Reversing Negative Trends, Restoring Quality Education
The Success of Mogadishu Education Conference Signals Political Maturity
by Abdinur Mohamud, Ph.D.
Wednesday, July 03, 2013
On June 18-20, 2013 the 1st comprehensive national education conference was held in Mogadishu since the failure of the Somali state twenty two years ago. This highly organized important milestone brought together over hundred fifty high level education policy makers, planners, academics, the private sector, NGO representatives and members of the Somali civil society as well as international partners such as UNESCO and UNICEF who co-sponsored the conference with the Somali Ministry of Human Development and Public Service.
The purpose of the conference was to reverse negative educational trends afflicting Somalia such as growing illiteracy rates with an estimated 4.5 million Somalis unable to read and write, growing gender disparities in education, absence of free public education, cost-prohibitive private schools, fragmented curricula and the deterioration of the quality of teaching and learning in a politically unstable environment. The aim was to strategize and discuss ways of linking and rebuilding the Somali education system that is participatory, inclusive and responsive to the needs of Somali society. Clearly, this was a unique occasion intended to not only energize the entire education community on the need to create public awareness on the depressing state of education in Somalia but to strategize collective plans to meet the noble aims of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) that include among other things universal primary education for all that is set to expire by the year 2015.
With the Ministries of Education of the Federal Somali Government and its regional authority counterparts present as well as international funding organizations, this was certainly a giant step in the right direction for Somalia to collectively envision national strategic plans to eradicate illiteracy and establish a comprehensive framework for education. Other participants include religious leaders, scholars; universities; Diaspora; civil society; educational umbrellas (private schools) and international partners (Donors, NGO’s and other agencies). Somalia’s Minister for Human Development and Public Services, Dr. Maryam Qassim envisioned the need for this national conference and spearheaded the effort in collaboration with her staff and international NGO’s. The project was entirely Somali-owned and Somali-led process with little input, if any, from donor agencies.
Somalia being a failed state for over two decades is currently at the bottom of international human development indices with less than 38% literacy rate, a nation that once boasted over 65% literacy rates after commissioning a national literacy campaign in 1974-1975.
The stated objectives of the conference were to:
Ø review current needs, achievements and challenges facing the education system and to generate consensus on the critical challenges among all stakeholders’;
Ø Identify appropriate response strategies to the most urgent needs in the short-term (2013-2015) and to;
Ø Raise awareness of the national and international community and call for solidarity and mobilization in favor of education and educators in the country.
The five themes that have been identified as priorities to be examined during the conference were:
- Educational governance: System building and institutional capacity building for the Ministry and regional authorities;
- Access with a principle focus on basic education (primary/secondary) and most vulnerable groups, especially girls and rural/nomadic populations
- Quality and relevance with a principal focus on teacher education and curriculum
- Non-formal educational and basic skills training , opportunities for youth
- Improving Quality of Tertiary Education
It was refreshing to partake in an event that brought together experienced Somali school teachers, principals, university professors and mangers of educational umbrella organizations and other key educational stakeholders throughout the country and representatives from the Diaspora. Most of these participants with varying degrees of expertise and experiences all shared and discussed in a very friendly and frank manner their unique perspectives on the educational challenges facing Somali children irrespective of political and social boundaries--be they in Hargeisa, Bosasso, Mogadishu, Baidoa, Daddaab or Kismayo.
In addressing the participants at the opening ceremony, Somali Prime Minister, H.E. Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid, stated emphatically that "education must be at the heart of every civilized country's agenda and Somalia is no different. Now that peace has returned to Somalia, we urgently need to re-establish our educational system, which has been devastated by two decades of war. I commend your devotion to improving Somali lives and I congratulate you for making this conference possible. With your help we will re-build a solid educational foundation in Somalia – from primary school to university - which will be the bedrock of our children's brighter futures. They deserve nothing less.” The Prime Minister surprisingly pledged that Somalia’s national budget for education will equal the budget allocated for national security, indicating a heightened level of commitment for education that received applause and jubilation from the audience.
Five working groups were established with representatives from all education sectors to discuss the five different themes, highlight existing challenges and offer recommendations for improvement. After lengthy conversations and reports from the different strands, i.e., primary, secondary, tertiary, Qur’anic schools, emergency education for displaced communities and refugees, nomadic and adult education among other perspectives, participants identified major barriers to accessing quality education throughout the country and discussed strategies that help remove these national obstacles. Identified barriers include security, poverty, school fees, and distance of schools, quality of teaching and learning, absence of special education programs for the physically challenged school-aged children, cultural beliefs that prevent girls from accessing education, as well as absence of community awareness in the value of education to society among others.
