Universal Periodic Review of Eritrea

This report drafted by Broken Chalk contributes to the fourth cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for the State of Eritrea. This report focuses exclusively on human rights issues in Eritrea’s education field.

  • During the last decade, Eritrea presented a good evolution in its complex education system. The progress demonstrated in its previous comprehensive evaluation highlighted achievements and improvement areas. The 2012 educational reform, known as the “Education Sector Development Plan (ESDP 2012 – 2017),” made notable strides in equitable access to education, especially for socially disadvantaged groups like nomadic communities and those in rural areas. 
  • Since the end of the civil war 1993, the country has stabilised macro policy objectives for education, and the current National Education Sector Plan of 2018 – 2022 of the Ministry of Education reconfirmed the strategy policies. Focusing on three main areas or pillars for the education system: first, the “development of a population equipped with necessary skills, knowledge and culture for a self-reliant and modern economy”; second, the “development of self-consciousness and self-motivation in the population to fight disease, attendant causes of backwardness and ignorance”; and third “provision of basic education to all, regardless of their ethnic origin, sex and religion”[i].
  • Improvement in various metrics has been reported, such as a 6.6% increase in enrollments in pre-primary schools and an 8.5% rise in the number of such schools. The emphasis on mother-tongue instruction has been pivotal in primary education, with over 349,753 students enrolled nationwide. Eritrea’s educational policy emphasises universal primary education through the mother tongue, promoting language equality and benefiting 349,753 students, 45% of whom are girls. The advances have resulted in a 1.3% rise in rural schools and enhanced opportunities for girls and nomadic communities, with specialised workshops fostering strategy development for these segments.[ii]
  • Among Eritrea’s concerns is enhancing efforts to guarantee girls’ rights to education and provide them with a higher level of education. Expenditure on education has fluctuated over the years, representing 4% of the country’s GDP, underlining the government’s commitment to providing free education at all levels[iii].
  • Concerning gender equality in educational institutions, Eritrea has disclosed a coefficient of 0.91 for gender parity in pre-primary schools, with 1 representing absolute parity. For elementary, middle, and secondary schools, the figures are 0.82, 0.85, and 0.91, respectively, highlighting a pressing need to intensify efforts to secure and enhance girls’ educational rights and access to more advanced academic levels. Nonetheless, challenges remain in gender parity and the quality of education[iv].
  • Eritrea has also made strides in literacy and adult education, realising a 20% decrease in illiteracy facilitated by continual workshops and programs promoting literacy. Based on the data from 2016, the program witnessed participation from over 17 million adults, with a successful 75% completion rate[v].
  • Eritrea recorded enrollments exceeding 81,000 students in secondary education in the 2017-2018 academic year. Within this educational level, three crucial goals have been established: to optimise university entrance opportunities, to foster social cohesion amongst new generations, and to construct a competitive environment conducive to high academic achievement and merit competition. Despite the efforts to increase access to education and improve the opportunities and the quality of the system at all levels for the schools, the country reported in 2016 that over 220,000 children aged 5 to 13 years old remain out of schools, with the rage to 73% of pre-primary school and 27% from middle school[vi].
  • The Early Childhood Development Program enabled extensive reform that got advancements in fostering early intervention, leading to a 6.6% rise in enrollments in pre-primary schools, with the total number of such schools growing by 8.5%. This accounted for 47,196 students, with girls making up 48.7% of enrollees. The initiative also saw an increase in rural coverage from 64.2% to 65%, an 18.5% rise primarily attributed to the pivotal role of the Rural Community Care Givers Scheme. The national workshop on nomadic education has been instrumental in developing and applying strategies in these communities. Eritrea has also established progress for literacy and adult education, achieving a 20% reduction in illiteracy and ongoing workshops to drive the project’s progress[vii][viii].
  • Furthermore, regardless of the country’s advances and progress in education overall since the end of the civil war and the advances in the last decades, the country presents urgent issues on their policies that ensure equity of access to schooling all around the country. The challenges surround wide disparities in the level of participation among the different regions (Zobas) of the country, gender gaps, low level of involvement of children with disabilities, access to education for children that are part of nomadic tribes and for the ones who live geographic areas with difficult access[ix].

By Daniel Ordoñez

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[i]  Partnership, Golbal. 2018. “ERITREA EDUCATION SECTOR PLAN.” P. 25

[ii]  Assembly, UN General. 2018. “Universal Periodic Review​ – Third Cycle – Eritrea.” P. 11

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v]  Ibid.

[vi] Partnership, Golbal. 2018. “ERITREA EDUCATION SECTOR PLAN.” P. 14

[vii] Assembly, UN General. 2018. “Universal Periodic Review​ – Third Cycle – Eritrea.”  P. 11

[viii] Watch, Human Rights. 2019. “Eritrea: Conscription System’s Toll on Education.” https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/08/08/eritrea-conscription-systems-toll-education.

