At the time of Eritrea's independence, only 20% of the population was literate. The proportion among women was even lower. Today literacy levels have improved, though they remain below those of other developing nations.
Although education is free for all Eritrean citizens, school and educational facilities exist for less than half the population, and many are located in urban areas. A typical public school in Asmara has two shifts: primary school usually starts at eight in the morning and ends at noon, while the higher grades have their classes in the afternoon from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Access to education is a serious problem for children living in smaller towns, villages and remote regions. More boys go to schools than girls, who are often expected to stay home and help with household chores or in the fields.
Eritrea's school system is divided into three phases: primary school lasts for five years, middle school for two years and upper or secondary school for four years. Enrollment varies for different levels and is estimated at 45% for primary schools, 22% for middle schools and 14% for secondary schools.
To help preserve cultural diversity, primary school instruction is given in the native language of each region. At higher grades, Arabic and foreign languages like English are introduced. From grade seven through university, all schooling is in English.
Children also receive education outside the state school system. Many Muslim children go to a Khelwa (Islamic preschool) to study the Koran. This education provides them with a knowledge of Arabic before they start public school. Some communities also have strong oral traditions in which knowledge of language and stories about the community and family are passed down through the generations.
The University of Asmara is Eritrea's only university, with a capacity of 4,000 students in total. Girls now require a lower percentage for admission than boys-a policy adopted to encourage more girls to take up higher education.
Did you know?
Blin, the language of the farmers in the north, is slowly being displaced. The Ministry of Education has taken steps to keep the language alive and Blin academics have begun documenting the language to create a Blin dictionary, grammar and primer books.