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University of Asmara: Demise by Negligence
By Zeykesene Zega
Nov 26, 2004, 12:54 PST

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 “When Two Elephants fight it is the Grass that Gets Trampled”


Two years ago, in a cabinet ministerial meeting, PIA unleashed his barrage of words at the Minister of Education saying that the country’s educational system is a failure and is in shambles and ordered him to introduce a new system right away. This is exactly what he reiterated in a meeting with the staff of University of Asmara a month ago. To that effect, the bewildered minister himself and the Ministry of Education at large, were in a rampage run to do something to allure the president. They were set to change the whole curriculum in a blink of an eye and claimed that they have introduced a new one as part of the Warsay-Yikaalo campaign to bring about a quick and radical change in that area.


The Minister of Education and his cronies embarked on surfing in the internet to just copy-paste other countries’ curriculum and in no time he, along with other members of the task force assigned to searching and copying a curriculum, came up with one adopted from Mexico (or is it Texas?). Voila! It was introduced as a solution to our crumbling system. The former curriculum was discarded; all the 5 to 6 years-old-text-books, which were used in schools and cost hundreds of millions, were ordered to be disposed of and get replaced right away.  In a rush, teachers were informed to acquaint themselves with the new curriculum. Along with that motion, students who were to take university entrance examination were ordered to leave to Sawa and finish their last year of high school in the “place of culture and education” as they are calling it these days. This flabbergasted every one.


Before the public finished contemplating this, it was announced that the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the Ministry of Defense are constructing new colleges in Mai Nefhi and other places. Colonel Ezira, former administrator of Sawa, was assigned as the President or administrator of the new “technical institute” in Mai Nefhi. Prefabricated Houses were imported from abroad, about 400 Indian good-for-nothing teachers were recruited and all the students who did their last year of high school in Sawa were all put in the yet unfinished new “institute.” Innumerable departments were opened overnight- like Aerospace Engineering.  [To talk about the colleges and departments merits another big article.]


Consequently, University of Asmara was informed last year that there would not be any fresh-students to be assigned to the country’s only higher institution. Academic year 2003/2004 in the university passed by with out freshmen students. To add insult to injury, University of Asmara was again informed this year that all the students who are finishing high school in Sawa this year will be sent only to Mai Nefhi. This means that University of Asmara will not have freshmen next year as well. The university is just entertaining III year and IV year batches.


What is more, last year the minister of education ordered that there would not be any graduation ceremony and all the students who were to graduate last July were ordered to leave for Sawa. Those who finished a year ago and were doing their university service in different ministries and those who just finished IV year left to Sawa on July 12. The taken-aback Dr. Welde-ab Yisak did not say anything. When he was approached by the students and told him that most of them were trained in Gahtelay or Sawa in the 9th round and asked him why they are heading to Sawa again, he was short of any plausible answer. His only response was “If you think the military training you took in Sawa in the 9th round and in Gahtelay on the 13th can exempt you from this, that is fine with me. But you have to know that you will be taking responsibility for any consequence.” The disillusioned students who had a bad experience in Wi’A and Gelalo just left swiftly. Now, after almost three months training, they are back. They all say that there was nothing new they learned: most of the time they spent doing some “Maetot” [harvest] or cleaning the “tsetser” [pebbles] from the yards of their respective officers.


Three weeks ago, true to its nature, the Ministry of Education told the Mai-Nefhi students that they have to return to their respective regiments (Ahadu), and with out any shame told them that they will only be admitted back if their respective “Ahadu” says so. Indeed, this is a sign that tells that the government did not found the Mai-nefhi College to give our youngsters an opportunity for education. It rather used it as a pretext to scoop money from international donors and a means of controlling them. This, indeed, is one of the signs of grudges that the regime has on education and more specifically on the only higher institution in the country.


Whenever one meets the University students who were supposed to graduate last July and they are asked when graduation is, no one has the faintest idea. Neither does Dr. Woldeab. Parents who have waited so long to see their sons or daughters’ graduation seem to have given up. It is hard to fathom how a regime of your own can have so much disrespect for the society and specifically parents of the graduates.


Of course, in today’s Eritrea there is no such thing as planning. The observation that says “Policies and regulations are drafted in bars and are asked for implementation the next day,” is, in fact, proving to be true. Evaluation is always retroactive.  In this particular case, so many have already spent a lot for the making of Siwa and buying garments for the ceremony. A caring government would have done either of two things: Let the students graduate and take them to Sawa for training or tell them, way beforehand, that there won’t be any graduation so that they be saved from preparing for and expending unnecessarily. That would have saved the students and parents so much. The government, however, does not have the courtesy to do that. It has been a while since it started getting puffed up with contempt and arrogance and undermining the people. Of course, our policy makers are busy drinking whisky and flirting with young girls and don’t have the time to think through the economic hurdles the people are going. Ab Kebdi Tsugub Timuy Yelen.”


Next year, there will only be III year and IV year in the University. The year after, there will only be IV year students. And after two years, there won’t be any students enrolled in the University of Asmara. To just add insult to injury, President Isayas visited University of Asmara and in a meeting with the staff of UoA he said that they should not be surprised if they don’t get any fresh students in the coming 4-5 years. The reason: “We are in a transition,” he said shamelessly and sarcastically. Maybe the government wants to close the only higher institution in the country and keep every one as ignorant. This is the worse crime a government can commit on education. In reality, just because it is the only higher institution with almost 50 years age in the country would make it qualified for improvement and enlargement, to say the least.


Even the Derg regime did not try, until the end of his stay in power, to destroy it.  Dismembering a university that has the history of 50 years can only have one explanation- the government is anti-education. If the government does not like the leadership in the institution it has every power and right to kick it out. After all it is a leadership that itself put in the seat. If it has any hard feelings on the professors it can just tell them to leave just like it did in 1994. But dismembering it is not something that makes any sense. It, therefore, is every scholar’s responsibility to do something about this before it is too late. Specifically, it is the task of all the graduates of the institution since its inception to lobby and force the government to stop mutilating it.


Some say it is the manifestation of the power struggle between the Minster of Education Mr. Osman Salih and Dr. Weldeab Yisak, president of the University who once, rumor had it, was to be the minister of education. As the saying goes “When two elephants fight….” these two people who are power wielders are making their biggest mistakes.


Whatever the fact is, this is a grave concern for everyone and history will harshly judge us if we let this happen. Let’s all do something about it and, more specifically, the Eritrean intelligentsia is called upon to stop this dismemberment of University of Asmara.



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