Education is enshrined in the Eritrean national charter not only as a basic human right but also as a cornerstone for economic emancipation.
Education is given particular focus for its role in developing human resources as well as improving the public health and general living standard of the people.
Ever since the dawn of independence, the Eritrean government has made extensive large and small scale investments in education that have resulted in major changes in the overall educational system in the country.
The Government of Eritrea always underlines that the country’s determinant resources are its human resources and that in addition to being a basic right, education is the primary tool to fight poverty, illness, backwardness and ignorance. The government has also pledged to strive relentlessly so as to enable nationals explore their potentials and develop their skills for the maximum benefit possible. Due emphasis is also given to closing the gap in access to education among different sections of the society. Here, we will look at the educational progress of the Hagaz sub-zone in the Anseba region.
Hagaz subzone is one of the nine sub-zonal administrations of the Anseba region with around 63 thousand population. Three ethnic groups live in this area: Tigre, Tigrinya and Bilin ethnic groups. This area was one of the places with low access to education prior to independence. Today, around 23 schools have been established. Out of the 15 local administrations, 13 have schools ranging from pre-school to secondary school. According to the Ministry of Education branch of the Hagaz sub-zone, this year alone there are more than 10 thousand students enrolled.
Mr. Saleh Ibrahim, director of the Hagaz sub-zone branch of the Ministry of Education, said that in addition to these schools, alternative crash programs have been opened for students who were unable to start at their proper school age and for those who dropped out of school due to different reasons. These students are assigned to middle schools after completing the elementary level.
Gender disparity has serious social, political and economic implications. Educated women are better equipped to enter the paid labor force which is critical to the survival of the many female- headed households. Moreover, nations with higher levels of female school participation show higher levels of economic productivity, lower fertility, lower infant and maternal mortality and longer life expectancy than countries that have not achieved as high participation levels of girls. One of the millennium development goals is to eliminate gender disparity in all levels of education.
Efforts have been made to narrow gender disparity in education. Eritrea has been successful in reducing gender disparity in education. The number of women who learn at the tertiary level of education is increasing and is surpassing men in some cases. But this is not the same in all regions and ethnicities of Eritrea. “In the Hagaz sub-zone, female participation in the primary school up to the junior school level is proportional with that of males. But when they reach eighth grade and pass to the secondary school, female participation drops significantly. In terms of ethnic participation, most of the females enrolled in schools are from the Tigrinya ethnic group. This shows that there remains much to be done to increase the participation of women from the other ethnic groups,” Mr. Saleh says.
According to Mr. Saleh, one of the main problems that are hindering girls from continuing their education is the distance they travel from home to school. This has long prevented girls’ access to education. Early marriage is another major factor that leads to girls’ abandonment of formal education. In collaboration with stakeholders, the Ministry of Education’s branch in Hagaz is working to raise awareness of communities about the harmful effects of early marriage.
Many schools, particularly those in remote areas, are not only far from the students’ homes, but students have to walk long distance through difficult terrain and unlit roads in order to attend school. This is one of the main causes of late school enrollment for children of all ages and genders. To ease these problems, some programs are underway such as the opening of para-boarding schools where students are provided with meals in their schools.
Enhancing community feeding programs in schools has also been in progress as a mechanism to solve low level enrollment. The objective of the programs is to raise the enrollment of children in primary schools and solve the problem of distance to schools.
When students pass the General Examination in the eighth grade, they continue their secondary school in Hagaz. Students who come from the remote areas must rent houses, and if they cannot afford it, they are transferred to boarding schools in places such as Agordat and Keren. In many cases their parents do not want them to leave for extended period of time and this compels the students to quit. This is one of the main problems that are increasing school dropouts in the sub-zone.
To solve this problem, the junior schools have to be upgraded to secondary schools, Mr. Saleh says. The junior schools are equipped with all facilities necessary for secondary schools with the ultimate goal of upgrading them to secondary schools in the long-run. Unfortunately, every year the number of students who pass the eighth grade general examination is below 100, a number that does not meet the Ministry of Education’s requirement to open a secondary school.
Mr. Saleh says “one of the major hurdles we are facing with teachers is not the number of teachers and their qualification. The problem is that in the last couple of years we have had shortage of teachers who teach in their mother tongue”.
In many schools, the languages the teacher and the students speak are different. “To solve this problem, we have recruited teachers by ourselves to fill the gap. We will continue to work like this until a lasting solution is found,” says Mr. Saleh.
There is also shortage of female teachers. The percentage of female teachers is very low in Hagaz sub-zone and it is further skewed towards the urban center. The presence of female teachers, apart from providing positive role models, is desirable in the primary school because women tend to be caring and effective in teaching children at their early age.
So far the focus has been on increasing access to educational opportunity. “Though we cannot say we are providing perfect quality of service, the service which is being provided is improving from time to time,” adds Mr. Saleh.
“When we see it in terms of providing basic educational opportunity and expanding access to education, the progress is noticeable and effective. From now on we will focus on improving the quality of education that is being offered,” he adds.
Mr. Saleh commends the local and sub-zonal administrations for their cooperation in every activity of the schools in the sub-zone. For example, last year the sub-zonal administration donated 330 thousand Nakfa to the secondary school for electric supply and to cover the roofs of the secondary school with steel sheets. Similarly, a plan is underway to construct playing grounds in the secondary school with the cooperation of the sub-zonal administration.
The Ministry of Education’s branch in Hagaz has been engaged in providing literacy and post-literacy programs to adults as well as schooling opportunities to out-of-school youth. It has also been endeavoring to create literate environments and prevent relapses through the establishment of rural libraries for newly literate citizens.
Despite numerous constraints, the sub-zone has made remarkable achievements in education. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go to provide quality primary and secondary education.