Wednesday, 5 October 2016

What we talk about when we talk about change in Eritrea – the case of education

Education in Eritrea
Outside Eritrea, many people might scoff at the suggestion of there being “˜higher education’ within the country.  But up until fairly recently, the University of Asmara was regularly educating students who would go on to study at top-flight international programmes.
However, this changed in the mid-2000s when the Eritrean government dispersed the university around the country. The official rationale was that this would democratise access to tertiary education and encourage growth across Eritrea.  But opponents of the move were sceptical. Some saw it as a cynical attempt to weaken students’ revolutionary potential – disperse them to seven locations around Eritrea and they will never form a critical mass, the argument went – while the most ardent critics went even further, suggesting the government was deliberately trying to produce a less-educated and therefore more subservient population.
Testimony from staff and students who have passed through the new college system suggest there has been a noticeable reduction in academic expertise and output since the change. Swish new buildings do little to disguise a lack of resources, and despite large numbers of Indian staff being employed to mitigate the shortfall, there remain chronic shortages of skilled personnel.
Education in Eritrea also remains highly constrained. In the first place, students do not pick their own colleges and courses but are allocated to them based on the results they achieve at the Sawa military training camp regardless of their individual aspirations.  This hardly fosters motivation. Meanwhile, although some students manage to secure graduate positions at international universities, many are thwarted in their attempts to attend them because their exit visas are refused.
Within these limits, however, there may now be signs of positive developments being enabled and encouraged.
For instance, there are fresh attempts to provide post-graduate courses within the country, whether through taught programmes within the colleges or through e-learning initiatives. Additionally, the first major international academic conference since the early 2000s is being scheduled for July 2016. The theme for the event will be the future of Eritrean Studies. Panels are unlikely to focus on human rights abuses, the national service or democracy (or lack thereof) in the country. But, promisingly, suggested topics do include issues around foreign relations, climate change, migration and human trafficking.
Alongside these developments, the Journal of Eritrean Studies has also been relaunched recently. Predictably, the journal is devoid of politically controversial topics and the standard of the submissions is notably inconsistent. But the third edition is on the way.
And finally, the government is reported to have put aside 10 million Nakfa ($650,000) in a competitive fund for researchers of any nationality wishing to study Eritrea, though this may need to be seen to be believed.

Nonetheless, from inviting in speakers on contemporary global issues to re-establishing a national research journal, several Eritreans appear eager to rekindle a system of higher education with as much to offer students as the University of Asmara did in the early 2000s. read more

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