Education and Human Resources Development in Eritrea

By Dr. Araya Habtai

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Education and Human Resources Development in Eritrea

There is an organic relationship between education and development and at the heart of this relationship is human resources development. This is particularly so when it is becoming increasingly clear that the development of human resources, more than the availability of natural resources, has become the cutting edge in determining a country’s growth and prosperity. Japan and Germany illustrate the ‘human capital’ dimension of development. Both countries have relatively few natural resources and both have relied heavily on the development of the skills, competencies and know-how of their work force.

Perhaps the most recent and impressive embodiment of the interface between education and human resources development is the case of Singapore. In Singapore, human resources development is recognized as a priority area since ‘the human dimension of competitiveness is a success factor in a modern economy’. In line with this principle, Singapore has instituted long term structural changes in the economy focusing on the production of value added goods. To sustain these structural changes and growth, there is a comprehensive system of education and training geared towards the preparation of a productive, adaptable and flexible work force. Central to this system is the provision of high level special skills, a well balanced general education and opportunities for continuous retraining.

One of the most critical concerns in Eritrea today is the formulation of a strategy for poverty elimination, sustainable economic growth and human resources development. This strategy is expected to enable the county to pursue a policy of people centered development based on a judicious balance between social justice and capital formation in line with the principles of sustainable human resources development.

The broad principles underpinning the need for balance in national development were in fact articulated as early as 1994 in the government’s macro-policy framework (GSE, 1994). This framework focuses on growth with equity in the context of an open and properly regulated market economy in both agriculture and industry; human capital formation, with education and health as key inputs; and improvements of infrastructure and services. The framework also sets the strategic parameter around which medium and long term plans are being developed by sectoral institutions, including education and training.

The centerpiece of the short and long term plans is the initiation of an integrated development program within the context of the ongoing decentralization policy of the government. Essential components of this program include improving access to basic social services (primary education, primary health care, water and sanitation, shelter and housing); promotion of productive employment with special emphasis on income generating schemes; and redressing imbalances in social and infrastructural development.

Within the framework of integrated development, GOE policy clearly prioritizes education as a productive investment in human capital formation. Human resources development as a function of education is indeed affirmed in the revised National Education Policy(MOE, 2011:13): “Education in Eritrea is a fundamental human right and a lifelong process by which all individuals are given opportunities to attain their potential as all round citizens and to contribute to nation building.” More specifically, the National Education Policy (NEP) spells out the following as the general aims of education in Eritrea.

1. Fostering and sustaining a sense of unity, collective national identity and social justice.

2. Preparing learners for productive life and the world of work.

3. Developing an innovative and knowledge based society to facilitate economic and social transformation.

4. Promoting science and technology along with the development of knowledge and understanding to conserve the environment and cultural heritage.

The need to use education as a tool for the realization of societal aspirations and for addressing national challenges emerges as the most overriding concern of the NEP. These aspirations and challenges cover the social dimension of education (promoting national cohesion; facilitating equity) as well as the economic dimension of education (developing a modern and knowledge based economy; fostering skilled and productive citizens). At the heart of these aspirations and challenges is human resources development.

Although human resources development is a shared responsibility, the education sector normally assumes greater responsibility through its various schooling and training systems. In the context of Eritrea, the Ministry of Education (MOE) plays a leading role in the development of the present and future workforce through its formal and non-formal education and training provisions. In practical terms, this is being implemented within the framework of a multi-pronged approach to the delivery of learning and training needs.

  • Early Childhood Care and Education

The government firmly believes that Early Childhood Development is an integral part of the wider educational process. To this end, the MOE has developing policies and strategies to support the growth and expansion of the pre-school education system. This support is being provided in the form of partnership involving families, communities and government institutions. Within the context of this partnership, government efforts have focused on providing early learning services to the most disadvantaged and educationally underserved areas in order to reduce equity gaps in access to school readiness facilities.

