AmSor: Education Works
History of Somalia’s formal education system goes back centuries. Perhaps before the western civilization came to the land of Somalia, the people from this region had cultural and commercial ties to the Arabian Peninsulas for many centuries, there were times when sophisticated trading system and cultural exchange occurred. Most scholars believe the Islamic faith reached Somalia, around the birth of the faith itself, some centuries ago. The arrival of the Islamic faith brought the skills of reading and writing to the Horn of Africa. Although at the time, this kind of education was highly specialized and needed lifetime devotion. Most of the educated were few and they had multiple of tasks associated with the fact of being a Sheikh; which in Somali means an Islamic scholar. The duties of the Sheikhs included leading prayers, spreading the faith, resolving conflicts, officiating marriages, and weighing in the leadership direction of various communities. In addition Sheikhs had to travel to the Peninsula in order to update their readings and bring back the knowledge to their communities.
Somalia’s education that came with the faith, transformed the cultures of the people from this part of Africa, although the main legacy of this cultural phenomenon can be attributed to the unity and understanding between communities that lived in spread out and distant places of the Horn of Africa, through communication in writing, correspondences and updates. Other important legacies include the fact that various communities from the region were able to enact standard practices, such as laws, trade rules and many other social changes. Consequently, communities of the region started having Sheikhs that will interpret, read, write and assist community leaders to keep a record of various transactions, books and other literature. In fact, Somalia became bridge between societies of the interior of the African continent and Middle East. Evidently, ports like Mogadishu, Merca, Bosaso, Hobyo, Berbera and Seyla’ became some of the major gateways for trade, between the communities of the region and Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and as far as China. One could argue that all of these trades and commerce become possible after Somali leaders, traders and laborers were able to establish cultural ties and knowledge of people from other continents, by reading about them and traveling to their countries.
Late 1800s is when the country’s formal education system encountered with the western civilization; this is when the colonial system took root in many parts of Africa. Obviously, the Europeans brought their cultures and education system. This is when the formal education expanded and many schools were opened in many parts of Somalia. Almost all of the major cities had European administrations, with local staff, these new Somali labor were trained in those schools and become professionals in many aspects of the colonial administration. The horn of Africa was ruled by Italy, Great Britain and France, in fact many of the communities that were ruled by these countries, still continue their cultural ties with these Europeans. In addition, Somalia’s rulers during the post colonial rule, were mostly educated in Europe and their administration’s rule and leadership styles, had many adaptations of their colonial masters. Somalia’s educational system was forever transformed by the technology, knowledge and advancement that were introduced by the colonial administrations. By the time the colonial rulers handed over power to Somali rulers, the country had modern day democratic rule, sizable educated workforce and education systems that included from primary to university level.
In 1960, Somalia became independent of the European colonial rule and Somalis were left to run their country, including the education system. However, Somalia still maintained cultural ties to its colonial rulers and many of it’s workforce kept getting or expanding their education in those countries, although in the post colonial era, these cultural ties were also expanded to many other civilizations, for instance United States, Russia, India, China and Kenya. Meanwhile, Somalia’s faith community and many other secular members of the society still continued their cultural ties with the Middle East and North African Arab nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Iraq and Yemen. The Somali administration, which came about after the unity of Somalia and the Somaliland, was able to expand the education system by building schools, colleges and universities. These higher education institutions produced quality professionals, and helped improve almost all sectors of the Somalia. In 1972 Somalia education system was transformed by the revolutionary military government that ruled the country, by introducing teaching the school subjects in the Somali language, and having the foreign languages as a subject in high schools. This complicated the matter in the educations system of Somalia, due to the fact that Somalia was a young nation at the time and all of the higher education systems were excluded in this order of nationalizing the languages taught in the schools. Many opponents thought that this was watershed moment with no plans beyond, for our education system, since the higher education system was excluded and they also added that Somalis were handicapped to expand their knowledge beyond our own cultures and boundaries. However, government officials argued that the new system was to boost the country’s bride and sovereignty, and added that the act of nationalizing the language taught in schools was to strengthen the education of the country’s youth. In addition the revolutionary military government carried out a massive campaign fighting illiteracy that made over 50% of the population to be able to read and write. This was in 1974, when educators and their older students were sent to all over the country for one school year, to teach how to read and write the newly created Somali script. In fact Somalia won many praises in the world community for its effort of making good majority of its citizens literate in relatively very short time.
