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Languages and Education in the Mother Tongue

The effort was based on the language policy of the government and the education policy, which promotes the use of the MT as a medium of instruction at the primary school level. Thus, as a way of promoting equal opportunity and the equal development of all languages, the development of a writing system based on transliteration has been a major task successfully undertaken. This is based on the experiences of the National Liberation Struggle and two new guidelines (A Policy Guideline on the Writing System and a Transliteration Guide) have been developed and soon will be presented to a general workshop for further discussion. Major problems still exist in relation to the standardization of the languages and the lack of literary work. Additional measures to address these problems through practical language related researches have been taken on in six of the languages.

One of the important achievements recorded in the last three years is the effort made and the result achieved at expanding and consolidating the education in the MT. The expansion and consolidation of the MT education in the school system was an important dimension taken no matter what the size of the population and the enrolment is. Three major issues are critically raised in this connection. A major policy, was the need to provide education in the mother tongue even for ethnic minority groups of small population. This is seen as a democratic and human right process essential for the political, social and cultural development. This has materialized greatly and the coverage of schools in the mother tongue has expanded from 5 to 8 in the last eight years. The cost benefit assessment developed in terms of developing and consolidating this policy shows that it has created enormous political, social, cultural, psychological and educational advantages. Monetary cost incurred in comparison to the benefits is therefore dispensable. There is thus a great need to consolidate the gains, as this is a major strategy in terms of the democratization of education, the development of the cultural heritage and languages of the population. If creates stability and raises greater participation of all ethnic minority groups in nation building.

A second major issue is the use of a second language as a medium of instruction. In many places due the lack of resources and failure to understand the use and advantages of the mother tongue, many children were made to learn in a second language. In this respect the establishment of extensive awareness campaign committees from the communities to popularize the use of MT education was successful. A major strategy adhered here was the establishment of popular committees from the communities with religious leaders, community elders, teachers and local administrators playing key roles there. The campaign has been very productive in assuring the promotion of elementary schooling in the Mother tongue. These campaigns were also used as a means of raising the participation of girls in many areas. In some areas teaching through MT was consolidated and expanded and more than 60% of the schools using L2 medium of instruction have been transferred to MT teaching and will get their full status in the next 3-5 years. In 1998/99 16 new schools were opened in 6 languages while about 54 were transferred from L2 teaching to MT teaching.

The opportunity created across the various ethnic groups and languages in term of coverage is also an important policy issue. The enrolment of students in the various minority languages has increased substantially. As mentioned above the percentage of students across the mother tongue medium has improved especially in the last three years with the opening of more schools in the MT and the transfer of those teaching in the second language. The fact is however, that most of the schools are under-utilized with very small number of students. This has made their percentage share in the over all enrollment very low (See table 18). The situation has been taken as a reality to be faced but major interventions need to be worked out to reduce the number of un-enrolled children in those areas. It is to be noted that about 36.7% of the schools at elementary level have small student populations and that being below 250 students 33% have students between 250-500 students. One of the difficulties still persisting is the lack of teachers to expand MT education to Hedareb, the only remaining language. The limited expansion in the Kunama areas due to lack of proper planning and low mobilization campaigns in those areas is also a matter that has now been considered seriously. In addition it is to be noted that missionaries control about 63% of the schools in Kunama areas and all of these school have low capacity and standard. The transfer of schools using second language schools in Afar areas has been very slow due to shortage of teacher recruits from that language.

Table 18: Mother Tongue Schools and Students Distribution by Region in 1998/99

Region

Tigy

Ar

Tigy/Arb

Tigr

Tir/Arb

Tigy/Tigr

Bil

Bil/Arb

Bil/ Tigr

Af

Afr/Arb

Sa

Ku

Ku/Tir

Nar

Nar/ Arb

Tot

Maekel

105

4

-

1

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

110

NR Sea

17

12

-

20

8

-

-

-

-

1

6

-

-

-

-

-

73

SR Sea

3

11

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

1

6

-

-

-

-

-

21

Gash

48

20

4

5

19

-

-

-

-

-

-

1

16

2

1

6

122

Anseb

26

11

-

23

-

1

5

3

20

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

89

Debub

162

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

15

-

-

-

-

187

Total

347

74

4

48

27

1

5

3

20

2

13

32

16

2

1

6

602

% of Sch

57.6

12

0.66

8.0

4.5

0.17

.85

0.51

3.4

0.3

2.2

5.4

2.7

0.34

0.17

0.01

 