Four major milestones seem to define Somalia’s historic quest for literacy and educational development. The first one preceded the advent of the colonial encroachment to Somalia and the rest took place during the military regime of 1969-1990. These are a) the introduction of Qur’anic schools to Somalia, b) compulsory education law of 1970, c) the writing of the Somali language in 1972, and d) the Somali literacy campaign of 1974-1975. With these nationally sponsored and publicly supported events, access to basic education throughout the country improved for both male and female students and enrollment rates soared in the first two decades after independence.
1960 1965 1970 1975 1980
Elementary 16,300 23,300 26,000 197,700 131,000
Intermediate 2,800 5,600 14,800 21,800 140,000
Secondary 800 1,900 5,200 7,000 24, 400
Source: UNDP 1981
Unfortunately Somalia also witnessed enrollment declines long before the state failure in 1991, a trend that continues to this day.
Growing Gender Disparities
Even though the military regime is credited with making huge progress in closing the gender gap in education, post-civil war Somalia schools are clearly dominated by men. Reflecting the dominance of men in Somali society and the prevailing harsh economic and social conditions, boys are more likely to be enrolled in schools than girls and to advance further in education and career development (UNDP, 2003). The ratio of male school staff to females by school year 2010-2011 is estimated a dismal 8 to 1. Out of 8,284 school teachers and administrators surveyed who are employed by educational umbrella organizations, only 14% are women (Ministry of Education, 2011). In higher education the ratio is not that much different with 10 male teachers to 1 female teacher. Gender inequalities are found throughout the education system with the highest incidence being in the teaching profession where only 15 percent of teachers are women and the majority of these are unqualified (G2S initiative, 2013). Researchers in gender education state that “ ‘failing to meet the goal of gender equity in education will not only hurt the girls who lose an opportunity for an education, but also impose societal costs in terms of lower growth, higher fertility, child mortality and malnutrition.’ - Abu Ghaida & Klasen 2004.
So, what was the critical information shared at the conference? It was learned among other things that:
Ø Over 4.5 million Somali school-aged children are out of school and unable to read or write.
Ø About 43% of the Somali populations live in extreme poverty;
Ø The quality of teaching and learning is poor;
Ø Fragmented curricula, school calendar and certifications;
Ø Lack of quality teacher training centers;
Ø Costly private education;
Ø Absence of national education policy;
Ø Growing gender disparity in education;
Ø Absence of free public education;
Ø Qur’anic schools are not recognized as legitimate literacy centers, and
Ø Lack of programs for the physically and mentally challenged.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud closed the conference and highlighted the importance of this gathering for the future of Somali education. The president stressed the critical importance of Qur’anic schools as a viable component that needs to be integrated into the Somali public education system.
After lengthy exchange of information and dialogue among the participants on the themes of the conference, the following declaration was agreed:
1. “We, the participants of the National Education Conference for Somalia held in Mogadishu, 18-20 June 2013, comprising key educational stakeholders from Federal, State, and local levels, Community-based Organizations, NGOs, Private Education Umbrellas, Universities, Religious scholars and international development partners, express our gratitude to the Federal Government of Somalia and the Ministry of Human Development and Public Services in particular, for envisioning and hosting this timely and historic conference, and for the warm welcome and hospitality. Our deep appreciation also goes to UNESCO and UNICEF for the technical and financial support that facilitated the excellent organization of the conference under challenging circumstances.
2. We are united in the firm belief that quality education is a fundamental constitutional right and powerful enabler for the realization of other basic human rights including political, social, economic and cultural rights.
3. We agree to recognize and build on the achievements and experiences already established at State and Regional administrations across the country. Following three days of intensive discussions and deliberation on the state of education in the country, with special emphasis on the five main thematic thrusts of the conference; we agree on:
1. The need to establish a functional legal and regulatory framework that harmonizes the activities of various Ministries of Education in the Federal Government, Regions and States.
2. To strengthen existing educational institutions and establish a firm foundation for proper governance for upcoming institutions.
3. To agree that the managerial branches of the Ministries of Education should be composed of competent educational professionals who possess or be compelled to obtain adequate educational leadership and management training.
4. To harmonize existing curricula and work towards the development of one national curriculum as a priority action.
5. The Federal Government Ministry of Education should be the focal point of Ministries of Education in the federal states in unifying the policies, Education Act and curricula.
6. The Federal State Ministries will share experience and expertise with the Federal Government Ministry of Education and existing Education Acts and relevant educational policies. The harmonized curriculum of the State Ministries should form the foundation upon which the Education of Somalia should be developed and thrive.
