I spent two months in Eritrea as an intern in an education development project called Eritrea Learning for All (ELFA) through Higher Education Institutional Cooperation. The project is cooperated between the University of Jyväskylä and Eritrea Institution of Technology, and a part of the Higher Education Institutional Cooperation programme between Finland and Eritrea that was launched in the beginning of November 2015. A need to develop especially the quality of education in Eritrea was expressed by the Eritrean authorities leading to the initiation of collaboration between Eritrean and Finnish higher education institutions. The aim of ELFA, in specific, is to support the development of the teacher education and teacher educators in the associate institutions through jointly-planned and -organized training modules. Here, the Teachers without Borders of the Finn Church Aid are another significant partner in cooperation. Knowing not more than this young and self-reliant state is notoriously closed from the outside world, I came to find a highly motivated people with a strong will to develop their nation.
Arguably, education plays a crucial role as a powerful instrument for large-scale achievement and development. Investing in education contributes to a country’s changing needs considering economic growth, poverty reduction and social welfare, among others. In Eritrea, on a national policy level, education is given a high emphasis especially as a part of the country’s nation building process but yet, the practice in the field is not reaching the appreciation and resources it would require. For instance, most of the Eritrean teachers do not choose their profession for themselves but it is the lowest scoring students in the final exams of high school who are transferred into the teacher education programmes. Thus, the motivation among teachers is generally, and also understandably, low affecting the quality of education in practice in the field. Other challenges both for teachers and teacher educators include highly limited resources and teaching materials, poor teaching facilities, large class sizes, lack of in-service training as well as inadequate access to the latest literature and research on the field.
ELFA thus targets the local teacher educators pursuing to explore the best educational practices for Eritrea together with the Eritrean and the Finnish education experts. Therefore, the idea behind the cooperation is capacity development so that the shared expertise and new practices will ‘trickle down’ from the teacher educators to the teachers and so forth to the practices in schools. Having been a part of ELFA for almost a year now, the teacher educators participating in the project seem to be highly motivated by the cooperation. One of the teachers summarized the enthusiastic mindset among the participants well: “If you see challenges as problems, then they will be problems, but if you see challenges as opportunities, they will be opportunities for you to pursue … your vision, or your purpose in life.”
Even though institutional development and especially a societal change in the attitudes towards the profession of a teacher will take surely more time than the length of the project, as long as the actors in the field are committed to the change the cooperation will and has already proven to be fruitful and suited for the context. ELFA will still keep on going at least for the next year and options for sustainable continuation are currently sought together by the local and Finnish professionals.
You can read more about ELFA here: https://agoracenter.jyu.fi/projects/elfa
More about the Finnish-Eritrean cooperation: http://www.finland.or.ke/public/default.aspx?contentid=337666&nodeid=32134&contentlan=2&culture=en-US
Finn Church Aid / Teachers without Borders in Eritrea: https://www.kirkonulkomaanapu.fi/en/work/africa/eritrea/
Sara Isotalo / Environmental Coordinator