% of Stud

76.1

8.3

0.81

5.6

1.65

0.19

0.3

0.79

1.43

0.1

0.92

2.1

0.85

0.13

0.03

0.34

 

Educating in mother tongue is one of the major educational policy and implementation issues. In general, a study made on the effectiveness on the MT education shows that the success rate of children studying in the mother tongue is 2.42 times better and higher at the end of the elementary cycle (grade 5) while the average attainment is 3.03 times higher. The study also showed the success should have been a bit higher. It is assessed that teacher competence, problems of teaching methodology, lack of textbooks and support facilities, teaching and organizational practices are factors which affect the teaching-learning process. The problems and gaps in the standard implementation of the continuous assessment policy of students activities and lack of standard utilization and monitoring of this policy especially in second language schools is also a factor that needs to be considered.

An important assessment made in relation to the advantage of the mother tongue teaching is the transfer of the results to other languages. A standard competence test made on English language teaching and results in the lower grades also showed a high correlation between mastery of language skills in the mother tongue and the acquisition of second language learning based on it. As English is the medium of instruction beyond the primary school level, this is considered to have an enormous advantage in improving learning achievement, internal efficiency and general outputs of the system. The result leads to the necessity of consolidating the implementation of the mother tongue education policy in Eritrea.

To further consolidate the teaching in the MT studies and measures to assess the MT education strategy, efforts to introduce practical language related measures have been made which will take shape in the next five years. So far surveys and guidelines on orthography and on the selection and use of dialects have been accomplished. Based on the studies and surveys made, the overall Transliteration System Guide that was developed in 1985 has been updated. A survey on the morphology and structure of five languages has been prepared and compiled. The collected text is to be used as a powerful source in the development of literary work and supplementary readers because the absence of supplementary readers in many of the languages has been a major obstacle in the MT teaching. Furthermore, a Text Transfer between the languages of Tigre, Tigrigna, Arabic and English has been made on a pilot basis and effort is going on to establish this system in the next two years. All the steps taken have been instrumental in consolidating the MT education. Furthermore, it will be necessary to create a powerful impetus in the long terms to wards the standardization of the languages and the effective transmission of the cultural heritage of the communities.

Fees and Issues of Accessibility in Schooling

The government has been providing free and compulsory basic education as a social service to the population. Schools have been requesting minimal fees for registration and miscellaneous fees related to students’ activities. In the last three years effort have been made to monitor and standardize student fee. The guidelines give clear instructions for its implementation in rural and urban settings and across the different levels of education. The use of uniforms has also been limited to the urban areas and a study has been made for the long-term introduction of uniforms on mass production and cost effective ways in a progressive stage. The government has also tried to give school supplies donated from various sources to rural schools to ease some of family burdens. In addition students at Basic Education pay service charge (about 0.5 Nfa cents per book at elementary and 0.75 Nfa cents at junior level) because they are given for free unlike that of secondary where a cost recovery mechanism has been introduced.

Table 19: School Fees by Level and School Status

School Level

Rural Schools

Urban Schools

Primary

5

10

Middle

15

20

Secondary

30

35

In many disadvantaged areas and social groups the government has made a lot of effort to ease the direct costs, the effect of the indirect costs is however strongly felt by parents and communities. In many rural areas boys herd animals, help in farm and in some places do some jobs to earn a little income. Girls participate in household activities more and support the mothers in fetching water, wood and assist in other tasks of the family. This has made a powerful impact in accessibility. Studies conducted in 1996 show that fees and school expenses are not major problems in many communities though they do have certain influences. Though the range across communities is wide (minimum 1.7% and maximum 11%), it has been found that on the average the expenditure on schooling as a percentage of the total spent by a family on a primary school child is about 6.92%. It is to be taken into consideration that the overall situation as a result of the border war has influenced this greatly.

School Health and Sanitation Programme

It is believed as a matter of policy and basic human need health and adequate nutrition for children are central issues and pillars for learning throughout life. But children in most parts of the rural and lowland areas in Eritrea contend with frequent episodes of respiratory illness and diarrhea during the school year that can subvert learning. Hearing and sight problems are also sometimes major obstructions. Thus, though all problems related to child health and nutrition are improving as a result of the effective PHC system in Eritrea, a comprehensive school health programme has been taken as a strategy awaiting necessary inputs and interventions.

