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3.3. Adult Literacy

Emphasis and Importance of Literacy

As illiteracy is a stumbling bock to the technical revolution in agriculture, industry and the social transformations in Eritrea, the coverage of literacy programmes needs to be considered in EFA. In the strategic plan developed, the promotion of literacy has been seen in three major dimensions. The first is the need to improve economic productivity and growth. This is particularly true in the rural areas where a lot of effort is needed in transforming agriculture and raise productivity. The second important dimension is its role in fulfilling the basic human right of every citizen. Literacy expands personal choice, control of one’s environment, and allows for collective action. The ideological goals of literacy in Eritrea have also been considered as very central. During the National Liberation Struggle literacy programmes were used to acquaint the people with political, social and economic policies, create political mobilization, and assure the greater participation of the people in the social transformation and the liberation struggle.

Enrollment and Coverage

Between 1994 and 1999 programmes geared towards developing literacy have been conducted in many parts of the country but these were limited in scope and coverage. Two targets have been taken: ages 15-24 youth and 15-45 women were the major beneficiaries, both these targets having their economic and social implications. The emancipation of women is a central strategy and thus women were the main targets in many areas. The programme was intended to create the ability to read and write and perform simple arithmetic calculations. The main objectives of the programme were thus to reduce literacy especially in women, raise popular awareness in civic right and responsibilities and teach life skills. The 18 months programme was divided into three parts each of six months duration. Participants attend five days a week, two hours a day. As the development of literacy requires the participation of all stakeholders, the National Union of Eritrean Women and the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers were the main actors alongside the Ministry of Education.

The participation level is considered as very low, about 4% of the illiterate adult population in the country. In the last four years about 39,709 have participated of which 94.4% were women. The participation of learners also shows a great deal of disparity along the regions where 62% were in two regions (the Central and Southern regions having 57.6% of the centers). The participation in Northern red Sea and Southern Red Sea regions was minimal (1.1% and 7.9% respectively having 10.4% of the total centers in the country). This is another indication of the disparity in the educational provision and should be taken as a major concern. In general the higher participation in the two regions could be seen in relation to the fact they are densely populated, there is greater availability of teaching and reading materials, the educational organization was stronger and taken as an advantage, and there was high motivation of learners in these areas. The fact that the programme started in a small scale should also be considered. It must also be taken into consideration that the programme started on a limited stage to establish experience for the future extensive campaign on literacy. This, however, does not conceal the unequal and inequitable distribution of the provision and is one of the issues to be addressed.

Literacy Environment

In the last few years of interventions and in the experience gained so far, there are three cardinal issues assessed in the promotion of literacy in the country. One of the most important things and which has been seen as a constraint is the maintenance of literacy in the society once it has been achieved. The limited effort made has shown that it is not always easy to maintain the achievement so that literate people do not relapse again to their original situation. Thus, the promotion of a literate environment has been one of the serious challenges. The problem with most of the local languages is the low level of literacy work in the languages, as well as lack of reading materials and newspapers. Another important issue is the level of literacy reached through the programme. It has been found very important that the programme should be effective enough to bring the participants to a certain level of literacy with certain basic competencies, which are reliable and could be verified in standard educational terms. Thus there is a general assessment that based on the limited experience achieved, a great deal of effort will be needed to create reliable, sustainable and up to the required literacy level. It would help beneficiaries for life long education.

Success and Impact

Despite its limitation in enrolment and coverage, the rate of success of the literacy programme conducted is promising but more effort needs to be done in terms of introducing more relevant programmes, appropriate teaching methodology and organization. In the last for four years it has been found that only 70% of the those enrolled complete the literacy programme, the completion rate for male being lower (about 48.4%) than for females (71.3%). The literacy programme conducted in limited coverage was however very instrumental in its impact rather than in its coverage. An overall evaluation of the programme was conducted through the joint effort of providers, funding agencies and other stakeholders and the following findings will be worth for future tasks: -

Educational Radio Programme

Educational Radio Programme related to adult literacy has been broadcasted in two languages in order to support and strengthen literacy programmes and to help adults develop basic knowledge, life skills and values required for better living. The depth and scope of the programme was seen across four basic areas namely health education, agriculture education related to food security, citizenship and environmental education related to promoting environmental security. From 1995-1999 more than 450 educational messages have been broadcasted in about 2732 hours of airtime. The programme has been conducted in two of the nine local languages. In the past five years it has been evaluated that the listenership rate of the programme has reached 60% of the intended target audience. It is believed those students in the formal basic education, out-of-school youth and the army are among the special beneficiaries of the programme.

