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Student clubs give Somali children a say in how their schools are run

UNICEF Somalia/ Pflanz
© UNICEF Somalia/ 2011/ Pflanz
Abdirahman (right) keeps an eye on the stopwatch while pupils work on solving an after-school maths quiz.

By Mike Pflanz

HARGEISA, Northwest Somalia “Somaliland”, 28 March 2011 – A dozen boys and girls sat in two groups on either side of a classroom, huddling together and whispering to their team-mates.

At the teacher’s desk at the front, 17-year-old Abdirahman Muse had his eye on his stopwatch. When a minute was up, he called time, and one student from each group rose to write out their answers to the maths problem on the blackboard.

This after-school quiz at Nasa-Hablood Primary School was started by the children themselves, under an innovative scheme introducing student-run committees to give pupils a voice in how their schools are managed.

The Child-To-Child Clubs are small panels of pupils with a representative from each class or grade group, who together discuss issues affecting pupils and recommend action to teachers.

“We discovered that a lot of students were not motivated to do extra school work,” said Abdirahman during a break from being quiz-master at the Nasa-Hablood, in Hargeisa, Somaliland’s main city. 

“But when we started this education competition, everyone became very busy. If you win, you want to win again. If you lose, you feel ashamed and want to work harder to win next time.”

The inter-class contests are only one of many initiatives launched since the Child-To-Child Club was started here in 2006.

It is one of 127 operating across Somalia, supported by UNICEF and funded by UKaid from the Department for International Development. In Somaliland, the project is implemented by SOLSA, a local civil society organisation.
 
At Nasa-Hablood, trees have been planted across the wide playground and the 2,300 students are encouraged to bring half-a-litre of water from home each week, on assigned days, to keep the shrubs growing.

The toilets have been renovated and different classes assigned days when they are in charge of making sure the facilities are kept clean.

The Club’s leadership committee invited a specialist doctor to come to talk to the school assembly about how to avoid common illnesses, and plans are in place for further presentations arranged by the pupils.

UNICEF Somalia/ Pflanz
© UNICEF Somalia/ 2011/ Pflanz
Pupils of the Nasa-Hablood School’s Child-To-Child club discuss how to solve a math problem during an after-school quiz activity.

But the Club’s managing committee has, as their confidence has grown, taken on more tricky tasks in their role as elected ambassadors representing the whole school.

Children who drop out of class are visited at home and encouraged to return. On one occasion, the Club brought a religious elder to talk to a mother who had pulled her daughter out of school just before exams to be circumcised.

“That sheikh explained that the girls’ education was very important. The girls’ mother agreed and now her daughter is succeeding well here.” said Sarah Hussein, the current chairperson of Nasa-Hablood’s Club.

Muse Mohamed remembers well the day that his schoolmates knocked on his door at home, a year after he dropped out of school.

“There were some bad friends of mine who told me there was no point to education,” the 16-year-old said.

“I didn’t think about it, I just stopped coming to school, and instead was just idle in town, doing nothing. Then these people from the Child-To-Child Club came and talked to me.”

Soon, he says, he realised that without schooling “I would have no future”, and he returned to class last year, where he is now progressing well.

For Ahmed Aden, a teaching assistant who helped to set up Nasa-Hablood’s Club, and now advises its committee, “everything has changed”.

“These are children who used to have no way to talk about their problems, and no way to come together with one voice,” he said.

“Now we see them standing with a microphone in front of the whole school, or in front of parents and elders on open days, and telling with pride about their plans and achievements.”

Sitting beside Mr Aden, 14-year-old Umaima Hassan waited politely for him to finish, then said with a grin, “Why is it so surprising?”

“We know what our fellow pupils need, and we can help them to make it happen,” she said.

“We might use some small help from adults, but we are the ones now who really have the voice.”

 

 
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