By: Dr. Ravinder Rena Posted on: 7/10/2007

Education and Human Development in Eritrea –Some Implications


[Eritrea Institute of Technology]

Education has been considered the most powerful instrument in modernizing a society. In this 21st Century, the Global economy is experiencing unprecedented changes over the last three decades. New developments in science and technology, competition, media revolution and internalization are revolutionizing the education sector. We are witnessing several paradigm shifts in higher education, from `nation' to `global education,' from `state controlled' to an `open market economy,' from `general education' to an `educational system driven by market forces,' from `one time education for a few' to `life long education for all,' from `teacher centered' to `learner centered' education. These changes make new demands and pose fresh challenges to Eritrean established education systems and practices. In Eritrea, the traditional system of education was mainly concerned with imparting knowledge. Its methods were nothing but indoctrination. Educational institutions therefore emphasize assimilative facilities to the neglect of critical, creative thinking to cope with the process of modernization, demanding a new approach to methods of education.

Indeed, educational investment is an engine of economic development. Educational investment is one of the important economic activities that can play a major role in boosting Eritrea’s economy. Educational investment involves a present sacrifice of income to get an expected future benefit in the country. As long as the capital invested in educational sector wisely and efficiently, it is like saving the capital whilst it is generating profit. In the course of time educational investment promotes economic growth and contributes to a nation’s prosperity. Educational investment is also related with economic, social, cultural positions and political stability of the country. Many economists have discussed the crucial role of human capital for growth and economic development. Professor Gary Becker and TW Schultz emphasized the human capital formation and its impact in economic development in mid 60s and 70s.

The role of the right kind of education in Eritrea's progress cannot be over-emphasized. It can inculcate citizenship values, liberate people from ignorance, empower them with knowledge, information, and skills to know about their rights and entitlements, expand their outlook, form their aspirations, and prepare young citizens to take up roles and responsibilities to shape their own destiny of Eritrea’s human resource development process. Indeed, education as a means to awaken the nation's consciousness against injustice, violence, and inequality.

The MDG report of Eritrea includes many variables like poverty issue, primary school enrolment, HIV/AIDS and access to water targets. It is projected that Eritrea will achieve 8 of the 10 goals prescribed in the MDGs, the two areas that Eritrea will not achieve according to the report being primary school enrolment and poverty reduction.
Besides, adequate access to safe water and sanitation is of an immense importance to human development. The United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report (HDR) was launched on November 22, 2006 at the Hotel Intercontinental Asmara, the Resident Representative (RR) of UNDP, Mr. Macleod Nyirongo told that Eritrea, despite the prolonged no peace no war situation, has moved from position 161 last year to 157 this year which places it above countries that have much more natural resources.

However, Eritrea's literacy level remains still low. As much as 40 per cent of Eritrean people lack basic literacy. About 50 per cent of the Eritrean children drop out of school at the elementary stage, and just a 13 per cent of high school students graduate. Most of the dropouts belong to the poorest segments of the society particularly in rural Eritrea. Therefore, there is a need to bring down the dropout rate to zero. For this, the poor and deprived will need special support. The Government of Eritrea, initiated to address these issues, after its independence and the literacy rate raised from 20 per cent in 1991 to 60 per cent in 2006. But still the state has been working for the empowerment of the poor and the deprived to enable them to enjoy their fundamental right for education and to live with dignity. Professor Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate in Economics in 1998 wrote: "When people are illiterate, their ability to understand and invoke their legal rights can be very limited, and educational neglect can also lead to other kinds of deprivation... if we continue to leave vast sections of the people of the world outside the orbit of education, we make the world not only less just, but also less secure."

Education should enable everyone to secure proper employment; hence the need to expand avenues for vocational training. In this line, efforts are exerted to develop the technical and vocational education in Sawa from March 2007. More than 3,500 students began to receive the training in various professional fields. The present system creates wide equality not only among rich and poor students but among those from urban and rural backgrounds. But still some disparities can be noticed in the education of girls where their participation is less than 20 per cent.

We live in stirring times of globalisation. The information age is impacting the lives of individuals and reshaping societies. Eritrea strives to develop the knowledge-based economy, and thus working-hard more in this direction. The youth are the most valuable resource to seize the opportunities offered by globalisation. There is a need to provide a better environment for the youth and build their capacities through sustained nurturing of entrepreneurial talent, innovation and creativity, research and development. Institutions of higher learning should therefore foster the spirit of research and inquiry to enable students to face the challenges in young Eritrea.

The reality is disquieting. Only about 3 per cent of the youth in the 17-23 age groups get an opportunity for higher education. The enrolment rates in science, medicine, engineering and technology, business and economics and arts and social sciences vary from time to time. The enrolment in basic sciences is on the wane. The standard of research in higher learning institutions/ university is not yet developed. Hence, the universities/colleges have to be the hub of quality education and research, and centres of academic excellence in Eritrea to develop quality human resources. For example, in a bid to develop human resources in the country, the Eritrean Center for Organizational Excellence trained 40 officials on February 2007.

The Eritrean Center for Organizational Excellence was established in October 2006 with the following objectives: i] To render different administrative training; ii]To give advice to institutions which helps them to give efficient services to their customers; and iii]To introduce necessary techniques to increase production.

The important goals of the center are as follows: 1] To provide the necessary infrastructure and to conduct continuous effort to make the center effective; 2] To give a high priority to the establishment of units by its partners and clients, devote to encouraging institutional competence and productivity; 3] To accelerate the training for institutional management and productivity informational guidelines shall be prepared; 4] To conduct studies in collaboration with its customers to make the training and up grading related with the current situation; 5] To prepare a magazine which increases the knowledge of interested nationals on administrative skills; and 6] To establish a website which participates interested nationals

However, Eritrea is still grappling with poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, and disease. Although many diseases are controlled considerably, but still Malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS have emerged as serious public health problems. About 66 percent Eritreans live below the poverty line. Rural incomes have dwindled; farm households have become more prone to stress and insecurity. Farmers' low productivity and low incomes call for rejuvenating agriculture, revamping cooperative institutions, and taking up programmes for integrated rural development in Eritrea. Therefore, Eritrea needs development that promotes growth not just in terms of percentage increase in GDP but brings about inclusive development, growth that uplifts the poor and deprived and that which alleviates poverty and bridges the gap between rich and poor. Eritrea also needs development that eradicates illiteracy and provides the common man with access to basic education, healthcare, and shelter.

But the task is not easy. The supply of many goods declined whereas the demand increased. The growing demand to meet the basic necessities with limited resources adds to the complexity. Eritrea is successful in educating its people and sensitise them about the imperatives of infrastructure development and the reconstruction process of the Economy under the umbrella of Warsay Yikiallow Development Campaign.

Programmes of development should begin with the poor. This approach, in which the poorest amongst the poor receive foremost attention, should become integral to all programmes of development and growth. There is also a need to improve the efficiency and management of delivery of public goods and services in programmes meant for people's welfare. Eritreans are destined to be a prosperous, strong, and developed nation and working hard accordingly. Author can be contacted for feedback comments

Ravinder Rena is an Associate Professor of Economics at the Eritrea Institute of Technology. His most recent books published by the New Africa Press in December 2006 are A Handbook on the Eritrean Economy: Problems and Prospects for Development and Financial Institutions in Eritrea.