To consolidate the effective use of the programme, the government established 96 listening centers and distributed more than 340 radio sets to adult listeners. In the period during 1995-1999, more than 450 educational messages have been broadcasted in about 2732 hours in two languages. Adult listeners are supposed to listen to the programme in groups at neighborhood gatherings and they are expected to reflect on some of the basic issues and values of the prgrammes broadcasted. Despite major problems of technical nature and the scarcity of supplies like batteries, this has been an effective programme. Three major experiences have been gained from this programme. From the outset it was believed that such a programme which touches the whole population (not only adults but indirectly other listeners as well), could only be effective and popular if it meets the needs of the target audience. Thus practical and pedagogic considerations were studied and effectively implemented in order to maximize the outputs of the programme. It could be said that this was highly achieved in quiet a short time.

The second major experience is the content of the programme itself. The overall themes and the content used were carefully selected so as to fit into the overall needs of adults especially in rural areas. Much effort was made to introduce content and materials that would be very instrumental in changing their life style, living condition and attitude. Assessment shows that this has been very successful. The management and organization of the programme in itself was an added advantage. The fact that there was a close collaboration and coordination between all those concerned ministries and organization has made the programme very reliable and productive in its nature. The content was worked out in close consultation and collaboration with the other ministries and agencies namely Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Environment, Land and Water Resource. One of the unique experiences in this programme is the effective, efficient and smooth cooperation and coordination of all the ministries concerned in the major components. Repeated efforts to coordinate this programme with the other educational broadcasting programme given by the MOE was one of the efforts made.

There are several policy issues to further expand and consolidate the radio programme. One of the major issues is to extend the coverage of the programme by establishing more listening centers. A comprehensive study needs to be made on the organization and effective use of the listener centers and the type of low cost and reliable radios to be provided. The coverage of the programme has also been limited to two languages. Providing education through the other languages to support the ongoing adult literacy programme in all the remaining languages is of great significance. Other issues include the consolidation of the monitoring system of the programme and its resources, to raise coverage in terms of airtime and the need to develop alternative low cost means of sustaining the activities of the listening centers.

Expenditure in Adult Literacy

The expenditure for adult literacy has only been compiled for the last 3 years due to the lack of accurate data. This data is also preliminary and needs updating. The 1999 data is also partial, as it does not cover the whole year. Furthermore, the expenditure presented only covers the activities, which were under the direct control of the MOE. Activities conducted by the Ministry of Defense, the women’s and workers and youth associations and other non-government organizations are not included in this analysis. In general, the public expenditure on adult literacy is small compared to other components of the education system. The main reason is that adult literacy has been conducted in limited scope at a pilot level.

Expenditure in adult literacy increased by about 112% since 1997. The distribution by object of expenditure shows that in the last three years most of the money has been used for salaries and needs assessment. More than 56% was used for salary items in 1999. This raises two issues as an experience for conducting adult literacy programmes in the future. First, in order to introduce cost cutting mechanisms, efforts must be made to use existing institutions and resources of the formal basic education. Second, adult literacy programmes are the collective responsibility of all agencies, organizations and government bodies. Efforts must be made to involve the whole society and community participation should emphasized.

Table 27: Financial Expenditure in Adult Literacy, MOE: 1997-1999


1997 in Nfa

1998 in Nfa

1999 in Nfa













Needs Assessment


















Non-Formal BE in Evening Schools

In many areas there is a need for adults to attend evening classes after work mainly to upgrade their knowledge and their academic qualification. The coverage has been limited to only urban areas and even in urban areas this has not been effectively exploited. Furthermore even this has been deteriorating in terms of enrolment. The most worrying factor however is the quality and the monitoring mechanisms applied in this programme. Standard National Examination results at BE level show that the learning achievement is very much lower, much lower than that of the formal school system lower by about 71.3%. The overall success rate is also lower by about 57%.

There are two major issues here. Taking the present capacity of the government into account, providing education in the formal school system to every citizen in a very short time is not possible. Given the unsatisfied demand for middle school and secondary school level and the fact that the primary school leavers is growing highly every year will require the use of non-formal practices of education. Increasing educational access and equity to basic education in rural areas and other groups such as drop out which are not reached by the formal school system is also necessary. This condition raises the importance of learning provision through supplementary education. It helps adults to be compensated for their lost opportunity without separating them from the work and daily living activities. The other major issue is that there is a need to maximize the utilization of the available resources with some little additional effort and resources to reach adults and raise their educational level. It must also be considered that we need to struggle to create a literate work force and solve the backlog of the past generation.

3.4. Training in Essential Skills

Various technical minimum skills at various areas have been conducted in terms of behavioral changes and impacts on health, employment and productivity. These have been programmes waged to improve wage, self-employment and the standard of living of people especially in the rural areas. The main objectives were imparting knowledge, skills and attitudes that are necessary in poverty reduction, employment creation, enterprise development, and introduction of intermediate technology and improvement in the quality of life and greater participation in the economy and development of the community. Efforts were made to relate them to the integrated development strategy and the rural development schemes but their coverage and their effectiveness needs to be assessed. In addition, many areas promoting indigenous skills and handicraft were also considered. Women, drop out youth, demobilized fighters of the liberation struggle, disabled, returnee refugees and deportees of the present conflict with Ethiopia are the main targets of the programme.

