, 16 September, 2020 / 7:15 PM
Catholic Priests and a former student have bemoaned the closure of the Italian School of Asmara, a government-run international school in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara.
“One cannot imagine Asmara without the Italian school,” Fr. Joseph Zeracristos has been quoted as saying in a Monday, September 14 report.
Fr. Joseph, an Eritrean Vincentian Priest added in reference to the 117-year-old educational institution, “It is an important cultural center for the whole country, a fundamental point in the national school system.”
Established in 1903, the Italian School of Asmara is said to have been a “point of reference” for Italian children of settlers, Eritrean children as well as the children of mixed Italian-Eritrean couples.
The Italian government initially owned the school and operated it as a private institution, a structure that changed with the 2012 signing of an agreement between the Italian and Eritrean governments for a joint management system.
The closure of the school is said to have risen from various challenges, among them the failure by the Italian government to appoint its members to the institution's mixed technical commission as required by the 2012 agreement.
That the Italian government did not appoint members as required “greatly annoyed” the Eritrean authorities who had already appointed their members.
“Furthermore, in past years, under the last three governments, Italy has approved a series of measures that have, in fact, emptied the institution of Italian personnel, creating shortages regarding the staff,” according to Agenzia Fides’ September 14 report.
The March decision by the Italian headteacher to conduct distance learning amid COVID-19 pandemic without informing the Asmara regime is reportedly the final trigger that led the Eritrean officials to close the institution.
“This was enough to irritate the Eritrean executive that decided to permanently close the school, revoking the license and withdrawing from the bilateral technical agreement of 2012,” the September 14 report indicates.
However, in a September 13 interview with an Eritrean newspaper, Italian Senator Aldo Di Biagio said that it is the Italian government that closed the school out of its own initiative and without informing Eritrean officials.
The Italian Senator said that the Eritrean government acknowledged the closure decision and subsequently withdrew the license.
For Rosy, a former student at the institution that offered various school levels such nursery, elementary, middle, high school (scientific high school, accounting, surveyors, social sciences high school), the closure decision is saddening.
“We studied in Italian but, at the same time, we took lessons in Amharic and Tigrinya (the languages of Ethiopia and Eritrea). We were taught to look at reality with an intercultural perspective,” she has been quoted as saying in the report.
She adds, “Closing the Italian school in Asmara is therefore like turning a blind eye to the world. This choice impoverishes everyone: the Italians, who lose an important presence in the Horn of Africa, and the Eritreans, who in those classrooms learned to think with different eyes."
Diplomas issued at the institution are said to be recognized by both the Eritrean and Italian governments, making it easy for students to enroll in Italian universities without having to sit for entrance or language exams.
According to Rosy, surveyors and accountants from the school were “highly sought after” because they were recognized as having a “particularly serious and thorough preparation.”
Their professionalism has helped Eritrea to grow, Rosy adds in the report.
"It is sad to know that the Italian school has been closed,” Fr. Mussie Zerai, an Eritrean priest from the Arch eparchy of Asmara has been quoted as saying in the September 14 report.
He adds, “For decades it represented a point of union between two cultures which, as a result of history (sometimes even tragic), met. Severing this bond means cutting an umbilical cord that united Italy and Eritrea.”
Apart from the loss of the cultural bond between the two countries, Italy-based Fr. Mussie says the closure of the school will see a loss of a “privileged channel for training those boys and girls who will be the citizens of the future.”
“We hope that Rome and Asmara find an agreement so that the school can reopen,” Fr. Mussie says in the Agenzia Fides report.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa