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Equalizing Access to and Participation in Education

Dr. Fikrejesus Amahazion

Education: a fundamental right, driver of growth, and catalyst for development

Education is internationally recognized as a basic human right and it is indispensable for the exercise of other rights. Moreover, it is distinguished as one of the most powerful instruments for reducing poverty and inequality, and it sets the foundation for driving sustained socio-economic growth and inclusive development. In the words of the United Nations, “Education is the key that will allow many other Sustainable Development Goals…to be achieved. When people are able to get quality education they can break from the cycle of poverty. Education therefore helps to reduce inequalities and to reach gender equality.”

Despite its far-reaching importance and multifaceted benefits, there continue to be massive inequalities and disparities in education worldwide, both within and between countries. The unfortunate reality is that, notwithstanding commendable progress in many areas, hundreds of millions of children in countries around the globe are out of school and millions of people of all ages remain illiterate.

When individuals and groups lack access to learning and education, it serves to dramatically undermine the great potential, overall capacity, and general well-being of a nation’s people, particularly it most precious and valuable resource – its youth and children. All of society is impacted, indeed hurt, when its people, especially children, are unable to get educated.

This article highlights Eritrea’s longstanding efforts and ongoing progress to equalize access to and participation in education for all.

Equalizing access and participation in Eritrea

In Eritrea, education is regarded as a core, essential element for inclusive, sustainable development, a central pillar of society, and a fundamental right to which everyone, regardless of distinction, is entitled. The national policy provides for access to education free-of-charge to all Eritreans, extending from the primary to the tertiary level, while basic education until the eighth grade is compulsory by law (for both boys and girls).

Since achieving its independence three decades ago, Eritrea has made considerable efforts and directed significant investments to enhance the participation of girls in education. This includes the enactment and enforcement of strong legislation prohibiting child, underage, and forced marriage, harmful practices which historically have disproportionately impacted girls, as well as the development of community-based communication and sensitization programs, and the establishment of boarding schools.

In recognition of the differing life conditions and experiences of women and girls, as well as seeking to redress past inequities and historical disadvantages or discrimination, a raft of progressive and affirmative action measures have been developed to increase enrolments, strengthen retention and promote completion, and raise overall levels of performance and achievement. Additionally, in several parts of the country, organizations, such as the National Union of Eritrean Women and National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students, have conducted tutorial programs and other educational support initiatives, delivered free-of-charge for students, to enhance and improve the participation and achievement of girls within middle and secondary schools.

Across all levels, female enrolment continues to steadily grow and the historically huge gender gap is being progressively narrowed. Significantly, parity between girls and boys has been achieved within middle education and it is almost fully achieved in pre-primary and secondary education. Furthermore, gender discrepancies are being erased at an encouraging pace.

Eritrea has also devised and implemented a broad array of other programs and measures that aim to comprehensively promote inclusion and equal opportunities for all. These include the provision of highly subsidized and free learning materials and educational resources for those in need; financial and material assistance to vulnerable households to keep children enrolled in and attending school; and, adult extension and outreach learning programs.  The mother language policy, which mandates multilingual education based on the mother language from pre-primary until the end of elementary level, developed by the Ministry of Education, has not only played a key role in preserving heritage and culture, it has led to more equitable access for all ethnolinguistic groups and greater enrolment, retention, and comprehension.

With the substantial expansion of the national roads network, public transportation services have been greatly improved, in the process helping ease travel and attendance for students.

Nomadic populations and other hard-to-reach groups, which contribute to the rich diversity of Eritrea, have also received opportunities to learn, the majority for the first time, through the establishment of boarding facilities and mobile schools in remote areas. In the year 2021/22, for instance, a total of 65 schools served nomadic communities, with 10 being boarding schools. Through close cooperation with elders and respected community leaders, the MoE has developed special academic schedules that are specifically tailored to align with nomadic groups’ lifestyles and migratory patterns.

Eritrea has also established formal education services for children with disabilities, such as the vision and hearing impaired, while efforts also continue to be made to integrate children with developmental disabilities into mainstream schools, through the creation of special classrooms.

Ultimately, Eritrea’s efforts and progress to equalize access to and participation in education are helping to promote positive developmental outcomes and improve lives nationwide.

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