The depth and scope of the training provided was also diverse. In general they could be categorized into two: income generating skills and development oriented skills. Income generating skills include weaving, leather craft, fiber craft, wood working, carpet making, distributed sewing and tailoring, horn craft, knitting, embroidery, pottery, bricklaying and masonry, elementary electricity, plumbing, general auto mechanics and driving (car, truck, heavy machinery). Development oriented skills also included forestry, soil conservation, gardening, seedling nurseries, animal husbandry, bee keeping, health education, traditional birth practices, and reproductive health education. It is to be noted that all the activities are interrelated and one could also fit into the other category. All the training skills range from two weeks to nine months depending on the age, experience education and demand of the participants. In general, the provision of technical minimum skills at basic education level is a continuation of the adult literacy provision. In several cases participants are enrolled without the basic literacy and numeracy skills, which they take after joining the programme.

Table 28: Enrolment and Type of Skills in Technical Skills Training by Occupation: 1993-98



% ile

Agriculture Related Areas



Health Related



Community Development






Typing and Computing



Home Management



Construction related



Wood and Metal Work



Other Skills



The training of skills are not however fairly distributed in all the regions though there is a general indication that most have been conducted in rural areas in relation to the rural development schemes. Most of the training was conducted in the Central and Gash-Barka regions. Though the imbalance in the distribution can be seen critically, at the initial stages these two regions however, were given more attention. The Gash Barka region is one of the agriculturally very rich areas in the country and a lot of development projects in agriculture, mining and other related areas are taking place. The Central region is a highly populated area with a lot of industrial, infrastructure and economic activities taking place. These two covered about 95.3% of the total trainees and this unfair distribution has to be considered from equity point of view in the future. A major breakthrough in the composition of the skill training programmes is the promising participation of women. They account for about 58% of the total.

The impact of the training is very significant in light of the great need for semi-skilled human capacity of the country and the rapid national reconstruction effort going on. Many of the graduates have already started their own business, while many have been employed across the various sectors though accurate data has not been compiled so far. Local communities, employers and sponsors highly appreciate and value the training given. One of the major dimensions not yet studied is the market job relevance of these skills and their effectiveness and employment prospects in the market. There is a clear need to assess how the different technical skills training at basic education level have performed in relation to their costs and to examine how they have been sustained. Another major concern is the prospects of continuity of such types of training and the need to upgrade the trainees to build up their skills as part of the spiral education process in the system.

The main funding agencies of the programmes in the last 4 years were the government, UN agencies such as UNDP, GTZ, OBS, ACORD, HEAL and USAID.

3.5. Education for Human Living

This includes the whole aspect of the informal section of the education system deemed necessary for better living and sustainable development. Its effectiveness in terms of behavioral change has been very high. One of the important areas is the impact of the media in educational and cultural development. Media coverage in educational, cultural, political, recreational and other has been raised in terms of airtime, relevance of content, organization and effectiveness. The overall capacity of the media has greatly increased by threefold. A survey made in 1997 showed that listener-ship is very high with about 70% of the young and adult population following the radio programmes. The scope and coverage of programmes related to education has increased to about 50% in the last three years as a result of expanding the capacity of the media in the country. The radio programmes are broadcasted in 8 of the 9 Eritrean languages inside the country. The capacity and coverage of TV is also growing.

The coverage of the set of the cultural institutions and their impact is limited. Even urban areas lack the service of public libraries. Community based sport activities have been established through the establishment of local committees. Despite lack of sport facilities and fields children’s sport teams (for both boys and girls) and interest groups have been established throughout the country. A project on community based theater has been started with more focus made to the rural areas. Actors have been trained to perform shows related to their living condition in the open space. The project has demonstrated several shows in two local languages in the rural areas. To lay the foundation for the cultural transformation along national values, the tradition of festivals have been introduced at national and regional levels in the last six years. Here various artistic, cultural, and other activities of the communities and individuals in the various regions are demonstrated to the people. In addition, general knowledge competition among children, youth and adults especially women have become important events especially in the rural areas.

Another area given due importance is the collection of oral literature and the development of literary work in all the local languages. The attempts made are very minimal and much needs to be made so that the people could use and expose their cultural heritage. It is also important to develop and standardize the languages.

4. Critical remarks and Macro Issues for Development

4.1. Basic Issues and Problems of EFA in Eritrea

The three dimensions to be raised here are political, economic and social issues. Some of the issues that should be raised in relation to the strategies outlined above give some insight into the nature and extent of the problems in the country. From the analysis made it has become evident that there are major political issues related to the development of EFA in Eritrea. Despite major interventions and results in quiet a short time, equity of educational provision is a major concern. Thus, bridging the gap between regions, narrowing gender disparity and the provisions of education in rural areas are central issues.

