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Transforming teacher training in Eritrea – LIDC seminar

Chris Joynes worked in Eritrea from 2007 to 2011 on the implementation of a €50 million World Bank, Unicef and EU funded open and distance learning (ODL) programme for the training of teachers. As Joynes explained, Eritrea is one of the most unique countries in the Horn of Africa and has a fascinating and varied history. However, Eritrea can also be a challenging country to work in, particularly because it distances itself from the international community and exercises control over the activities of international aid agencies and NGOs.

In this session, Joynes presented the aims and outcomes of his four-year project in Eritrea, outlining the history of Eritrea’s education system. About 52% of the primary-age population is enrolled in school, with a completion rate of 51%. Difficult geographical conditions prevent access to good teaching for residents of the North and South Red Sea regions, and many students are unable to receive formal education due to the vast distances that separate them from the handful of schools in the area. Distance learning seemed a good solution for the isolated regions, particularly since teaching certificate awarding bodies were based in the North-Western area around the capital.
The ODL project included the redesigning of school curricula, improvements to the teaching of English and a schools building programme. Given that many Eritrean teachers are on compulsory national service, the project also attempted to change the way teaching was perceived, aiming to raise the status of teaching and focusing on improving teaching skills at all levels rather than just increasing academic subject knowledge.
Explaining that there was initial scepticism to the idea of distance learning, particularly because similar programmes had been tried ineffectively in the past, Joynes outlined the successes and failures of the ODL scheme. He pointed out that some learners felt neglected and had little communication with their tutors. Some made their own changes to the scheme to accommodate the fact that they had to travel over 400 miles to attend tutorials. Nonetheless, the programme was successful in getting teachers into school classrooms in the early stages of their training, helping to increase the number of teachers that could be trained at one time.
In terms of the scale of the training programme and the numbers reached, Joynes accepts that there the programme may have had little direct impact on meeting the numbers of trained teachers required by the Eritrean education system. However, the programme’s activities had succeeded in enhancing sector-wide capacity for the delivery of distance-led training programmes, and in establishing an administrative framework for open distance learning. It is anticipated that the programme’s activities would form a precedent for other initiatives, particularly given the excellent pass rates and high level of learner satisfaction with the scheme. 
Previous article by Chris Joynes: Distance learning for health professionals