Eritrea wants motivated teachers – Finnish education as an example

Eritrean teacher educators at Finn Church AId office in October 2016.
Eritrean teacher educators Amanuel Yosief (second from left), Abraham Belay (fourth from left) Ermias Melake (third from right), Freweini Gebreab (second from right) and Biqan Ghebreuesus (right) discussed education development with Hanna Posti-Ahokas. Photo: Elina Pohjonen.

In Finland, the government allocates sufficient funds to education. Teachers are motivated and their profession is respected. In these respects, Eritrea could learn from the Finnish experience, says Abraham Belay, senior lecturer at the College of Education at the Eritrean Institute of Technology.

Belay is one of five Eritrean teacher educators, who got to know Finnish schools and the Finnish education system in October 2016.

There is a shortage of competent teachers in Eritrea. The situation is worst in the countryside, where as much as 80 per cent of Eritrean population live.

It is difficult to attract trained teachers to remote districts, where there’s no electricity, technology and not always even proper roads. Even if there’s an aim to construct new schools especially in the countryside and village school teachers are provided with in-service training, many children and youth are at risk of being left without a decent education.

Five Eritrean teacher trainers visited a seminar ‘Quality Education for All’ in Jyväskylä, in Central Finland in October 2016. The participants reflected on how they could further the sustainable development goal ‘Quality education for all’ set by the UN General Assembly.

”In my opinion, quality education is about giving a new generation an opportunity for productive work and self-development”, says Abraham Belay.

”To achieve this in Eritrea, we should focus more on teachers and their competence.”

A teacher must have passion

Nowadays, teacher training takes two to four years in Eritrea. Belay feels that the length of the course is reasonable, but the quality could be developed. Today the government of Eritrea can, for example, mandate a person to be a teacher.

”This doesn’t work. A teacher must have passion and a desire to teach. In addition, he or she must know technology, pedagogy and of course the subjects that he or she teaches”, Belay lists.

Belay himself graduated as a teacher in 1982. Back then the teachers where highly respected in society and were able to earn decent salaries. In recent decades the situation has changed: teacher’s wages are low, as in many other developing countries, the profession is not appreciated and there are not enough career opportunities.

”Working in one district in one school, without ever being able to exchange thoughts and throw ideas around with others, eats up the motivation of teachers”, Belay feels.

”Career counselling to every school”

During their visit to Finland, the Eritrean teacher training professionals visited schools in Espoo and Vantaa, the neighboring cities to the capital Helsinki. Before the trip, Belay was interested in getting to know how pre-school is organised in Finland, because “the grass-root level system has to be in order so that the student can develop later on”.

Furthermore, Belay is interested in career counselling. It’s not provided in Eritrea at all.

”When I return, I want to spread the message about career counselling. It should be available at every school,“, he says.

The teacher is the most important resource

Finn Church Aid (FCA) has cooperated with the Eritrean teacher training institutes and education sector authorities since 2015. The aim is to strengthen the supply and quality of teacher training. FCA’s education specialist, Dr. Hanna Posti-Ahokas has been working in Eritrea since autumn 2015.

Belay feels that the opportunity to share ideas with specialists has been especially significant in the cooperation. Among others, Teachers without Borders volunteers, who are all professional teachers, have been working in Eritrea.

”Teachers without Borders is a great idea. It offers just the kind of expertise that we need. I hope that in the future we can have many more volunteers from the network working in Eritrea”, says Belay.

He highlights that every development cooperation investment should include education and strengthening of know-how.

”Just constructing a school is not enough. Teachers are the most important thing. Always.”

Text: Satu Helin