Tiling the sea: The Educational Dilemma in Eritrea

Radio Erena: 04 November 2019

Eritrea’s local media outlets give a rosy picture for Education in a country which suffers from youth drain.

Eritrea Profile in its October 23 October issue quoted the Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Haile Mihtsun as saying that higher education institutions have graduated 31,000 students with diplomas and first degrees in the past ten years.
This dubious claim came in front of the participants of the 33rd National Service Round in Sawa Military School. He also added that 584 students were sent abroad for post-graduate studies.

Referring to these figures, which from his point of view reflect the outstanding performance of higher education institutions, he didn’t mention the quality of education these graduates have obtained. On November 24, 2017, Dr. Mihtsun said that there were 12,000 students enrolled in the different colleges of higher education established in 2004 all over Eritrea. According to him, the total number of instructors in all these colleges was 700 out of which 200 were expatriates.

He further confirmed that education should be need-driven and quality-oriented. In contrast, Lack of motivation and grim future which await students do not need substantiation. When the borders with Ethiopia were opened last year, hundreds of Mai Nefhi college students crossed to neighboring Tigray. Many of them are still languishing in refugee camps.

Several schools near the Ethiopian borders were shut down because the teachers have crossed the borders, these teachers haven’t crossed the borders until the school was literally empty of students.

Shortages of teachers are widespread in the country. In an interview with Eritrea Profile one week after Dr. Mihtusn’s lecture in Sawa, the Director of Education Department in Hagaz Sub-zoba in Anseba Region said that his department did not have a problem in availability of teachers and qualification but the serious problem according to him was “in the last couple of years we have had shortage of teachers who teach in their mother tongue.” If the mother-tongue teachers are not available who else would be there to replace them?

Inside the country and through the local media numerous educational officials can brag about the government’s achievements; but the situation of Eritrean students abroad is more revealing.

Last August, Radio Erena obtained and published confirmed news that half of the Eritrean students in China, who were estimated at 200, asked for asylum in a third country in the past three years. Their journey to asylum would start from various Chinese airports where they would take the flight to Asmara with a stop-over in Cairo; in arriving in Cairo airport they would change the flight to Uganda which allows Eritrean citizens an entry without a visa. From Kampala, they would make it to a third country with the help of relatives.

The escape of Eritrean students from different countries is an open secret. Government officials can effortlessly hide the true numbers of students who drop school in the hope of leaving the country. The country that does not grant graduation certificates; but provides instead provisional graduation certificates in order to keep the noose around the students’ necks.

By Fathi Osman