  • Basic Education

Providing “basic education to all” is an overriding concern of the Government of Eritrea (GSE, 1994:39). In line with this concern, the MOE has been making concerted efforts to expand basic education (primary and middle level schooling), particularly in remote and disadvantaged regions of the country. These efforts have created a situation where today 80% of primary schools and 72% of middle schools are located in rural communities. Within this framework, primary schooling has been identified as a cutting edge in the drive to achieve basic education for all because this cycle lays the foundation for further learning and for the sustainable development of human resources.

  • Secondary Education

The provision of secondary education is necessary not only to meet the micro-level needs and aspirations of individual students, but also the macro-level needs and priorities of the society at large. Being the final phase of formal schooling, this cycle provides learning opportunities with a view of equipping students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to pursue further education or enter the world of work.

Within the framework of this provision, students are offered common core and optional learning experiences through available curriculum programs and activities. These programs and activities have been reviewed to include work related practical studies with relevance to national and labour market needs. In the context of an integrated and flexible curriculum of this nature, school leavers can have the option of either seeking employment or pursuing further studies in a less differentiated division between academic and vocational pathways.

  • Technical and Vocational Education

Currently, several governmental and non-governmental institutions are involved in the provision of technical and vocational education and training at high school levels. To mention a few, the Ministries of Agriculture, Health, Tourism, and Labour and Human Welfare as well as employers and employees unions organize various forms of vocational education and training for serving or prospective staff members. Other opportunities are offered by private training centers and organizations, although the scale of this provision is very limited.

However, by far the largest provider of technical and vocational education and training within the formal sector is the Ministry of Education. The MOE has long been offering technical and vocational education and training through its long standing technical schools and skill development centers. The scope of this provision is likely to increase with the full implementation of the National Framework for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (NFTVET).When fully operational, the NFTVET is expected to support the preparation of a more flexible and adaptable workforce within the context of a rapidly changing economic and technological environment.

Besides the formal vocational education and training sector, the informal sector plays an important role in the development of human resources. This sector encompasses a wide range of economic and capacity building activities that tend to be overlooked in statistics. In the Eritrean context, the process of informal skill training and transfer is often conducted in small scale manufacturing units, micro-enterprises, building and construction sites, trade and commercial establishments, carpentry and wood work and in all sorts of repair workshops and service providers.

Further and Higher Education

This is an overarching academic and professional education and training provision leading to the award of certificates, diplomas and degrees. The Government recognizes higher education as a key level in the education system. To this end, several new Colleges, Schools (Orotta School of Medicine, Law School etc.) and the Eritrea Institute of Technology were built to offer 1st degrees (and Graduate Studies in certain cases) in various fields of vital importance to the development of the country. The existing tertiary level institutes /colleges are making steady progress although much needs to be done to expand and improve them.

The Concept Paper for the Rapid Transformation of the Eritrean Education System (GSE, 2002) indeed envisages purposeful and substantive public investment to enhance expansion of these institutions. Producing skilled human resources and conducting essential and applied research will thus remain important functions of higher education institutions.

Another important innovation at this level was the launching of the Center for Vocational Training (CEVOT) in Sawa. The Center now offers a two- year vocational training program in areas such as surveying, construction, accountancy, materials management, carpentry and metal work. Graduates from CEVOT are expected to supply intermediate manpower skills in a variety of needs, although access routes are available to those who wish to pursue their studies in the institutions of higher education.

Adult and Non-Formal Education

Adult and non-formal education is an organized learning channel outside the conventional formal school system. It serves a variety of learning needs for different groups of youth and adults in the population. An effective program of adult and non-formal education has a strategic value in the development of human resources. The provision of adult education in Eritrea includes literacy and post literacy programs. At the end of the first phase, participants are expected to attain basic levels of literacy and numeracy. The main thrust of literacy provision at the second phase is the consolidation of previously acquired skills, and the preparation for vocational and enterprise training in an area of need or interest. Adult and non-formal education also covers education for out- of- school children, continuing education, e-learning as well as skill training provided by various organizations.

Within the parameter of adult and non-formal education, literacy is an important development tool. Currently, the rate of literacy in Eritrea is estimated to be 76%. This is an encouraging trend with the potential to influence social and economic transformation. At the micro-level, literacy offers individuals access to the knowledge and skills necessary to understand their environment and improve the quality their lives. At the macro-level, literacy is a pre-condition for sustainable increase in national productivity and development.

