Eritrea: Serious Consequences Of An Unjust Educational Policy
Shaebia has been pursuing a warped educational policy; I can confidently say that education is not alive in Eritrea. But at least there is a relatively good infrastructure (solely big buildings) and promising bright students that overcame the obstacles of Shaebia who is good at constructing schools, roads and dams―you can barely find a single Eritrean village without at least elementary school available at the expense of the free labor served by the faithful defense forces. However, they ruined the educational system intentionally. Constructing beautiful schools doesn’t mean that you are providing healthy education; infrastructure is only facilitation if it is not aided by smart teaching learning mechanism.
Let me summarize some of the factors that discouraged students from performing in a proper way:
Introduction of mother tongue system
The PFDJ introduced mother tongue system in primary education without the consent of the majority of the Eritrean groups. For instance, in Halhal (a town 45 km north west of Keren) the native Blin speakers opposed bitterly the mother language system and requested the government to maintain the already existing Arabic language as it was. They asked “Arabic language is the language of our religion, hence, it is our choice to use Arabic language as a medium for our primary school students. But Shaebia leaders, supported by ignorant puppets frightened the tribal chiefs (Kentibas) of the community by scolding them through their security agents and warning them of severe punishment and jailing if they reject the plan of the government and refuse to sign the proposal. The poor Kentibas signed the proposal to save their lives.
In principle, people must have a chance to develop their own language. However, logically, in Eritrea this is not practical because the official working language is Tigrinya―Sherrun la-budda minhu, a necessary evil. Mother tongue is part of a heritage and it must be able to survive and compete; but the intentions of the regime’s policy is dishonest and it was launched to suppress the minorities so that they could not compete with the Tigrinya speakers in securing public position.
It is apparent that a marginalized Blin or Hidareb students cannot cope with the working language requirement and the atmosphere after completing their education; their opportunity to be efficient and fruitful officials is very slim. By definition, language is a means of communication for people of a particular country or group so that they can harmoniously interact with one another, be it in Blin, Arabic, English, Tigrinya or any other language. However, it does not help to learn in eight different languages while Tigrinya is dominating everything. If I were given power, I would have changed the existing mother language system and replaced it by Tigrinya. If this seems controversial, at least I would have replaced the imported Latin characters by the Ge’ez characters to teach each ethnic group by its own mother language. As a result, the minority can obtain two supporting advantages: a) they can write Tigrinya, and b) they can read Tigrinya. This would help them to achieve these important catalysts for mastery of the language and they can easily develop the skill of speaking and listening.
Post-secondary dragging of students to Sawa military training camp
In Eritrea, it is compulsory to complete twelfth grade in Sawa while at the same time go through a tough military training. It is almost fantastic: one is expected to gain education in that dreadful weather, overloaded with drudgery, watched over by stressful trainers and looking into a bleak future, students are expected to gain sound education. It is an irony. Students are fed up with the deception and the tricks that are employed by key PFDJ leaders such as Osman Saleh, the ex-education minister and not foreign minister of the regime.
At the beginning of the academic year, Osman Saleh had a promise for the students: no one is going to fail and all of you will join higher education. It was an unrealistic and misleading promise that made the students avoid studying hard. As expected, the government selected few students to join Mainefhi College and dumped the others.
In February of 2004, there was a sad and highly controversial event that took place in Sawa. Around 9500 students gathered to attend a meeting chaired by Osman Saleh who was in the company of Brigadier General Negash Tesfatsion and Colonel Debesai Ghide, commander of the military training department. Colonel Debesay made a brief introduction and Osman Saleh took charge of the meeting. The agenda was about the results of matriculation and the students who were eligible to join Mainefhi paramilitary college. Osman Saleh divided the students into three categories and sentenced each category based on their records in returning to Sawa camp after the end of their two-months stay with their families.
Group I: Students who passed the exam and returned back to Sawa on time would continue their education in Mainefhi College.
Group II: Students who have passed the exam and delayed for ten days in returning back to Sawa would be punished for a one-year to stay in Sawa before they would be allowed to join Mainefhi College.
Group III: Students who have passed the exam and delayed in returning to the Sawa camp for fifteen-days would stay in Sawa for three years as a punishment.
This immature response appalled the students in general and those from the Anseba Zone in particular. They burst out together: Dobna fleyelna….Dobna fleyelna ( separate our border …separate our border from the rest of Eritrea!) Osman Saleh was very innocent to the extent of being transparent and unveil the covert discriminatory practices of PFDJ. He unknowingly alerted the Anseba students to be vigilant about the intentions of the government. Shaebia leaders are very cautious about regional and religious segregations; they never talk about it in public even though they systematically implement it in a clandestine way. Anseba, the land of the ardent anti-andinnet hero Ibrahim Sultan, Anseba, the land of Omer Izaz, Salih Iyay and many other history makers is betrayed by Osman Saleh. We are fed up with the PFDJ leaders’ phrases: addemti dekki Keren ( Keren boys, the protestors).
