Modern Education Development, Challenges and Current State in Eritrea (1839 to 2016)


Pt. 1b Education during the Italian fascism period

Compiled and researched by Resoum Kidane

After the rise of Italian fascism the number of students went into decline and most missionary schools which provided education for local people were closed down. According to Bairu (2016, page 23) the Italians considered, with justification, the Evangelical School a training ground for anti-fascist Eritrea; consequently, they frequently threatened to close the school.

Bairu (2016, page 23) adds that during the Italian colonial period Eritrean were not allowed to study further than the fourth grade, this policy was based on the Italian assumption that Eritrean children were too perceptive to be provided with the dangerous privilage of modern education

Furthermore the Italian government introduced a law that the highest level of schooling for Eritreans was the fourth grade and no Eritrean was allowed to advance beyond the 5th elementary class whereas in the Somalia the highest level of schooling for Solamli children was grade 7.

According to ( Abdi, Ali A, 1998) in the case of Somalia, as elsewhere in the colonized world, a grade 7 education was apparently sufficient for administrative and low-level technical duties assigned to the natives. The type and the level of education that should lead to critical citizenship and social analysis would have been a danger to the longevity of colonialism, and apparently, colonizers were not unaware of that.

.Similarly in Eritrea during the Italian fascism period only 6 out of the 25 schools for Eritreans provided basic literacy and vocational training up to 4th grade apart from the Scuola Vittoria Emmanuel in Asmara. The Scuola Salvago Ruggio in Keren offered two year courses for the children of some of the privileged Eritreans or balabat.The education of Eritrean males was explicitly designed to train them for agriculture and military functions, to be soldiers, telegraph operators, clarks, typist, and girls for domestic roles [Gottesman, Les 76).

Redie also states that the government native school proposed to create a reserve of artists, craftsmen, agriculturists, interpreters, typists, bookkeepers, radio operators, record keepers, native teachers and junior clerks. Hoever, Italy did not plan to overeducate the natives, for fear of creating misfits (De Marco 1943: 21 cited by Redie). It was well know that the primary objective of the colonial policy of education was to produce furute soldiers *De Marco 1943: 22 cited by cited

During the Italian fascism period the highest-level institution was the Italian Lyceum "Ferdinando Martini" in Eritrea's capital, that was founded in 1926 and in 1935 was named "Liceo Scientifico" (while in 1937 the name was changed to "Liceo Classico") with nearly all the students coming from the Italian community of Asmara source researchomnia.blogspot.co.uk, 2016.

Teachers of Liceo Martini in 1939

source researchomnia.blogspot.co.uk


The Italian colonial policy of education was expressed succinctly by a one time British Adminstration offical :keep the Eritrean's belly filled while keeping his brain empty (travaskis, 1960 cited by Redie) .Education for Eritreans' was so limited that school under the guidance of the colonial authority was only permitted up on fourth grade.

Fascism and schooling excrept from The Crown and the pen by Dr Bereket Habte Sekassie.

Dr Bereket Habte Sekassie wrote in his book

To go back to my early schooling, the most dreaded moments in the whole experience were the visits of Fascist cadres, who would storm into the class unannounced to harangue us about Mussolini and his greatness, about the glorious Fascist Party and about bella Italia". As we understood Italian more, they would tell us how we must grow up to be loyal subjects of the King of Italy

"Sua Maiesta, Vittorio Emanule Terzo, Re d'Italia imperatore d'Ethiopia"(His Majesty, Victor Emanuel III, King of Italy, Emperpr of Ethiopia)

At the end of each harangue, the Fascist cadre would shout:

"Salute it re! ( Salute the King)

And we were taught to respond, "Viva il re!" Then he would shout "Salute il Duce!"( i.e Mussolini) And we would shout back."a noi" (For us)

The school lay in the indigenous zone of the city, which was divided into the Italian zone and the indigenous zone. Under the system of racial segregation, no Eritrean was allowed to live or work in the Italian zone. According to the Italian colonial policy, Eritrea's indigenous populations, the indigeni (natives) were only allowed education up to the fifth grade. It was a policy designed to produce native clerical and sub-clerical workers to serve the colonial purpose.