To the extent that health problems continue and imbalances persist, it has been found necessary to address the problems of health and nutrition through inter-sector coordinated interventions. The main orientation of the programme will be to create health security among school children and create an effective mechanism whereby students participate in various activities in the promotion of secure health and sanitation in their communities through various activities. The already established health and sanitation clubs will be consolidated and the phenomenon is expected to have a multiple effect in the community.

In the last three years school feeding programmes in two regions that target pupils at high nutritional risk and children travelling a long distance to reach schools have been organized. The programme, which was funded by the government, has not been thoroughly assessed but preliminary reports show its enormous impact on children’s learning, motivation, health and physical condition. The impact among girls was more affirmative.

Another problem related to the promotion of health and sanitation in schools is the availability of safe potable water in and around schools. A preliminary assessment made in 1997/98 shows that more than 46% of schools do not have access to safe and potable water while about 20% have reservoir. Thus, it could be concluded that more than 60% of schools lack proper supply of water. This is regarded as a major obstacle to the health, sanitation and learning environment of students. The grave problem, which affects women and children in particular, is the distance of the water source. MOH findings show that only 10% in rural areas and 70% in urban areas have source of water below 11.5 minutes distance. Thus, the assurance of safe and potable water for school children is considered as one of the most important issues.

Special Needs Education

Despite the development of a general policy guideline on the issue and the development of a programme with essential components, special needs education has not been adequately addressed in the a national educational system. On top of the need to integrate children with special needs in the main stream schools, the failure to assess the needs of children with learning achievement problems, the need to consolidate the special schools and expand their coverage have become major concerns. Preliminary assessments show that only 10% of children with special needs get access in the education system. The need to integrate special needs education in the teacher-training programme has also been found very crucial. This has also been related to the need of developing counseling and guidance programmes in schools but the system has not been established so far.

There are two non-governmental (one for the deaf) and one government (for the blind) special schools providing education at the primary school level. The coverage in terms of opportunity is very low and the schools for the deaf cater for about 140 students (of whom 64 are girls) and the school for the deaf accommodates about 120 students. In general it could be assessed that major intervention will be needed to consolidate the special schools while in most cases the policy is to integrate disabled children in the main stream. Though accurate data is not available, many of the students who complete their studies at the school for the blind continue to the formal basic education level in neighboring middle schools and are given stipend by the government to continue their studies.

Relevance of Education

Efforts at introducing relevance in the National Curriculum have been a major concern that led to curriculum review process in 1996. Efforts at introducing relevance and curriculum revision have been suspended until the new National HRD Policy and Strategy is finalized. However pre-planning exercise and formative changes have been major achievements. Based on the curriculum research study, a situation analysis, content analysis and needs assessment survey have been conducted and basic documents were also prepared. A national Curriculum Policy Framework has also been prepared and is on the process of discussion. This will lead to the development of a (core) curriculum in the future once the HRD policy is finished. A preliminary survey on the educational need of pastoralists in Eritrea was also made. A major gap in terms of policy and practice is that no clear strategy has been developed in the management and organization of educational opportunity in nomadic areas.

As the curriculum review process has taken a long time and the improvements in the relevance of the curriculum can not be indefinitely postponed, formative changes are in process to fill the gaps in the curriculum improvement and its implementation. Based on the general curriculum review findings and feed back compiled from teachers, directors and supervisors, formative changes to solve some of the basic problems and gaps have been made through the participation of core teams (made up from among teachers). A great advantage in the overall National Curriculum implementation is the revision of English language textbooks and methodology at all levels and grade. New guidelines, methodologies and extensive local training workshops throughout the country accompanied the improvement and change. In addition, impact study on the new English language teaching materials and methodology has been made. Not much use has been made of the impact.

One of the major shifts of policy in the development of the curriculum and teaching materials is the greater participation of teachers and other stakeholders. The overall strategy is to move from in-house publishing to external authorship. Basic preparation in this respect has been made during the formulation stage. As a preparation for these tasks and the overall curriculum review process, training workshops for external authors have been conducted for more than 200 potential writers in schools. Many have developed skills in writing and editing but there is an assessment that more training will be needed to consolidate their writing and editing skills. Special training on material adaptation and cost minimization will be conducted for those teachers who write materials in mother tongues before the textbook development process starts.

One of the areas, which have not been properly exploited in terms of promoting educational opportunity in the country, is media education. There is a great deal of disparity in the provision of formal basic education. This is reflected in terms of resources, availability of teachers and teaching materials, social and cultural background and the overall school environment and organization. The promotion of media education has been assessed as an important supplementary mechanism filling certain of these gaps. Thus, to supplement the formal teaching process and consolidate the provision of equal educational opportunity, the promotion of media education at upper level of basic education was also considered. A general programme (as a pilot) was developed in coordination with the Ministry of Information but was not implemented due the prevailing border conflict and other problems associated with resources. This will be one of the essential areas of intervention in the next five years and the programme could be extended to include teachers to improve their academic and pedagogic experience.

