The government offers education at elementary (for five years), middle (two years), and secondary (four years) levels, and provides one special school for blind and two schools for deaf students. The University of Asmara, offering 17 bachelor degree programs, enrolled about 4,000 students in 1999. Nongovernmental Coptic, Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic schools (a total of 110) are found throughout the country. So-called public schools (a total of ten) are administered by municipalities or village committees. Five schools are administered by foreign communities in Asmara for their children.
The government also offers technical and vocational programs for middle and secondary graduates, as well as literacy, continuing education, and skill development training programs for adults. Additionally, the Ministry of Education is responsible for school sports programs at national and international levels.
In government schools, enrollment grew an average of 7.4 percent (6.1 percent primary, 14.9 middle, 7.0 secondary) each year from independence to 1999. However, the number of children not enrolled, at all levels and particularly in rural regions, was still high in 2000: about 320,000 at elementary age and 172,000 at middle school age. Literacy for the country is estimated to be 30 percent—for women just 10 percent. Despite the EPLF's and the government's longstanding commitment to women's equal participation in all areas of national life, female enrollment in schools, in numbers or growth, has not kept pace with male participation.
Government policy is for the local language, or the language locally chosen, to be the language of instruction at the elementary level and in literacy programs. To implement this policy, alphabetic forms have been created for six previously nonwritten languages. As of 2000, elementary education and literacy programs were being conducted in eight of the nine Eritrean languages.
Objectives of the educational system, as outlined in the Government's 1994 Macro-Policy, are to create a united, prosperous, peaceful, and democratic nation by educating women and men to:
- have the skills and commitment to work together to reconstruct the economic, environmental, and social fabric
- love and respect their nation and all people within it, regardless of sex, ethnic group, religion, or profession; this includes producing citizens who are fully literate in their mother tongue and who know and wish to preserve the best aspects of their culture while changing the negative aspects, including working toward the achievement of gender and ethnic equality
- respect democratic institutions and to fully and effectively participate in the democratic process, including developing and defending basic human rights, and to be guided by and adhere to the highest ethical principles
- have a deep knowledge of and respect for the environment and the need for its restoration and protection
- wisely use scientific processes and developments so as to achieve self-sufficiency in food, modern services, and industries, based on the principle of environmental sustainability
- develop to the fullest their creative potential in all aspects.
These principles are largely inherited from the liberation struggle, which included tremendous efforts to consolidate national identity and unity, promote social progress, and inculcate tolerance and democratic ideals.
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