The highest position an indigeno(native) could aspire to was to be a clerk in a company or a government office. One such clerk, and a proud one at that was my former brother-in law, Yoseph Gebremicael. [p24].

As a consequence of the Italian discriminatory policy on education most missionary schools which provided education for local people were closed down by 1932, the number of schools decine from 47 to 3 and the number of students from 1018 to 207 which caused thousands of Eritreans to flee to Ethiopia and Sudan for education.

Before the defeat of the Italian colonialism, between 1934 and 1940s about 800 graduated from four-year elementary school, while only 81 received secondary schooling ( Killion, 1985:305)

The few people who were able to obtain education beyond the fifth grade were students in Catholic and Protestant missionary schools. In the case of Catholics, the few students proceeding to higher secondary (and some university) education were those chosen from the priesthood. Some defected from the priesthood and did well in their acdemic education, but instead of returning to Eritrea they went to Ethiopia. An example of these was Lorenzo Taezaz.( Bereket p25]

Toward the close of Italian colonial rule, particularly after Italy invaded Ethiopia many Eritrean emigrated to Ethiopia and continued their education thereAmongst those who crossed the frontier for education was Blaten Geta Lorenzo Taezaz who was frustrated by the humiliation and racial discrimination in the hands of Italians and a bleak future in his homeland, left for Ethiopia in 1925 after completing the 4th grade education given by Italians in Eritrea(Daniel Kindie, 2012), Issayas Gebre Igziabiher (Lt. General Issayas Gebre Igziabiher).  He graduated from Swedish Mission School went to Ethiopia in the late 1920s to pursue his education. Another was Belta Ephraim who represented Ethiopia at the League of Nation and the United Nations, and became Ethiopian Minster of Agriculture (Pankhurst, 1953 ).  

Lorenzo who received his primary education at the Italian schools in Asmara and Keren, started his career with the Italian colonial administration when he was still very young. He went to Addis Ababa in 1924 and subsequently, Ras Teferi Mekonnen arranged for his education, and along with other Ethiopians, he sent him to France on a government scholarship. Lorenzo spent the next eight years at the University of Montpelier where he completed his studies in Law and Philosophy.

Bereket (27) also states that there were a few who were taught by missionaries, mostly Swedish and one Italian protestant, in small teacher training centers. The most famous Italian Protestant pastor( a Valdese) was Pastor Tron. Among his students was Woldeab Woldemariam. Those who obtained higher education attended missionary schools. Woldeab Woldemariam, a journalist and prominent figure in the LPP graduated in 1930 from the SEM teacher's college in Belesa (Killion 1985:305).

Tedla Bairu, the first executive of the Eritrean government, who was educated by the SEM, and received his secondary education in the Instituto Magistrale of Florence in Italy in 1933 (Killion, 1985: 306). Gebre Meskel Woldu, the first president of the Unionists, was French-educated(Killion, 1985: 302). It is estimated that between 1984 and 1948 some 20, 000 Eritrean received primary education in local languages (Leonard 1982: 81 cited by Redie.

Other Eritrean Protestants went to Ethiopia, such as Efrem Tewolde-Medhin and Dawit Ogbazghi. Efrem Tewolde-Medhin served as teacher and school administrator before the Italian invasion and as Ethiopian ambassador after the Italian left in 1941. Dawit Ogbazghi served in various administrative posts including such as vice-governor of Addis Ababa , etc. ending as Minster of State at the Ministers and other dignitaries who were killed by the leaders of the 1960s failed coup d'etat.[p26]

Among other Eritreans who moved to Sudan were the father of General Aman Andom to study at the American School in Khartoum; Sheikh Ibrahim Mukhtar to be a student at the Omdurman Institute and Al-Azhar to be the first Mufti in Eritrea in 1924?, Gilamichael Bahta who studied law in Khartoum with Aman Andom  etc.

As part of the Italian discriminatory policy on education, in November 1941 the Asmara School of Medicine was opened not for native but for Italian students who passed the final year of the Italian high school.  This school  was recognized by the University of Rome and the Italian students who passed the final year of the Italian high school were eligible to be enrolled in the school. The number of years for completing the training was six years

The objectives of this medical school was:




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