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Transforming Education in Somalia: A call for action

By Abdirizak Ibrahim
Thursday December 1, 2022

On 16th to 19th of September, the United Nation’s General Secretary convened the Transforming Education Summit (TES 2022) on the side lines of the United Nation’s General Assembly, bringing global education leaders together to deliberate on the crisis affecting the education sector.  Recovery from the impact of Covid-19 and the significant learning losses during the school closure, necessitated the call for the TES in New York. A recent World Bank /UN report on the crisis noted, that the portion of 10-yearolds in low- and middle-income countries who cannot read a simple story is estimated to have grown from 50 percent before the pandemic to 70 percent today. Education is further threatened by increasing violence, conflict and displacement and the impact of climate change globally.

With barely eight years to 2030, realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals for Education (SDG4) is just a mirage if urgent action is not taken. It is therefore imperative that the Somali Government and especially leadership in the Ministry of Education and all education partners act decisively and in solidarity towards transforming our education system.

At the TES summit, four Thematic Action Tracks were chosen. Informed by the 2030 Agenda and its education-related goals and targets, specifically SDG 4: ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, these include the following:

·       Inclusive, equitable, safe and healthy schools

·       Learning and skills for life, work and sustainable development

·       Teachers, teaching and the teaching profession

·       Digital learning and transformation

But why is the TES even more important to Somalia than ever before?

The education sector of Somalia has been evolving and has recorded considerable gains in recent years. However, the country still faces numerous challenges relating to improving access to education and learning outcomes. Covid-19 has compounded the situation and had a significant impact on the education system and on the lives of children and youth.

Looking at the four TES thematic action tracks in the Somali context, we can see why transforming education in Somalia is really important at this particular time and what the government and education partners need to do to deliver on Agenda 2030.

Inclusive, equitable, safe and healthy schools

Despite achieving a considerable increase in access to education, Somalia continues to be confronted with substantial challenges resulting from years of instability and underinvestment in human capital, widespread poverty, low economic growth, low fiscal capacity, and fragility. Moreover, the Statistical Yearbook 2021 indicates that the primary gross enrollment rate (GER) is estimated to be 24 percent, with more than 3 million primary-aged children (ages 5–14 years) out of school. The secondary school GER is estimated at 22 percent. The 2019 Somalia Labor Force Survey estimated that 44 percent of youth (ages 15– 24 years) in Somalia are not in education, employment, or training (NEET). It further showed that the NEET rate is particularly high for young women: 50 percent of all females ages 15–24 years are neither at work nor in school/training, compared to 39 percent for males.

In addition to the lack of schools, inadequate infrastructure in existing primary and secondary schools is limiting student’s safety and health. A recent National Schools Supervision Report that assessed primary and secondary schools based on certain dimensions including school safety and curriculum implementation, indicated that the infrastructure in 82% of the 1,423 schools assessed was below average, meeting  only rudimentary requirements, while 11% of the  schools are not fit to host learners since they do not meet even the basic requirements to conduct teaching and learning activities.

Effective strategies for the Ministry of Education to address these challenges and expand equitable access to education for the millions of out of school children, are envisioned in the new Education Sector Strategic Plan 2022-2026. These include, but are not limited to; building of more classrooms and conducting awareness campaigns in the areas with high number of out of school children.

Learning and skills for life, work and sustainable development

Transforming education means empowering learners with knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to be resilient, adaptable and prepared for the uncertain future while contributing to the socioeconomic development of the country. Global evidence indicates that an estimated 70% of 10-year-olds are unable to understand a simple written text especially in low- and middle-income countries. In Somalia, a 2021 study on learning outcomes for students in grade 1-4 indicated that most children who are in the education system, can read with comprehension by grade 4, as well as reaching proficiency in single-digit addition, subtraction and multiplication, with learning outcomes consistently higher in urban areas. Nonetheless, large numbers of children are not in school and certain subgroups of students are lagging behind and potentially dropping out before reaching mid-primary level, especially girls, children with disabilities, second language speakers and the poorest/ most affected by disasters.