Efforts are going on to develop school monitoring data base system to effectively monitor the promotion of equal educational opportunity. This together with a school mapping exercise will greatly help in determining the distribution and location of school resources and a proper planning and forecasting system will be in place very soon. In addition, as the school physical infrastructure has not been regulated to fit into the desired school environment and institutional development, school organization regulation, functional requirements for schools and boarding schools and hostels have been developed. These have formed the main instruments in the development of physical infrastructure of school support systems.

Critical Remarks

Assessment made shows that despite remarkable growth, UPE has been overshadowed in the last three years by the rapid expansion and boom of middle and secondary levels. Regional and cultural disparities are still very wide. The distribution of rural schools at primary and secondary levels should be extended and under-utilization of resources also needs to be avoided. Accessibility in educational provision needs to follow demographic trends. One of the major significant issues is that traditional barriers like distance and community attitudes need to be addressed seriously to maximize the effectiveness of the strategies in place. Other Major issues to be addressed are the integration of special needs education into the school system, the development and expansion of ECE and the integration of non-formal general education with the general education in the formal school system. The need to meet diversified educational demands of the young generation at basic education level is an urgent task.

Improve Quality of Education

Social Aims of Upbringing

Achieving the social aims of education has been the major task of the school system in the last three years. Schools have worked very hard to develop the overall patriotic feeling, work habits and discipline of students through various activities. One important activity related to the political and moral upbringing of the young generation is the Summer Work Programme. This programme is totally financed by the government and implemented by young students at junior and senior levels during the summer vacation. On top of the economic and environmental value of the work, the Summer Work Programme has served as a vital instrument in forging the unity of students, and in developing moral upbringing, work habit and their overall experience. The involvement of students in community activities has also been successful especially in rural areas.

Another important dimension has been the reinforcement of discipline of students at all levels. Standard school organization and student discipline regulations have been developed and proved productive in strengthening school discipline and the overall student-teacher relationships and in modifying the behavior of students. To further consolidate the organized life of students and assure greater participation in community affairs and activities, a general study and guide for the establishment of Association of Eritrean Flowers has been developed and efforts will be made in the future to establish the association in every school. A minimum of five standard clubs encompassing arts, culture and drama, handicraft, environment, and hygiene and sanitation have been established in all schools as a way of promoting extra curricular activities in schools. Close cooperation with the NUEYS will be made to make sure that each school establishes a viable branch of the union and that older students become beneficiaries of the organization.

Learning Achievement

On top of addressing the social aims of education, achieving the standard set goals of education and the national curriculum were also major undertakings. Curriculum research findings from a study made in 1996 have shown that a weak positive correlation was found between achievement scores and age at both grades 1 and 5 (DGE 1997, p 89). No gender-based differences in performance were detected at grade 1 but such differences had become significant in all subjects at all higher grades. At grade 1 and more so at grade 5, the major determinant of variations in scores is the type and performance of the school being attended. Generally poor performance in many areas was present most worrying being reflected more in the higher grades. Analysis made showed that students at high schools showed low performance in questions demanding application and other higher order skills while they do better in factual recall. The overall competence of English has improved greatly as has been witnessed in the overall outputs at National Examinations. Competence tests done in 1996-97 in grades 2 and 3 in selected areas of Eritrea show a more than 2/3 competence in basic language skills by over 2/3 students. Efforts have been made to introduce a clear orientation on reading although this needs to be consolidated through clear strategies and practical measures in the future. A proposal for a study and guideline on reading has been proposed.

Thus, raising learning achievement has been a major priority at basic education level particularly in grades 1 and 4. Here languages and mathematics are the major targets. While the school achievement in both grades has improved especially in grade 1, analysis standardized competence tests have shown that more effort needs to be introduced especially in mathematics as this is influencing the overall skills and capacity of students throughout all grades (DGE 1998, p 37). The competence test made at national level indicated major gaps in concepts, creativity and logical thinking of children. Improving the overall teaching methodology of teachers and students’ study and learning skills seem a major challenge. The results of the tests differ by subject and grade. There is also variation between regions and among the languages of instruction.

