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Somalia’s war refugees return home to help build the basics of a national education system

UNICEF/ Pflanz
© UNICEF Somalia/ 2011/ Pflanz
Mr Abdullah and class teacher Hali Ahmed ask students questions that will allow them to complete the census form.

By Mike Pflanz

HARGEISA (Somaliland) and GAROWE (Puntland), 30 November 2011: Ali Abdullah stands at the front of the class asking learners their ages, how long they take to walk to school, how many are orphans and whether any have learning or development needs.

He carefully marks the answers on a thick sheaf of stapled papers, before pacing out the classroom to measure its length and width and marking that, too, on the survey form.

Mr Abdullah, headmaster here at Koossar Primary School, is one of thousands of teachers conducting an unprecedented primary school census designed to produce the first comprehensive government-led survey of the state of northern Somalia’s schools, which is intended to become an annual event.

“Before, the Ministry of Education did not have this correct data about school facilities, it was just theoretical information, guesses really,” he said.

“Now when you have the right information, you can show how many students there are, what items are lacking like text books or latrines, and the ministry can then go to the
Ministry of Finance and donors and show what really is there and what is needed.”

Several years of civil war, which forced many people to flee Somalia, have left government agencies with few trained administrators.

For the education ministries in the semi-autonomous northern regions of Somaliland and Puntland, this means that management systems to plan policies to educate, examine and certify students have so far been rudimentary.

External consultants have in the past been contracted to suggest ad hoc fixes, but a holistic approach covering all areas of the provision of quality education has been lacking.

Now the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), with CfBT Education Trust and the Africa Education Trust, have designed an innovative programme to boost the skills and widen the capabilities of Ministry of Education employees.

Central to its strategy is to bring specialized Somalis who have lived and worked abroad back to their home country, to work alongside senior education ministry staff to pass on the benefits of their career experience and expertise.

For the first phase, the technical advisors are being placed within the Ministries of Education in the northern regions of Puntland and Somaliland to facilitate transfer of skills and knowledge to existing staff. Once the security situation improves in the south, a similar scheme is planned for the Ministry of Education in Mogadishu.

Hassan Suleiman is one of ten technical advisors from the Somali diaspora who are now six months into two year contracts as part of the Integrated Capacity Development for Somali Education Administrations (ICDSEA) programme.

He is supporting the Somaliland Ministry of Education and Higher Education on education policy and planning. “There has been a realization that the institutional capacity in terms of skills, knowledge, structure – all aspects – is not enough to deliver an adequate education system,” said Mr Suleiman, who grew up in Britain after fleeing the Somali war.

UNICEF/Mike Pflanz
© UNICEF Somalia/ 2011/ Pflanz
Hassan Suleiman (Right), a consultant TA, and Ali Abdullah, headteacher of Koossar Primary School in Burao, Somaliland, are filling in a survey form designed to give a comprehensive census of the region’s education system.

“There are very few technocrats to draft policies and drive their implementation. We have relied on international consultants to produce nice policy documents, but they are just shoved on a shelf because the skills have not been there to implement them.”

The core elements of the ICDSEA programme, he says, are about “establishing the infrastructure that governs the provision of quality education to the children of Somalia, who are among the most disadvantaged in the world”.

Less than 30 per cent of children go to primary school in Somalia on average and over two million children are completely excluded from education.

Girls make up roughly a quarter of all primary classes, but most drop out before graduating because they get married, are needed to help with chores at home, or because traditionally, parents see little benefit in schooling their daughters.

Schools lack electricity, running water, text books, toilets and enough desks and chairs. Teachers’ training is limited and payment of teachers’ salaries is largely dependent on community contributions.

“These are very basic things that sound like they should be automatic, but in Somalia, they are not,” said Isabel Faria de Almeida, Head of Social Services at the Somalia Unit of the European Union’s delegation in neighbouring Kenya.

“If the ministry doesn’t know how many teachers it has, how can they run a system? If they don’t know what financial resources they need, or how many school books they have to print, or how many pupils are attending schools, then they don’t know the needs.

“In such circumstances, there is the risk that money from EU taxpayers will be spent in a less efficient way.”

Tackling these gaps is among the main aims of the ICDSEA programme, which focuses on five key areas of education policy and systems development: planning and policy; human resources; financial management; quality assurance and minimum standards for education; and increasing gender equality.

One morning at the Ministry of Education in Garowe in Puntland, Sahro Koshin, one of the five diaspora technical advisors embedded within the Puntland Ministry of Education, stood before a gathering of political bigwigs and ministry officials to help launch a scholarship fund for girls.

Mrs Koshin, who left Somalia and grew up in Holland, is in charge of a dedicated gender unit at the ministry, which she describes as “actively responsible for getting girls to go to school”.

“Teachers are not taught about gender issues,” she said after the launch event. “In a typical class you will find girls on one side and boys on the other, and the teacher is always addressing the boys, showing in an unspoken language that the girls should keep quiet and the boys should answer.”



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