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Eritrea, 24 November 2010: Complementary education programme puts children back to school

© UNICEF Eritrea/2010/Azmera
Zahra and her fellow students write down equations in a makeshift classroom in Eritrea.

By Dawit Azmera

JENGERJIBA, Eritrea, 24 November 2010 – In a sustained effort to provide primary education for all, a UNICEF-supported programme of Complementary Elementary Education (CEE) is attempting to reach the children and young adults in Eritrea who had initially missed the opportunity to attend school. The primary targets for the CEE programme are children aged 10 to 14, with a specific focus on girls.

“Girls at this age are eyed for marriage, and the boys are expected to do serious tasks, which would generate additional income for the household,” says Bekit Hussien, administrator at the Jengerjiba CEE. “Thanks to the sensitization by the government, parents have now started to send their children to this centre from a place as far an hour walking distance.”

Zahra Ahmed, 12, is one of the girls enrolled in level one of the programme. Intently copying an equation from the blackboard, she doesn’t seem to mind at all that the classrooms have no benches. Holding her notebook tight to her chest, Zahra says proudly: “I can read and write now. I will write a letter when my mom needs one. I am happy when teachers take us to the reading corner to read stories for us.”

Ensuring opportunity

More than 5,000 children are now enrolled in 57 CEE learning centres all over the country. Most were started with only the most meagre available resources.

© UNICEF Eritrea/2010/Azmera
Printed in the corner of a classroom in Eritrea are the words, "There is no darkness like ignorance."

“There are no desks and not enough textbooks,” says Saleh Omer, a locally recruited teacher at the Jengerjiba CEE. ”There are no toilets or running water in the learning centre. But these things will never stop us from walking our children to the light. We still manage to produce equally competent children as the formal schools.”

Designed for older children to complete the five-year primary school curriculum within three years, this approach could eventually ensure basic education opportunities for all of Eritrea’s out-of school children.

UNICEF support

Ismael, one of the successful students on track to finish primary education through this programme, will complete his third level of CEE this year. He walks for two hours to get to class each day without complaint, because he dreams of becoming a doctor, and no distance, however great, will deter him from his goal.

“I once went to attend to my mother who was in hospital,” says Ismael. “My uncle told me then that I would be [able] to treat sick people if I finish school.”

Working with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF provides furniture, materials and exercise books for the learning centres. Though conditions may be challenging here, hope and ambition resonate far beyond the tough environment of Jengerjiba. Matter-of-factly printed in the corner of one clasroom are the words, “There is no darkness like ignorance.”

 

 
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