Table 20: Percentage of Pupils who scored 50% or above in the Competence Test for Grades 1 and 4

 

 

Subject

% of pupils scoring 50%

Male

Female

Total

1

Language Gr. 1

60.8%

58.3%

59.7%

2

English Gr. 4

60.0%

48.0%

55.0%

3

Mathematics Gr. 4

29.6%

15.6%

24.1%

As we can see from table 20, pupils’ performance in MT is satisfactory in view of the fact that mother tongue instruction gained impetus only recently. In grade 4 there is a significant difference between the performance of students in English and Mathematics. The performance of the pupils was also compared by media of instruction (Table 21). English test for grade 4 is excluded since it is the same for all schools. As we can see from the table 21, in the language test, the Tigre group did much better than the rest followed by Tigrigna and Saho.

Table 21: Percentage of pupils who scored 50% or above in each MT group

 

Type of Test

Tigrigna

Tigre

Kunama

Saho

Bilen

Nara

Arabic

Afar

 

Language Gr. 1

69.1%

81.0%

38.8%

64.3%

61.7%

4.4%

48.6%

49.4%

 

Mathematics Gr. 4

22.0%

31.1%

4.0%

32.4%

-

-

20.9%

-

N.B. Mathematics test was not given in Grade 4 Bilen, Nara and Afar

Results in relation to learning areas were also interesting. As indicated earlier, the competence tests used classification schemes based on "objectives" and "Processes". In language test for grade 1, the most important abilities tested were reading, writing, and range of vocabulary, relationship describing pictures and drawings and handwriting. In English for grade 4, speaking, listening, reading, writing, vocabulary and handwriting skills were tested. In Mathematics, skills in numerical calculations, concept understanding, knowledge of facts and principles, problem-solving abilities and ability to apply mathematics were tested. Evaluation studies have been made to try to identify the problem areas where pupils show poor performance. It is not possible to analyze the results of these studies in any detail, since the factors that affect performance of pupils are diverse and complex. Comparing the results with other factors and results will make more analysis of the test. A survey on monitoring the teaching-learning process will also be conducted in the year 2000. The following are the findings subject-wise:-

Table 22. Comparison of Student Abilities across Basic Learning skills

Pupils performance on different abilities in Language Grade 1

Abilities

Knowledge

Reading

Writing

Relationship

Describing

H-writing

% passes

67.7%

55.7%

61.5%

70.9%

47.5%

80.7%

Performance of skills and sub-skills at national level in English Grade 4

Abilities

Speaking

Listening

Reading 1

Reading 2

Writing

Grammar

Vocabulary

H-writing

% passes

66%

90%

77%

25%

18%

61%

49%

69%

Pupils performance in the three abilities in Math Grade 4

 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Abilities

Knowledge & information

Arithmetical Computation

Problem-solving

% passes

58.6%

31.3%

13.8%

Improving the learning achievement in science and developing the scientific thinking and inquiry were also major concerns in the formulation period. Thus, a science education field survey at the primary school level was conducted through UNESCO Participation Programme funds and a guideline on improving the methodology developed. The study was compiled and training workshops were conducted every summer in the last three years for more than 200 teachers. The result is highly instructive and has helped to introduce innovative and practical science teaching with a greater impact on student self-learning, discovery and observation. Based on this experience, efforts have also been made to improve the science teaching materials and methodology at junior level. The discovery learning became a major approach and produced great result. Hence there is a plan to introduce similar changes in other subjects.

Standard National Examinations given at the end of Formal Basic Education have also been very instrumental in not only assessing the learning achievement of students but also as a way of consolidating students’ study and work. The National Examination given has been changing in both quality and organization so that it serves the purpose of improving the quality of Formal Basic Education in the country. One of the main concerns was to standardize the examinations given based on Curriculum Framework for National Examinations. This guideline which gives a clear description of the competence anticipated to be achieved by the end of the formal Basic education level. The overall performance is still very low in terms of the National Attainment Targets and requires improvement. It can however be assessed that in the last four years gradual improvement in the standard of students competence and performance in English has been made, though still mathematics is a major problem at that level. Many of the students despite good English language competence fail in mathematics. Since 1997 effort has been made to progressively improve the content and quality and type of the examination. The promotion cut point was raised by about 14% from that of 1998. A comparison of the national examination results in relation to the National Attainment Target for the last four years is shown in table 23.

Table 23: National Examination Result at Basic Education level

 

Total in %

Female in %

1996

84

77

1997

66

55

1998

41

45

1999

69

58


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