[ix] Mengesha, Tedros Sium, and Mussie T Tessema. 2019. “Eritrean Education System: A  Critical Analysis and Future Research Directions.” International Journal of Education 11 (1): 1–17. doi:10.5296/ije.v11i1.14471. P. 3

Cover image by aboodi vesakaran via Pexels

Educational Challenges in Eritrea: Navigating Historical Context and Current Issues

Written by Joseph Kamanga

Education plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of individuals and societies. In the case of Eritrea, a country with a complex history and a strong desire for progress, the educational landscape reflects both the challenges inherited from the past and the contemporary issues faced by its education system. By examining the historical context and the current challenges, we gain a comprehensive understanding of the obstacles that Eritrea must overcome to ensure equitable and quality education for its population.

Children waiting to go to class. Photo by Merhawi147

Historical Background

Eritrea’s educational system has evolved over time, deeply influenced by its colonial history and the struggle for independence. Under Italian colonial rule in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, education was limited to a privileged few, primarily aimed at serving the interests of the colonial administration. This approach excluded the majority of Eritreans from accessing quality education, perpetuating inequities.

After World War II, Eritrea came under British administration and later federated with Ethiopia in 1952. During this period, educational opportunities remained limited and largely inaccessible to the broader population. However, the armed struggle for independence led by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) brought about significant changes. The EPLF established underground schools, known as “ma’htot,” which focused on preserving Eritrean identity, culture, and language. This movement laid the foundation for a more inclusive and culturally relevant education system.

Current Challenges

Inequitable Access to Education

One of the most pressing challenges in Eritrea is inequitable access to education. Geographical factors pose significant barriers, particularly in remote and rural areas. Limited infrastructure and transportation hinder the establishment and maintenance of schools, making it difficult for children to access education. For example, in the Gash Barka region, located in the western part of the country, the lack of schools and the long distances students have to travel to get to school prevent many children from attending classes regularly. Similarly, in the Southern region, children from nomadic communities face difficulties in accessing formal education due to their transient lifestyle and the absence of educational facilities in their migratory routes.

Economic Constraints and Affordability

Economic factors further exacerbate the challenges in the education system. Poverty, particularly prevalent in rural areas, makes it challenging for families to afford school-related expenses such as uniforms, books, and transportation costs. The financial burden restricts access to education, disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations and perpetuating cycles of poverty and inequality. For instance, in the Anseba region, impoverished families struggle to cover essential educational expenses, leading to higher dropout rates among children from low-income backgrounds. Similarly, in urban areas such as Asmara, high living costs make it difficult for families to allocate sufficient resources for education, hindering access to quality schooling.

Gender Disparities

Eritrea faces gender disparities in access to education. Deep-rooted cultural norms and expectations often prioritize boys’ education over girls’, leading to lower enrollment rates for girls. Early marriage and assigned domestic responsibilities limit girls’ educational opportunities. Early marriage is prevalent in some areas, such as the Debub region, and girls are often forced to drop out of school at a young age, hindering their educational advancement. Furthermore, societal perceptions of traditional gender roles contribute to girls’ limited educational and career opportunities, constraining their full potential and undermining efforts to achieve gender equality in education.

The cloister of the Catholic Cathedral in Asmara hosts a large school. Photo by David Stanley.
Quality of Education

The quality of education in Eritrea is a significant concern. Insufficient numbers of qualified teachers, especially in rural areas, contribute to inadequate learning experiences. Teachers’ lack of professional development opportunities further hampers their ability to deliver quality instruction. The absence of essential resources such as textbooks, learning materials, and proper infrastructure also impacts the overall learning environment. In the Maekel region, for example, overcrowded classrooms and a shortage of trained teachers compromise the quality of education and hinder students’ learning outcomes.

Limited Access to Higher Education

Access to higher education is limited in Eritrea. The scarcity of universities and highly competitive admission processes restrict the number of students who can pursue tertiary education. This limitation impedes the development of a skilled workforce and hampers the country’s progress towards a knowledge-based economy. For instance, in the Central region, where the capital city Asmara is located, the few available spots in universities cannot accommodate the growing number of qualified students seeking higher education, leading to a significant gap between the demand and supply of tertiary education opportunities.


The educational challenges in Eritrea are deeply rooted in historical factors and compounded by current issues. Inequitable access, economic constraints, gender disparities, poor quality of education, and limited access to higher education continue to hinder the development and progress of the country’s education system. These challenges require urgent attention and comprehensive solutions. By addressing the underlying causes, investing in infrastructure, promoting gender equality, and improving the quality of education, Eritrea can pave the way for a more inclusive and effective education system that empowers its citizens and supports the country’s long-term development goals.


United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – Eritrea: Education Sector Review: https://www.er.undp.org/content/eritrea/en/home/library/poverty/education-sector-review.html

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – https://www.unicef.org/eritrea/education

World Bank – Education in Eritrea: https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/eritrea/publication/education-in-eritrea 

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) – Eritrea: https://en.unesco.org/countries/eritrea Human Rights Watch – Eritrea: https://www.hrw.org/africa/eritrea