7. The Federal Ministry of Education will recognize and utilize the efforts of the State Ministries in terms of policy, examinations and certifications as a basis for future development of education in Somalia.
8. The Government will conduct a population census disaggregated by gender and age cohorts to know exactly how many school age children are out of school and plan accordingly.
9. Public education will be free at both Primary and Secondary levels for all Somali children.
Access to Education
1. Mobilization and awareness-raising in all communities to enhance access to education.
2. Provide flexible schooling (school calendar) and a variety of education programs for nomadic communities including a special attention for nomadic teachers in terms of incentives.
3. Conduct a National Literacy Campaign (including adult literacy).
4. To integrate Qur’anic schools with primary education following intensive c onsultations with key stake holders.
5. Expansion and rehabilitation of school facilities inclusive of establishment of temporary schools as may be required.
6. Launch, in close consultation and collaboration with regional and state education authorities, a Go-To-School campaign to boost primary education enrolment, with emphasis on poor and vulnerable, and marginalized children, especially girls, children in rural/nomadic areas, and internally displaced children to cover immediate needs of the Somali children.
Quality of Education
1. To review the National Curriculum at all levels to meet the needs of the society and be aligned with an inclusive national education policy.
2. To develop appropriate training courses for both newly recruited and existing teachers.
3. To establish the Department of Teacher Training in the Education Directorate.
4. To develop a policy for the selection and deployment of teachers at all levels.
5. To develop an appropriate teacher register (database) and an adequate salary system.
6. To develop a Teacher Capacity Development Policy.
7. Provision of Teacher Training Centers through the rehabilitation of existing sites and the construction of new ones where required.
1. To develop a Higher Educational Policy with appropriate rules, regulations and management structure.
2. To harmonize and standardize the Higher Education Curriculum as part of a larger exercise in quality assurance.
3. To develop minimum standards for teaching and learning resources and facilities such as textbooks libraries, IT center, labs, etc.
4. To rehabilitate and construct where necessary the buildings of the former Somali National University.
5. The Directorate of Education will prepare an Academic and Administrative Human Resources Management Policy and introduce continuous professional development for University staff.
1. There will be an outreach to former Technical and Vocational Education teachers.
2. The Directorate of Education will develop a Technical Vocational Education Policy.
3. The Ministry should create a Technical and Vocational Education Advisory Board comprising of major stakeholders.
4. There is clear need to conduct a Regional and Local Labor Market Survey/Assessment and produce a database for the further development of employment opportunities.
5. To provide equal access to Technical and Vocational Education through distributing and providing Vocational Training Facilities to all regions.
We, both the participants, the Ministry and organizations involved in the National Education Conference, commit ourselves to the resolute implementation of the recommendations outlined above in the determination that the education sector be Somali-led for the greater benefit of the people of country and be done with a view to promoting Somali culture, religion and Somali values.”
The Ministry of education and its counterparts in the regional authorities will jointly collaborate to establish implementation committee to ensure that the above pronouncements are implemented and resources secured to insure that Somalia is able to attain universal access to primary education for all children by the year 2015 and beyond.
For the past twenty years, Somalia lacked a comprehensive national vision of education from primary to tertiary levels. This is mainly because of the absence of political stability and maturity to keep education out of the political squabble that afflicted Somalia. Current leadership provided by the Somali Federal Government and its regional components to collaborate on a national framework for education came at a critical time for the nation and only two years away from 2015 when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs’) ensuring universal basic education for all is set to expire. With the above pronouncements to guide educational programs and services throughout the nation and the collaborative spirit between educational funders and providers, Somalia will have the potential to reverse negative educational trends of the past. Unifying the curriculum, re-establishing free public school system, integrating Qur’anic schools into the national education system, improving quality of teaching and learning among other goals are crucial undertakings that require unwavering political commitment, financial resources and a solid follow through by educators and policymakers. The Somali national parliament can enhance this process by enacting a landmark national education legislation that guarantees access to education for both boys and girls and makes education free, compulsory or affordable. If the government for any reason is unable to establish free public schools in all rural, urban and nomadic communities at once, it must support the general public with tuition scholarships to help them access available private education until opportunities for free public education become practical.
I am confident that the new implementation committee comprised of educators from the Federal government, regional authorities and funders will inform the general public about the process, timeline and public awareness strategies put in place to make sure that Somalia will no longer be at the bottom of the international literacy index. I am also hopeful the Somali people will maintain ownership and treasure this major national education milestone.
Abdinur Mohamud is former Minister of Education and Education Consultant. He can be reached at email@example.com