Challenges and Opportunities

Linking education to human resources development is a challenge and creating an enabling environment for the linkage to be more meaningful and sustainable is equally challenging. For the purpose of this paper, an attempt has been made to examine three focal concerns (preparation of teachers/trainers; provision of localized training; development of accreditation and qualification). The challenge in this context is to turn these concerns into opportunities by reinforcing the match between education and human resources development.

Preparation of Teachers and Trainers

No education and training system can rise above the level of its teachers and trainers. The quality and effectiveness of any education and training system will to a large extent depend on the nature and success of teacher and trainer training programs. In the Eritrean case, the commitment to offer quality basic education for all and to enhance skill and technical training as strategic routes to human resources development cannot be realized without an adequate supply of competent teachers and trainers. The search for competent teachers and trainers should of course start at the recruitment stage, and this should be followed by an effective provision of pre-service and in-service teacher and trainer development programs at the training stage.

The provision of continuous professional development is an important dimension in the development of human resources. In addition to the normal provision of opportunities for further education and training (both inside and outside Eritrea) aimed at upgrading the competence and professional qualification of education and skill training staff, it is now necessary to think in terms of entitling all employees in the Education and Training Sector (ranging from office clerks, teachers/ trainers and the senior management staff) to an in-service or on-the-job training. Within the framework of this arrangement, each staff in the Education and Training Sector could possess a Training Action Plan, setting direction and providing clearly identifiable targets and rationalizing the resources to achieve them. The Training Action Plan may have two components, training directly related to professional development and training geared towards personal development.

Provision of Locally Based Education and Training Programs

The most important influences on the quality of education and training systems and much of the resources needed for improving them are located at the local level. Educational and training policy makers often focus on decisions and programs at the national level. But in practice, it is teachers, trainers, along with learners and local communities who shape the development of schools and other educational and training institutions. Efforts to improve the education system and to upgrade the quality of schools and training centers require a great deal of work in local communities. To achieve that and to maximize local contributions to human resources development, there will be a need to decentralize aspects of the provision of education and training services.

In the Eritrean context, decentralization as a mechanism for transferring certain level of responsibility and authority to regional administrations has been operational since enactment of Proclamation No.86 in 1996. Within the framework of this law, regional administrations have been empowered to take decisions on a wide range of education and human resources development issues in consultation with local communities. As a point of departure, the identification of the human resources development needs of personnel working in the local and community based administrations was vital indeed. The next step involves the designation and development of education/ training centers to meet the needs of clusters of local administrations at sub-regional levels. When fully operational, these centers could provide venues for localized in-service training, workshops and other human resources development activities.

The Development of a National Framework for Accreditation and Qualification

To streamline the process of determining competency standards reached by multiple learning providers and multiple paths to education and training, there will be a need to develop a National Framework for Accreditation and Qualification (NFAQ). The importance of this mechanism is underlined in the government’s macro policy (GSE, 1994:40): “Official recognition and / or professional accreditation of skill and academic attainment will be awarded only after undergoing government established certification procedures”.

A central feature of the NFAQ initiative would be to facilitate the move towards the integration of education and training and the establishment of a mechanism through which all learners will receive accreditation for their learning, irrespective of the setting in which such learning takes place( e.g. public/ or private; formal or non-formal). This system is intended to generate coherence across the conventional divides of education and training by facilitating the portability of credentials from one setting to another. Access to and progression through the system (or parts of the system) can be achieved through the satisfactory completion of clusters of learning competences or training modules.

The Ministry of Education has done some work in this area but more work is required to articulate competency standards since they are the essential building blocks of qualifications. These standards are expected to underpin the quality of work at every level which may also include national targets for education and training. They are also expected to support the development of a culture of lifelong learning through sustained progression within the educational and training system.

Dr. Araya Habtai
Curriculum Consultant
Ministry of Education

(The Author is Curriculum Consultant at the Ministry of Education)