritrea, the process of informal skill training and transfer is often conducted in small scale manufacturing units, micro-enterprises, building and construction sites, trade and commercial establishments, carpentry and woodwork facilities, and repair workshops and service providers. As well, adult and non-formal education is an organized learning channel outside the conventional formal school system. It serves a variety of learning needs for different groups of youth and adults in the population. The provision of adult education in Eritrea includes literacy and post-literacy programs. At the end of the first phase, participants are expected to attain basic levels of literacy and numeracy. Adult and non-formal education also covers education for out-of-school children, continuing education, e-learning, as well as skill training provided by various organizations.