As usual, at the end of the meeting students were given an opportunity to ask questions. Osman Saleh was bombarded with difficult questions from many students. But, he couldn’t control his temper when a brave student from Keren Secondary School confronted him with a challenging question:
“Last year you promised us that all students will join higher education, but now you changed you word and all your promises became lies. The government announced the notice of returning of students back to Sawa on TV and not on radio, and due to the lack of technology and isolated geographical locations, many students from Anseba Zone couldn’t access the news, so why you are so tough on them?”
At that moment Osman Saleh attempted smart moves to evade replying to the young student. He responded in an awkward and emotional manner: “Nissikhum Zoba Anseba lomi trah aykonen, wela ab gizie sewra ant’sar na ikhum nerkum bzikhone gn dehan abzi zittabek seb slezellekkum shiggir yebilkumn.” (You from Anseba Zone, it is not only now, but even during the time of the revolution you were against us; by at any rate, you now have an advocate there is not problem) By the last phrase, the advocate, he meant Colonel Debesay Ghide who is from the Anseba Zone. In fact Colonel Debesay shared part of the game as long as he couldn’t stop the barking of Osman Saleh.
I would like to tell Osman Salih, whether he likes it or not, Keren boys never kneel down and Anseba is a mother of Eritrean history in addition of being a model of Eritrean unity and proud of its cultural and religious diversity that is model of social harmony. We are familiar with the jelfafat derogatory phrase which is used by some in the PFDJ. Let me elaborate:
While at Sawa, I had a friend named Wed-Shekai who was completing his military training. One day, one of the racist trainers gathered the trainees and ordered the merahti mesare’e (leader a team of 12 trainees) to check the attendance. One leader was confused about the exact number of his group. Then the trainer shouted at him and said, ” nezzi’om muqtsar se’enka, muqtsar de’a hade jelfaf ba’al jellabia wun qotsiru zikhe’el si nsikha! ( you couldn’t count those guys, even someone that dresses a jallabiya can count them but you! Wed-Shekai couldn’t tolerate that foolish comment and loudly said: Wellahi ba’al jellabia muqtsar tirah aykonen sirhu, kiyyatat wun yifitsim iyyu (one in jallabia is not only able to counts people but he also performs miracles). Wed-Shekay was then inhumanely beaten and jailed by the ignorant trainer for the sole reason of responding to the ignorant trainer. The courageous Wed-Shekai was not happy about shaebia right from the beginning.
In 2001, we were imprisoned together in Gelalo prison along with other Asmara University students who were always complaining about the cruel treatment of PFDJ. One day while we were seated in one of the halls of the prison, he heard a students saying: “nihna shaebia kemzi zigebbir aymeselennan.” (we didn’t think that the PFDJ would do like this to us.) Wed-Shekai commented: “Wellahi nihna si tesa’an haden ayyettaka’anan lomi khea’a ayyemmarernan” (I swear we didn’t clap our hands in 1991 and today we are not blaming Shaebia.) consequently all the students erupted in a loud cackle praising his sober comment.
Mistreatment and underestimation of graduates
When I completed university study, I used to guide and advice my nephew to study hard and improve his academic performance. He surprised me with a reply: “barinna yaakhe, inti mehersro wra ardo wantre.” (please leave me alone, you completed university but you achieved nothing.”
Indeed he was right. His observation and comments regarding demoralizing life of graduates was not encouraging. Imagine the disappointment: if you are an agricultural engineering graduate and take orders from a primitive Tegadelay:” sirahka gabbiya nay komideren shiggurtn muqtsar iyyu.” (your responsibility is to count crates of tomatoes and onions.) The best you could do is to prepare cash vouchers for fire wood dealers and customers in remote areas.
That is what happened to a friend who graduated from the college of agriculture and was assigned to Afhimbol plantation. He spent his time counting the gabbias (crates) of tomatoes and onions before they are loaded to big trucks for sales in the towns. This is just one example. Indeed, there are many graduates who are assigned in different ministries and they waste their time carrying files from one office to another, or spend the entire day making photocopies of papers that the PFDJ bureaucracy produces―running like illiterate messengers for illiterate managers.
Finally, I would like to convey a message to the PFDJ leaders: the time when education would be respected in Eritrea is not far. The time of mehaim, ignorant ruling with the help of the gun, would be over soon.