Somalia participates in 'World's Biggest Lesson'
By Denise Shepherd-Johnson
Nairobi, 8 May 2008 - Somali children last week took part in the ‘World’s Biggest Lesson,’ joining 7.5 million people from over 100 countries in a ‘lesson’ to ‘teach’ politicians and local leaders about the importance of giving everyone a chance to receive a quality education.
Schools, youth groups and children from the peer education ‘Child-to-Child Clubs’ in North West Somalia (the self-declared Republic of Somaliland) and North East Somalia (the semi-autonomous state of Puntland) participated in the ‘Lesson’ which was supported by UNICEF, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), international NGOs and national implementing partners, the Forum for African Women Educationalists in Somalia (FAWESOM) in Puntland and the Somaliland Student’s Assembly (SOLSA) in Somaliland. The event was the highlight of the Global Action Week for Education, 21-27 April. [The Global Action Week for Education is annual event organized by the Global Campaign for Education].
In line with the global theme, ‘Quality Education for All: End Exclusion Now!’ the ‘Lesson’ served to demonstrate that halfway to the 2015 ‘Education For All’ promise of free, universal primary education for all, the world is way off track. In Somalia, in particular, 70% of children have missed out on a quality education as a result of poverty, gender and conflict.
During the ‘Lesson’ Somali children sought to get public commitment from leaders to undertake specific measures to reduce exclusion and implement education policies and practices to achieve gender equality and reach marginalised and excluded learners, such as children with disabilities, nomadic communities and internally-displaced children in areas of ongoing conflict in Somalia.
Calling on parents to send children (and especially girls) to school, children conducted role plays to illustrate the circumstances that keep them out of school. These included domestic labour, uneducated parents who do not attach value to education, school fees and peer pressure to chew the stimulant leaves known as 'khat'.
In North West Somalia (‘Somaliland’) girls from Havoyoco youth centre implored visiting local dignitaries to, “…let us all seek the light. Education is the light of the world…an educated person is like daylight, bright and friendly, whereas night is dull”
In response, Director of Planning in the Ministry of Education, Mr. Abdi Abdillahi, acknowledged that, “Every child must learn to read and write. Children must go back to school and parents must go visit the schools to see how their children are learning.”
Religious leader, Sheikh Ibrahim Harbarwaa also emphasized the importance of teachers “[They]…should be respected in the society, [and] should be committed and work together with parents to ensure that children receive quality education in school.”
At 62 years old, Sahra Ilmi, a student of literacy and numeracy in the Somaliland capital, Hargeisa, was able to demonstrate that inclusion in education means no age limits. She urged parents to return to school saying, “It is never too late to learn. Today my children cannot cheat me. I am able to check their books,” she declared.
By the end of the Somaliland event, the Ministry of Education had made commitments to ensure that all children access quality education; increase school enrolment to at least 75%; construct more schools; and to expand existing facilities to accommodate more children. The Ministry also pledged to double (from 2,500) the number of teachers on its payroll by 2011 with a view to seeing all school age children in school by 2015 and able to read and write.
UNICEF provided support to Somalia's 'Biggest Lesson’ as part of its ‘Go To School’ programme, which focuses on increasing access for all children to quality basic education. The programme recognises that without legitimate Education Authorities in Somalia, families and communities have few ways of claiming their rights. UNICEF is therefore assisting the Ministries of Education in North East, North West and Central Southern Somalia to build their capacity to take responsibility for service delivery of education. Events like the 'World's Biggest Lesson' are providing a platform for parents and children to engage with politicians and education officials to candidly remind them that all children not only need education to help build a peaceful and prosperous nation but have a right to it.
Catherine Remmelzwaal and Woki Munyui contributed to this story