There are also social issues of particular significance in the overall development of EFA. One issue of great sociological significance is the all-round development of children and citizens. The all round development of children is particularly significant in the formal education system in light of the proper upbringing of the new generation. The need to assure the physical, intellectual and social development of children, the emphasis on early childhood care and development from early period are believed to be central, but the fact that this is lagging in education is an issue that needs proper attention. But in general political, ideological, educational, labor and recreational influences should be made so as to assure the fullest development, of citizens in the national development. The above situation leads to the need for diversifying the education system to include forms of education other than the formal system. The focus in the last eight years has been more on the formal school system and thus creating supplementary modes of education through the non-formal system, the promotion of the informal system for establishing a life long education to all citizens need to be considered in future educational planning and implementation.

Another social issue of greater concern in all the different educational provisions and forms is the relevance of the educational programmes, particularly the curriculum. The effort done so far, though encouraging, is still far from what is desired. As the school system is using a curriculum that needs redefinition in relation to the present situation and demands of nation building in Eritrea, the delays in curriculum review is one of the greatest concerns. Thus, the redefinition of the curriculum in its function, composition and structure should be speeded to create a context for an overall change and effort in the transformation of quality. This would definitely entail the redefinition of the teacher training programmes at Basic Education level as well. Similar problems exist in adult education programmes and thus a general strategy for changing the various prorgrammes is urgently needed. Here one of the crucial issues is the need to integrate the adult education programmmes at Basic Education level to fit into the standard of the formal school system. All this would require an overall strategy for educational reform that needs to be addressed fairly quickly.

In terms of improving quality of the education and learning process various measures have been taken in the last few years. While the consolidation of these efforts is very essential an issue of particular significance from the assessment is the need to assert the decisive role of teachers and the need for improved qualification is essential. In this context the need to introduce specialized training for elementary school level teaching and the need to consolidate the local training system for continuous upgrading of the teachers at Basic Education level is important. The government has greatly improved the salaries of teachers and other educational staff but in line with this a greater effort will be needed to rehabilitate the role of teachers so as to promote their role as social agents of change in the society. One area of major concern in the assessment is the transfer of the experienced teachers from elementary to junior school level. It is very important in the future that enough teachers are trained for junior level in the Faculty of Education so that the quality of teaching is improved at that level, while transferring teachers from one level to the other is deemed unnecessary and unproductive. The effort should be to upgrade and promote teachers within the cycle they are working. In addition the new experience of assigning experienced teachers in lower grades of each cycle needs to be consolidated.

Consolidating school management is another vital area to be considered but again here consolidating the cluster management organization should be a priority. The role of the school environment in the teaching-learning process has been evaluated as negative. Within the limits of the capacity of the nation, addressing the problems associated with large classes, problems of lack in support systems and inadequate physical structures need to be considered. There is the need for consolidating the role of parents and community in the control and management of education and participation of community and stakeholders in financing education

The overall efforts of expanding the Education for All strategy and promoting its quality raise several economic issues and problems. Though accurate figures on expenditures of secondary education, technical education, non formal education and tertiary level education have not been available, the general belief is that there is imbalance in expenditures in relation to the per capita allocations. Thus, there is a need to address the greater allocation of resources and expenditures in EFA because the importance of EFA in terms of economic growth, productivity and the creation of a literate work force is of paramount interest to the nation. A particular concern in this connection assessed critically is the issue of over aged children in the formal system which influences the opportunity cost and the indirect cost of education. But on the other hand the demographic issues related to population growth and all other health problems and hazards should also be taken into consideration greatly. Another problem critically seen is the high wastage in the system. This has enormous cost implication and reducing wastage should be considered as one of the essential measures in the future.

The resources and focus given to technical minimum skill training at Basic education level despite its good start and impact is very low in its coverage. Thus in economic terms the emphasis on vocational skills training in various occupational areas at Basic Education should be made higher and measures for its cost effectiveness must be studied especially in relation to the integrated rural development schemes. The experience of the last few years and the assessment made has shown that education is an investment that requires huge inputs in manpower, finance, material and organization. Thus, the effective mobilization and effective use of available resources is a central issue. It is in this light that an international support based on partnership could help in consolidating the internal dynamics, local efforts and creativity.

Finally the role of the private sector and its involvement in promoting Basic Education is of particular significance. In a country like Eritrea which is in the take-off stage in economic terms, the participation of a strong private sector in the provision of education especially in promoting education for adults, technical vocational skills in rural areas is very vital. The reality now is that there is no sound private sector involvement even in the formal school system.

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