Lamenting the Value of Education in Eritrea

Thursday, 21 January 2010 08:22

Development and management of educated citizens is imperative in guiding a nation in a right development direction. Our forefathers new the importance of education and sending their young child into school has been given a top priority. A famous proverb in Eritrean society ‘Zeytemahre Ne’ydhin Zeytewekre Ne’yetihn’ - shows how education is valued in the society. A gracious wisdom preserved for ages. Currently this positive social understanding of education seems to be turning around and assuming a new ungrateful course.
During Eritrea’s armed struggle era, Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) has espoused and inculcated, in the ranks and files, a venomous idea that relatively educated people are opportunists. Hence, should not be allowed to surface in the overall management of the Front. They must assume a marginal role and be viewed critically with a very close eye. This harmful notion, directly in contradiction to the age-old wisdom of the people, seems to be the modus operandi of the present government. After independence, People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) has committed itself to the development of educational infrastructure while maintaining the old flawed and hostile belief towards the relatively enlightened segments of the population. In the face of a relentless systematic effort by PFDJ to subdue, exclude and ultimately silence their voice, such segment of the population absolutely has not had any say in the conduct of their nation.

In the good old days one find students pleading with their teachers because the teacher has deducted marks or may have missed certain point while marking their exam paper. There was a sense of competition with each other and everybody working hard to be the best scorer and medalist of the year. Every student had a sense of the value for education. Due to limited space, very few excellent high school students join University. To be part of the few who join the University, it necessitate a day and night study. Class discipline is highly maintained by students as misbehaving entail in reduction of marks. University graduates lead relatively better life compared to dropouts and used to assume their respective responsibility in public administration and other government position. In general the post graduation period were bright, both in terms of remuneration obtained and career development. The overall contribution of the graduates to the economy of the nation (in terms of research and development) was high. Apart from value, becoming a University Graduate had a lot of prestige coming from the population. This is now a thing of the past.

Nowadays, especially before the introduction of mandatory high school age limit, students want to fail and repeat classes for completion of school means going to the endless national military service. It is common to see students arguing with their teacher to lower their marks so as to repeat classes. Ironically, misbehaving in classes is punishable by increasing marks. Likewise, university students have also developed the habit of deliberately failing a course so that they can be able to drag their completion, by a semester or two, before they leave for the compulsory endless unpaid internship program. All this is a recent phenomenon.

PFDJ has worked hard to incorporate schools with military garrison where students are trained to become servile followers, take orders only and never raise critical questions. In addition, by denying due respect to the educated citizens and a means to improve and/or solidify their career, PFDJ managed to frustrate and ultimately made a vital segment of the population liability. Educated segment of the population is not rewarded for the achievements made. Regrettable of all, graduates presently shouldering public responsibility cannot able to make ends meet. For almost 10 years now, University educated individuals get a salary as equal as, in some cases less than that of sixth grade dropout employee. In some families, a young dropout brother/sister earns more than his/her graduate siblings do.

Very few graduates, still serving the nation, lament their ungrateful precarious situation. Initiative by some graduates to streamline the institutional setup of their work place was met with a stiff resistance from their bosses (most of them ex tegadeltis). Some ill equipped ‘bosses’ have different ways of frustrating and curtailing any positive initiatives. It is uncommon to label the initiative taker of having “under national sentiments”, just to frustrate and eliminate them. This trend has developed to a degree where most of the graduates lost the sense of satisfaction and post graduation career development prospectus has become too bleak. In the face of all hardships, frustration and obstacles most graduated left the country for Sudan/Ethiopia and then subsequently the lucky ones are making it to Europe and US. It is not uncommon to find university educated Eritreans doing domestic jobs in the Sudan and other Arabian countries. Eritrea became one of the African countries that is losing its university educated qualified/skilled citizens at a faster rate than expected.

In the old days people who want to make remarks about the value of education, used to refer the above noble proverb. Nowadays, people referring the above proverb, to make their point, are faced with a barrage of practical examples that disprove it. Graduates advising their younger siblings to develop reading and study habit only to get a very seemingly stupid but valid reply ‘Temahirkum Entay Gerkum Ri’Enakum’. Young citizens lost the taste and value of education. Thanks to the effort of PFDJ. “Zeytemahre Neydhin Zeytewekre Ne’Yetihn” is now replaced with “Zitemahire Entay Geyru”. Alas, EPLF has managed to dismantle the age-old wisdom of the population and implanted a new one in place. The nation is crying – as the saying goes “Asha Zitekelo Lebam Neyi’Nekilo” and this will bleed the nation for ages to come.

Awet N’Hafash

Dawit Solomon
Washington DC