BY SEMIR SEID | SHABAIT
The National Higher Education and Research Institute (NHERI) hosted a dissemination seminar of the Eritrea-Finland Cooperation in Higher Education on Monday the 12th of March.
The one-day seminar at the Asmara Palace Hotel which was attended by higher education officials, Ministers and instructors from both countries focused on reflections about the overall tasks accomplished since the signing of the cooperation deal in November 2015.
The capacities built, experiences gained and lessons learned from the projects in the past two years were reported to have been unique.
The Eritrea Higher Education Institution Institutional Cooperation Instrument (HEI ICI) program is funded by the development cooperation funds of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. About 2,601,493 Euro was earmarked for five projects by the HEI ICI program. The Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI) is the party responsible for the program management in close collaboration with the NHERI.
The objective of the Eritrea HEI ICI Program is to support the development of sustainable institutional capacity in Eritrean higher education institutions by enhancing their administrative, field-specific, methodological and pedagogical capacities.
In the dissemination seminar held on Monday, Dr. Haile Mihtsun, the Executive Director of the NHERI said that the NHERI encourages and values partnerships with local, regional and international actors to realize its policies and program objectives. Dr. Haile went on to say that the partnership with Finland is one of the very active cooperations between Eritrean Institutions of Higher Education (IHES) and Finnish Universities.
The bilateral Higher Education Cooperation launched in 2015 involved seven Eritrean Colleges and four Finnish Universities along with the Finnish Church Aid and covers six projects aimed at enhancing Education, Agriculture, Geoinformatics, Digital Library and ICT.
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The projects initiated at Eritrea Institute of Technology (EIT) focus on Strengthening ICT Education in Eritrea (ICT4EEDU), the Eritrea Learning for All (ELFA) and Digital Library and library automation services (DiLLA).
Minister of Education, Mr. Semere Russom, said that the overarching aim of the six projects was to improve teaching and research through enhanced institutional and human capacities in Eritrean Institutions of Higher Education.
Minister Semere further said that success of the projects was primary because they were built on jointly identified and developed realistic programs, meaningful and shared mission and objectives targeted to specific goals and, most importantly, mutual respect, trust, and understanding.
Following an overview of the three projects at EIT by Mr. Rediet Kifle, EIT Finnish-Eritrean project coordinator, accounts of the six projects were given. The DiLLA services in the EIT have been digitalized and improved the library services and access to information by upgrading equipment and the library’s collection, providing training on ICT to staff at the EIT.
The project has enhanced the content and service of the digital library and also automated the services for the use of printed book collection. Through this project, partner organizations have over 35 million e-resources, e-books, videos and audios that the academic community can use for research, teaching, and learning. Over 60,000 printed books have been catalogued electronically and processed to be electronically detected using the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology.
The ELFA project has increased institutional capacity for educational leadership and management of the College of Education at EIT. This project helped develop appropriate pedagogy skills, improve curriculum and enhance teaching and learning processes as well as the use of ICT in education.
The quality and relevance of the College of Education’s programs have improved through professional development modules in the areas of literacy and numeracy, learning difficulties, teacher education pedagogy, educational leadership, research methodology and ICT in education. Outcomes of this project include joint contextually relevant research and publication of an edited volume of eight research articles.
The ELFA book targets capacity building in institutions of higher education (IHE) in Eritrea. The ELFA project aims at building the professional and research capacity of staff at the College of Education of EIT, Asmara Community College of Education (ACCE) and Eritrea Ministry of Education (MOE).
Strengthening ICT for Eritrean Education (ICT4EEDU) is the third project that has strengthened the human and infrastructure capacity in EIT by creating and distributing electronic learning resources and services. It has enhanced the capacity of EIT’s ICT Center to deliver educational e-resources and to improve the ICT infrastructure.
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With the help of a large number of hotspots on campus, EIT teachers and students can now have access to intranet educational resources 24/7. The established EdTech Lab has created a platform for EIT colleges to jointly develop learning contents and support technologies for the teaching-learning process. The EdTech lab hosts the development of students’ projects that put technology (3D printing, video, mobile software, robotics) in the service of local needs of education. One of the exquisite projects is the “low-cost low-power computing system”. Students have used the lab’s Raspberry Pi and 3D printer to produce and assemble a learning device adapted to Eritrea and translated the software to Tigrigna so that the device can be used in primary and secondary schools.
The aim of this project has been to increase employment opportunities for graduates and expand production potential through the adoption of agroforestry systems in teaching, research and practice. The impact of this will increase agricultural productivity and improve food security. The Eritrean teaching assistants who attended the University of Helsinki were introduced to three sustainable landscape management modeling systems.
The fifth project is the Strengthening of Geoinformatics Teaching and Research (GIERI) given in the CASS. The study of Geoinformatics is an effective approach to learn and understand complex spatial problems. The field studies and develops computational methods for collecting, processing, analyzing, and presenting spatial data. This first GIERI project has developed Geoinformatics training and research capacity among the staff members of Eritrean higher education institutions (CASS, EIT, HAC and College of Marine Science and Technology) through training of trainers by developing joint research programs, and through teacher exchanges. GIERI supported students earn Masters degrees.
Teaching and research on Geoinformatics have been strengthened with a new curriculum, two geographic information systems (GIS) laboratories, teaching materials and three trained staff members. Fully equipped GIS laboratories for MSc and BSc level students in Geoinformatics and Geography have been installed at CASS. Twelve Masters Geoinformatics theses are underway with the graduation expected in July. The findings in these theses and the new techniques and methodologies adopted by students can be of great help to mapping and the sustainable management of natural resources, natural conservation, and food security. They can also be used by the government to make informed decisions about the society, economy and the environment.
Discussions among participants ensued at the end of every session in the seminar in which questions on how to solve all projects’ shortcomings were raised and comments were forwarded on the projects’ overall.
Eritrea has identified the need for competent teaching professionals in its higher education institutions. Mr. Pekka Haavisto, a Finnish member of parliament, said that the cooperation with Eritrea is efficacious and the projects conducted support Eritrea’s national development policy. Through the projects, the foundation for future cooperation has been laid. Many of the projects have sought to provide solutions to this very situation through curriculum enhancement, student and staff mobility and training, research collaboration and vast improvements in facilities. The overall aim of this has been to establish institutional linkages and to create cooperation that would benefit the young people of Eritrea and the students of the partner higher education institutions and also the society will surely gain from the well qualified and trained labor force.
On his final remarks, the Executive Director of the NHERI, Dr. Haile Mihtsun, underlined that the six projects have successfully achieved their objectives to deliver quality education by improving course transferring modalities, library services, pedagogical and research competence of Eritrean faculty, provision of advanced training at Ph.D. levels and development of research books.
The Higher Education Institutional Cooperation is coming to an end this summer. ELFA, one of the six projects, has already secured funding for 2018- 2020 from the Finnish HEI ICI funding instrument. Finnish Church Aid (FCA) will continue to focus on assisting to improve quality education through teaching, training, curriculum development, and school management in Eritrea, particularly with the Asmara School for Deaf children.