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Embrace Teachers to Save Children's Future

by Abdinasir Mohamed
Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Typical classroom in Somalia (Photo - icatholic)

In principle, the idea of embracing Somali language in all fields of primary education was a noble one for Somalia to adopt. However, in practical, it was a premature adventure as necessary preparations were not made prior to the move. Therefore, the inaccessibility of academic reference material in foreign languages and the lack of resources in Somali language stifled learning at all primary levels. Within ten years the education system, like other branches of the state, started to disintegrate. By late 1980s, teachers were deserting public schools, and parents were in disappointment with the appalling state of education. The onset of the war in 1991 was the last nail on the coffin of the entire education system.

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Nonetheless, in mid to late 1990s, former teachers acting as individuals and entrepreneurs started small scale schools in an attempt to resurrect the education system and fill the gap created by the collapse of the state. That resurrection led to the mushrooming of ‘schools’ with Arabic language as the medium of instruction, which gave rise to the formation of unions (known as umbrellas) for legitimacy in the absence of central regulatory body. On the other hand, the Ministry of Education's (MoE) pre-1991 primary education mindset appears to be at odds with the post 1991 reality of privatised primary education. This paper presents brief analysis on the state of primary education, calling for serious public debate on the matter; and the role of the unions and the MoE.

According to the Ministry of Education’s Go to School (G2S) (Ministray of Education, 2013) initiative, roughly 40% of school aged children in Somalia attend schools. The rest are out of school! Now let’s consider the 40% that is said to be in schools.

In Mogadishu, there are hundreds of primary and secondary ‘schools’.  The same is true for most urban centres e.g. Hargeisa, Burco, Baledweyne, Jowhar, Baydhaba, Kismayo, Adado, Bosaso, Galkayo, Borama, etcetera. The overwhelming majority of them started as small individual efforts by former teachers/entrepreneurs. However, a handful of those schools developed to mid size schools with 2000 to 5000 students each in multiple campuses, almost all of them are taught by junior untrained teachers. No wonder, Somalia's single teacher training, Lafole, ceased to operate a quarter century ago.

In terms of standard and quality, schools, big or small, are sub-standard. Visits to over forty of the so-called best schools showed none of them have labs or libraries. Majority of teachers interviewed said they never received teacher training of any kind. Teacher resources are non-existent. Class sizes vary from forty pupils to over ninety. Teacher to student ratio is on average 1:60. Teachers hardly know their students. Teaching accountability is almost non-existent. Common responses to questions on parent-teacher communication are damning “Saxiib dhowr iskuul ayaan xisado ka bixiyaa, marka sheeko waqti uma haayo” meaning ‘I have credit hours in several schools, so I don’t have time for chatting.

On the barriers, majority of schools use Arabic as the language of instruction from year one to roughly year 8. Then, at high school, all sciences move to English as the language of instruction for students who can’t respond correctly to simple questions like ‘what is your age’. In that situation, rote learning and plagiarism become and indeed are the norm! In many cases, invigilators deliberately provide answers during exams! Hence, school average pass mark is ensured to be above 90%. Why would school owners subscribe to strict exam guidelines and lose students when it is OK to be relaxed on assessment. In pure business, this makes sense. The problem is that primary education is no longer viewed as public good! Perhaps, the MoE's role and priority should be revisited.

The problem of primary education does not end there. Many of the so-called high school graduates proceed to ‘university’ education. Now it is common to see university graduates with Masters degrees in all fields who still need help in filling job/visa application forms ─ a common complaint in the few embassies based in Mogadishu.

Elsewhere in Africa, countries are investing heavily in education in order to realise Millennium Development Goals. For example, Uganda’s single biggest budget spending was on education; and has nearly reached its 2015 national education goals of 100% school enrolment (Bunting, 2008). There, the debate is not about access, schools are now accessible in all corners of the country. Their priority is quality and equity. For us in Somalia, access is a huge problem. Roughly 60% of school aged children do not have access to schools. On quality, the little we have is sub standard. As for equity, according to our own MoE, of the rough 40% of Somali children who are enrolled in schools, less than a third are girls (Ministray of Education, 2013).

In this state of being, the government of Somalia should play its role to encourage teachers from around the world to come and teach our children. The current annual tariff of $1,320 and the $10 daily penalty for teachers who overstay is unrealistic for teachers to pay when their average salary is just $200 to $300 a month. The government should not put teachers on the same foreign workers category and tax them the same way as chefs, builders, security guards, waiters, maintenance staff and so on. Teachers are desperately needed for the resurrection of Somalia; other foreign job seekers are not. Taxing teachers is most unethical for Somalia to do in this particular time, and in this particular state of primary education.

In light of the issues raised, I call on the wider public, members of the parliament and members of the civil society to open an honest debate on the state of our primary education, and the merits of developing carefully crafted teacher friendly immigration policy that facilitate credible, qualified and experienced foreign teachers to come to teach our children until Somalia produces teachers of its own. I also call for a discussion on the role of the MoE. Is it going to be a regulatory and supporting body which sets standards, monitors and evaluates learning; or is it, with its current capacity, going to own and operate mass public schools ― the pre 1991 framework for education?

Abdinasir Mohamed, an advocate for education, is interested in peace building (Nabad curiye), social psychology of intergroup relations. He can be reached at [email protected]

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