Higher education has grown enormously in Eritrea in the past two decades. An increase in the number of secondary schools has resulted in an increase in the number of high school leavers eligible for admission to colleges. And to meet the growing demand in higher education, the retention capacity of institutions of higher education has been expanding.
To qualify for admission to colleges, students are required to sit for the Eritrean Secondary Education Certificate Examinations (ESECE) at the end of their four-year secondary school education and score the required grade point average.
Eritrea’s overall education system has gone through rapid transformation to make it possible to give relevant quality education for all. The aim is to raise the bar of standards and quality of education so that students would be eligible at home and globally for enrollment at universities and for employment. ESECE is designed to help select students who are capable to pursue higher education and also serves as certification of completion of secondary school education. Students’ results of ESECE can be used as an indicator of the overall academic performance of students and the standard and quality of education of the country.
The ESECE for 2023 has been administered at exam centers across the country and in Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It began on 13 March and lasted until 18 March, and examinations were given in 12 subjects at ten examination centers. Ninety-eight percent of the candidates for this year are regular students from Warsay Yikealo Secondary School at Sawa and technical schools while the remaining two percent are from adult education centers and Eritrean community schools in Riyadh and Jeddah. Dr. Bisrat Gebru, Director of the Testing Center, said 14,395 students, of whom 49.1% are females, were registered to take part in the national examination.
ESECE is a standardized national examination administered by the Testing Center, which is operated by the National Higher Education and Research Institute (NHERI), an institution mandated to set policies that help regulate Eritrean institutions of higher education. One of its major goals is to prepare students for higher education through identification and selection according to students’ performance and talents.
Students are selected based on their academic achievement and grades in specific subjects may be required for entry to individual colleges. For instance, fields such as medicine, civil engineering, law and computer engineering are popular among students, and admission to these fields often requires high grades in the first year college education because they are very competitive.
Despite the challenges they encounter, Eritrean colleges have been acting as drivers of the country’s socio-economic development by creating platforms for the development of human resources through a variety of fields.
Today, more than ever before, the wealth of nations is increasingly depending on their quality of higher education. But the desired result in a nation’s wealth may not be achieved by maintaining its quality of higher education per se. Equally importantly, a nation needs to make efforts to ensure the provision of quality education at all levels, from primary schools all the way up to secondary schools. A standardized examination is essential but not sufficient to ensure the desired quality of education is maintained. The quality of teaching, quality of curriculum, and the general quality of life are some of the key factors that determine student performance and the quality of education.
The education system of Eritrea includes five years of elementary, three years of middle school and four years of high school education. In the twelve years of education Eritrean students are required to sit for two national examinations. At the end of grade 8, they are given a national examination to determine their eligibility for enrollment in high school. In high school, students may go to vocational schools or pursue their academic studies in either the Science or Arts streams. Students go to vocational schools after completing grade 10 and join the work force after graduating from the vocational schools. Students in the Science and Arts streams, however, sit for ESECE at the end of their high school education, i.e. when they are in grade 12, and are admitted to institutions of higher education at degree or diploma levels on the basis of the grades they earn. The purpose of these two national examinations is to determine students who go to the next level and appraise the quality of education.
Eritrea’s education system has come a long way. Education is free at all levels, ranging from primary to higher education, and it is compulsory up to grade 8. Access to higher education has improved greatly since the opening of new institutions of higher education. Generally, the achievements so far in the education sector are quite encouraging, but there is no question that more still needs to be done to improve the quality of education schools provide at every level.