Finn Church Aid (FCA), Finland’s largest NGO in development cooperation, is planning with its partners to develop a National Innovation Support Centre in Eritrea —the first of its kind in the country. Thirty-five people participated in a 2-day meeting (May 13-14) representing key government agencies, educational institutions, women and youth groups, UN agencies, and the European Union.
Throughout the two days, participants engaged in dynamic discussions about how to accelerate innovation to address the most pressing development needs in Eritrea, including education, food security, brain drain, lack of sustainable and renewable energy sources. While participants acknowledged that an Innovation Centre—on its own—cannot resolve these issues and that other policy issues must be addressed, the Centre is an important step towards invigorating the economy and testing new ideas.
The vision of the Innovation Centre is to help transform innovative ideas into tangible outcomes through training, mentorship and practical assistance. The Centre will also serve as a platform for interdisciplinary and international cooperation to support the Centre’s activities, such as partnerships with innovation labs in Finland and East Africa.
Emmanuel Kamuli, Chief of Education at UNICEF reflects on the outcomes of the two-day meeting: “The National Innovation Support Centre has immense potential to attract youth and bring together diverse groups of people from all ages, sectors, and interest groups to share information and design practical, unique solutions.”
Kamuli is currently working with the Ministry of Education on a joint review of the Eritrean education sector, and hopes that the Innovation Centre can contribute to education reform: “We need to find innovative ways to bring quality education to the most vulnerable groups in Eritrea, particularly children with special needs, girls and isolated children in remote nomadic communities.”
The workshop is just one of the activities in FCA’s three-year project in Eritrea which launched earlier this year. In recognition of Finland’s international reputation for quality education, the Eritrean National Commission for Higher Education (NCHE) sought FCA’s support to revitalize teacher education and bring innovation to learning.
Mary Tangelder, FCA’s Regional Education Specialist for East and Southern Africa remarks: “Finland is internationally renowned for successfully rebuilding the education sector post-WWII and emerging as a global leader in education. It is also renowned for cultivating innovation within teacher education. But our partnership isn’t about importing the Finnish system to Eritrea. Rather, Finnish education specialists will be working alongside Eritrean educators to develop and test solutions that are suited to Eritrea’s unique cultural context.”
Khalid Idris, Dean of the College of Education at the Eritrean Institute of Technology shares his perspective of the partnership between FCA and NCHE. “Innovation in education is sorely needed. In the last four years we have observed a sharp decline in student performance in primary schools, and motivation of our teaching staff across the country is at an all-time low. We are facing a critical shortage of skilled teachers, and our teacher education institutions are in need of radical reform. Improving access to education is only one side of the issue, and we are eager to work alongside Finnish experts to bring a stronger focus on quality education.”
FCA has recruited a new staff member, Dr. Hanna Posti-Ahokas, who will start to work in the College of Education in September. Posti-Ahokas will be joined by another Education Specialist and two Finnish education experts from the Teachers Without Borders network in autumn 2015.
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