|In a model of education for Eritrea's nomadic populations, Rashaida girls and boys at Um Oshoosh School in Sudan's Kassala State demonstrate learning through role-playing.|
By Yahoko Asai
ASMARA, Eritrea, 30 March 2010 – Delivering education to children in remote rural areas is a major challenge in Eritrea.
In many cases. students have to walk long distances in difficult weather conditions to get to school. And families’ seasonal movements – in search of water and pastureland for their cattle – make it very difficult for pastoralist children to complete a basic education.
Moreover, teachers are often reluctant to work in remote areas, where access to basic social services is limited or non-existent. At the same time, some parents remain unaware of the importance of education for their children – particularly their daughters, who are frequently compelled to marry at a young age.
According to Ministry of Education figures, more than 234,000 Eritrean children aged 7 to 11 are not attending elementary schools. Enrolment in the regions inhabited by nomadic peoples is particularly low, especially among girls.
“By visiting various nomadic schools in northern Sudan and learning from their experiences, we can now confidently start putting our knowledge on different nomadic education initiatives into practice in Eritrea,” said the Minister of Education, H.E. Semere Russom, referring to a UNICEF-supported study tour on nomadic education. The tour took place in one of Eritrea’s neighbouring states, Sudan, earlier this month.
Lessons from Sudan
With similar cultures and traditions, Sudan faces many of the same educational challenges as Eritrea. On the study tour, Eritrean delegates visited five states in northern Sudan – Kassala, Gedarif, Khartoum, White Nile and North Kordofan – observing different initiatives that address access to education for nomadic children.
|Children at Al Dohom School, in Sudan's White Nile state, study in a classroom built by their parents using locally available materials. The school was visited by Eritrean education officials.|
In one of the Rashaida nomadic communities in Kassala state, the strong commitment of a community leader successfully influenced the transformation of a mobile classroom into an on-site school. The leader, Mohamed Salih Saleem, advocated education for all and made contributions to start the school – to buy the land, mobilize the community, build huts and provide food and water for teachers.
UNICEF collaborated on the project and provided writing desks and learning materials for the school. As a result of this effort, more than 100 boys and girls from grades one to four now attend the Um Oshoosh School.
‘Education can start in any form’
Various kinds of inventive school structures – including tents, iron frames covered by grass mats or twigs, and mud-brick or cement buildings – also impressed the Eritrean study tour members.
“It was encouraging to learn that we should not worry too much about how nomadic schools should look at the beginning,” said Petros Hailemariam, Director General of the Department of Research and Human Resources Development for the Eritrean Ministry of Education.
“Education can start in any form, depending on local conditions,” he added. “Once the basis is established, it can scale up, reflecting the local needs and realities.”
Translating knowledge into practice
In 2009, the Eritrean education authorities, with support from UNICEF, drafted a policy framework on nomadic education and initiated pilot nomadic education interventions in four regions.
The subsequent study tour to Sudan provided key government officials and partner organizations with the fresh perspectives needed for the ongoing development of a policy and plan of action for Eritrea, which will include expansions of pilot schools and teacher training programmes.
“Flexibility is the key for nomadic education,” said UNICEF Representative in Eritrea Dr. Hamid El-Bashir. “No one size fits all, because all nomadic communities have different social, economic and environment conditions, and their own lifestyles.”
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