9/23/2019
Today from Hiiraan Online:  _
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Policy actions needed to build on Book Fair success
Liban Obsiye
Monday 26th August 2019

The Somali Book Fair scene is booming and there is no greater happiness than people, especially, young people, rushing to attend such educational events.

It is even more inspiring that young Somali authors are writing on a large scale about their own experiences to educate, entertain and raise awareness of key social issues.

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Somalis have a proud, strong and infectious oral tradition but it is a welcome sign that the next generation are moving towards writing these down. Books can stay on shelves for centuries while memorized words can easily be forgotten or misinterpreted.

The organizers of the Somali Book Fairs across the country are pioneers and should be thanked most sincerely. In amongst the many worries about insecurity, politics, economic development across Somalia, the organizers and authors have created a space for thought, reflection and enjoyment that brings people together.

There’s nothing like a great book or idea to unify and energize groups with often very different priorities. Culture, of which books are a fundamental pillar, has the power to bring out the beauty of mankind in such a magnificent way as to overpower all other emotions.

Reading books bring to the fore all human emotions and creates a deep connection between those in societies who may never have even met. However, for the delights of reading to be enjoyed on a mass scale, literacy must improve in Somalia.

Literacy and numeracy are a global gold standard for education everywhere. For book fairs, the main focus would be literacy rates because the more people can read in Somali, English, Arabic and other languages, the more books that could be written, sold and discussed in public. Ideas can be written in any language but understanding and appreciating it needs a mastery of one of these, including Somali.

Despite the large number of graduates and the steadily increasing number of Somali students in compulsory education, literacy rates in Somalia are still dangerously low.

The number which can write Somali, let alone another foreign language, is limited. This is because of a weak education curriculum, poor teaching standards and teaching as well as lack of effective oversight of the education sector.

Another key challenge is the academic teaching of the Somali language has disappeared and many who write today write with their local accent because there a few people still alive who remember the mechanics of the formal Somali language which was adopted by the past SiadBarre regime in October 1972.

Somali students who are lucky enough to be able to afford quality education today may be able to ponder on these ideas but many more are not this lucky.

Sadly, most Somalis have not had the opportunity to benefit from education since the collapse of the Somali state in 1991. The disastrous two decade civil war created an entire lost generation which is today is illiterate and competing with a new generation for limited opportunities.

Reading for those who have not had the opportunity of an education is a distance dream but it does not mean that they do not and would not enjoy it.

However, for this to happen we need to transform reading from an elite pursuit to a common agenda for community building and national solidarity. How? This is not hard as education is one of the few policy areas globally where there’s many agreed good practices to learn from and transfer easily to the Somali context.

The Ministry of Education and its international partners that support it with policies and programming must think practically about how to increase literacy by using innovative strategies. Early year’s education is agreed globally to be the most valuable stage of education but getting this good start which sets students and families up for a life of literacy is costly and logistically not possible at this time in Somalia given the security issues.

However, the promotion and support of local reading clubs, mobile community libraries and the building of libraries will help to increase literacy in safer areas. In less safer areas, Somali language radio plays, TV book readings with subtitles and web based mobile delivered graphic story telling would truly have a lasting impact on literacy.

These will also support professional teachers, local publishing, design, IT and transport businesses and industries which will be the main vehicles for the innovative literacy policy delivery.

Speaking, listening, reading and reflecting together are great skills that are in limited supply within Somali society.

While Somalis have a strong oral tradition, improving on listening, reading and reflecting will further increase literacy and critical thinking to innovate.

The Book Fairs, including the recent one in Mogadishu this week, are the start of something positive. However, we need to build on this with innovative policies that are designed by the Ministry of Education and implemented at the community level nationally to increase literacy to turn schools and book fairs into the engines of sustainable development they can be.

The author welcomes feedback through the below means:
[email protected]
@LibanObsiye (Twitter)



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