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Developing education in Eritrea begins with teachers

Pupils at class in Sewra Elementary School in Asmara.

Eritrea is in need of quality teachers, particularly in rural regions, where up to 80 percent of the country’s population live. Certain elements of the Finnish education system could benefit Eritrea as well.

By FinnChurch

An English class is under way for second graders at the Sewra primary school in the Eritrean capital Asmara. “Jerry can, jerry can” the children repeat eagerly after the teacher.

The teacher holds up a picture of the container and asks the children what it is. The little ones answer in their native tongue Tigrinya.

“No, a jerry can”, the teacher repeats patiently and a choir of voices starts chanting once more from the beginning.

“When I graduate, I want to help those who are less fortunate, particularly the homeless”, says Ariam Yosief (left), here with Soliana Mebrahtu (centre) and Saroju Zeru.

Teaching in Eritrea relies on very traditional methods. Teachers write down their weekly schedules in a notebook, and on Fridays the principal approves schedules for the coming week. Inspectors visit schools regularly to make sure, among other things, that teachers are maintaining their schedules.

A single class can hold up to 60 students. Skilled teachers are in high demand.

All Eritrean youth spend their last year of school at the military training camp in Sawa, in the Gash-Barka region. Their future is highly dependent on their performance in the final exams. Study places are allocated based on success in these exams. Until recently, those with the lowest scores have been chosen for teacher training. The teaching profession has not been held in high regard in Eritrea.

Eritrea is investing in teacher training

Eritrea is developing its teacher training and national curriculum to ensure children and youth receive the skills they need in order to succeed in the future. Finn Church Aid has supported this work from 2015.

Teacher trainees are chosen with a new method emphasising school success and motivation. Motivation is determined by individual interviews. The first teacher trainees chosen with this method began their studies last autumn. They will spend their last year of high-school at a teacher training institute instead of the Sawa military camp.

In two years they will graduate as primary school teachers. Those with the best scores can continue their studies.

“Being a teacher wasn’t exactly my dream. I dreamt of studying chemistry, but my father is a teacher and I spoke with him. Eritrea needs teachers and I thought I could become one”, says 18-year-old Ariam Yosief, who was one of the students who started their studies at the Asmara Community College of Education (ACCE) last autumn.

“It’s not easy to give up on your dreams, but I want to help others. I have also found good friends here”, she says.

“Next we need to study how well the new selection process is working”, says Finn Church Aid Education Specialist Hanna Posti-Ahokas.

Development cannot be imported

The campus of the Eritrean Institute of Technology (EIT) is located in the countryside about 25 kilometres from Asmara. Facilities there are modest: students live in barracks on campus. The institute has a computer room, but the internet connection is slow and unreliable.

“We understand that we still have plenty to do to develop teaching. At the same time, we are aware of how much we can do”, says Khalid Idris (centre), dean of the EIT’s College of Education. Also on the photo are Zecarias Zemichael (left) and Petros Woldu. Idris, Zecmichael and Woldu form the coordinating team at EIT for the cooperation with FCA.

“You can’t have development without research and development cannot be imported”, says Zecarias Zemichael, teacher and researcher at the EIT’s Department of Psychology.

“At the moment, we are working on a mentoring programme, because sharing experiences between teachers is important. We encourage our staff to take part in workshops and develop their professional skills”, Zecarias Zemichael says.

Cooperation motivates personal professional development

Eritrea is one of the poorest countries in Africa. 40 per cent of the population live in rural regions that lack proper roads, not to mention electricity and sewers. Even with lacking resources and power outages at the teacher training institute, educators remain motivated to develop themselves and teacher training.

“I feel privileged when communicating with my students. It makes me feel like I’m doing important work”, says Amanuel Yosief, one of the teachers at the ACCE.

The students are a resource themselves, and they give me the opportunity to learn 
new things as well”, says Amanuel Yosief.

Working with Finn Church Aid has provided Yosief with tools to develop his craft. Workshops and group discussions have made him think about his own teaching and fuelled his motivation.

“Teaching in Eritrea is very theoretical. It should be made more practical and find ways of linking it to students’ personal experiences.”

Yosief was one of five teacher trainers who visited Finland in October to familiarise themselves with the Finnish education system.

“Finnish teachers were motivated and responsible, and this reflected in the children as well. The children had confidence in themselves and worked independently. For example, in an English class the students could choose how to study; independently or in a group”, Yosief says.

FCA’s cooperation with Eritrean teacher training institutions and education officials has continued for two years.

“Our expectations were very high and we are still only in the beginning. The resource-centre, where we have computers and literature, is a concrete and important achievement in our cooperation. I am very optimistic about the future”, Zecarias Zemichael says.

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