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:

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) –

World Bank – Education in Eritrea: 

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) – Eritrea: Human Rights Watch – Eritrea:

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