Somalia is among the countries with the lowest GER. However, there is a more focused intervention by the Ministry towards increasing access to education. However, we must ensure that those children who go to school are really learning?  The learning inequality gap must be narrowed by focusing on school level factors, gender and social inclusion to improve learning outcomes.

Teachers, teaching and the teaching profession

Teachers play a significant role in curriculum implementation and also in shaping the desired learning outcomes of students. It is important to put teachers at the heart of the education system if we want to improve the quality of education. The 2021 education statistical yearbook shows only 36 percent of our teachers holds formal qualifications.  The Qualified Pupil Teacher Ratio (QPTR) for both primary and secondary in the same year stands at 91 pupils for each qualified teacher. The figures differ from one state to another. QPTR is higher in secondary as compared to primary level, due to the subject-specific requirements in many schools, poor renumeration and lack of supportive working conditions have resulted in teachers being demotivated and reluctant to remain in the profession.

In light of the above challenges, building a teaching workforce who are engaged, respected and properly resourced is  key to transforming education. This can be achieved by reviewing the existing teacher policy and clearly incorporating teacher empowerment, innovation as well as better working conditions as a starting point. Furthermore, increasing investment in wages and engaging teachers in the decision making is also crucial in this transformation journey.

Digital learning and transformation

Digital technologies had widened the already existing inequalities in education in Somalia. In 2020, over 589,559 students were affected by the Covid-19 school closures.  As a result, the Federal Ministry of Education developed a Covid-19 response plan to prevent the spread of disease among the learners and their family members as well as ensuring the continuity of learning, through the implementation of key activities aimed at maintaining quality learning and wellbeing of teachers and students during the pandemic. Even with development of a distance learning programme for primary and secondary school, the uptake of learning was very low due to inadequate access to digital facilities especially among children from rural and poor communities.

In the commitment to action signed by TESS participating countries,  technology ( ICT /digital) came third in the most mentioned topics, just behind teachers, indicating that use of technology in education is an area of focus for many countries. Somalia is not an exception in this, and it is crucial that the Ministry of Education implements the strategies for Integration of ICT into the education system as envisaged in the national Education Sector Strategic Plan including the establishment of school computer laboratories with electricity and internet connectivity.

Financing of Education

Global evidence indicates a huge financing gap for education due to the population growth, Covid-19 and diversion of aid to emergencies. Financial analysis in the Education Sector Analysis (ESA 2021) indicates that the government of Somalia has made tremendous progress in increasing its commitment to education. However, the overall domestic financing of education remains much lower than the recommended level of 20% of total government budget. In 2020 alone, the overall budget spending by the Federal Government and Federal Member States was about $338 million, compared to $248.3 million in 2016, with only $17.4 million or 5 percent spent on education.

It is clear that transforming education requires a huge financial investment and achieving SDG 4 will require significant commitment from the Somali Government. Measures that can be used to close the financing gap on education include a) mobilizing more resources, especially domestic, (b) increasing efficiency and equity of allocations and expenditures, and (c) improving education financing data. Finally, determining which areas needs to be financed, and how, will be informed by recommendations from each of the other four tracks.

Somalia has made great progress in the delivery of education in recent years, but much more needs to be done if we are to develop a skilled educated population, capable of reaching their full potential, growing our economy and rebuilding our country. Transforming education requires collective commitment not only from government but from all sections of society; leaders, parents, youth and civil society. To be successful, education needs to be prioritised and not politicised. The Education Sector Strategic Plan provides a clear roadmap and if all stakeholders work together to deliver the strategies therein, significant progress will be achieved.

As the ancient Greek mathematician, Archimedes once said: “Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the world.” For Somali children, education is the lever and school provide a place for them to stand.

Abdirizak Ibrahim
[email protected]


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