In late 1900s, Somalia’s education system reached it’s peak by producing educated professionals in the thousands, this was an unprecedented and epic proportion, when one looks at the age of the nation in relations to the size of its locally educated professionals. 1980s first time in its history, Somalia had high schools in every major city and towns, over 20 faculties in one big national university system called The Somali National University and many other academic and research institutions. Locally educated Somalis were leading many sophisticated operations that had all of the modern art and scientific qualifications, some of the local hospitals were conducting open heart surgery, many engineers built modern building and many other professionals worked in high offices that conducted scientific programs with real life implications, whether it was the improvement of crop production, irrigations system, businesses, government, livestock production, nature preservation and other health systems.
Unfortunately, Somalia’s education systems had everything going except stability and longevity. Late 1980s the country experienced political upheaval and civil wars, these chaos started in the north and central part of the country and it spread out to the rest of the country. These developments started reversing the progress made in the education system, first the educated work force started fleeing their country and looking for opportunity elsewhere, at countries that will give them security, good paying jobs and most importantly predictable future, Somalia’s intellectuals fled to the Middle East, Europe, Canada and USA. In addition, the government was losing control of many parts of the country and as result many parts of the country turned into battlefields. Obviously, the education system started collapsing with the rest of the government systems in many parts of the country, and Somali nationals fled their country in big numbers and they sought refuge in neighboring Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya. By 1990, the country government system finally collapsed and fully fledged civil war started between clan based warring factions. This resulted a major disruption and total collapse to government rule, and law and order in all major cities and towns of Somalia. People were fleeing from everywhere to the neighboring countries, to seek refuge. In 1990 all of education system and progress made in building unprecedented education system, essentially came to an end. Almost all of the colleges, schools, government systems and buildings were destroyed, looted and or burned down. Some of these acts were done by unruly mobs that wanted to cash out government properties and other times the buildings were shelled indiscriminately, by the warring factions. These chaotic situations were not isolated to certain parts of the country, but they were widespread throughout the country, although the intensity was higher around the capital city; Mogadishu, where the fight for power was centered.
Current Challenges to educating children in Somalia
Since the time the civil was started, the destruction just continued up to about a decade. A generation of children that grew up during the civil war in Somalia, just become soldiers for the wars, others were caught up in civil wars and served warlords and other fighting forces. In majority of their lives, this generation never has seen civilian lives. Then around the 2000, the factional open wars ended, but the country was divided into fiefdoms that were controlled by warlords, especially in the southern half of the country. In addition, the northern and northeastern parts of the country, formed semi-autonomous governments. This time around concerned citizens and parents fought for the right of their kids to have education, despite the chaos and lawlessness. Private schools and small schools run by non-governmental agencies popped up through out the country, this gave limited opportunity to some of the children in Somalia, this is because these new schools were neither widespread nor accessible to all children. In addition, both the Federal government and authorities from autonomous regions were able to build public schools that educate many students.
Despite of some of the formidable progress in many communities throughout Somalia, there are still good number of communities that have many of their children that have no access to schools. This lack of access to schools for many kids can be witnessed throughout the country, particularly areas where the conflicts are permanent and lingering danger. In fact, UNESCO’s report on the Millennium Development Goals indicates that places like Somalia, where there are conflicts and wars, they have the lowest enrollment rates and are considered high risk groups and locations.
AmSor: Educating Children is a Priority
Obviously, lack of conflict and war translate into the possibilities of development including education for the children of Somalia. Therefore, AmSor would work and contribute to peace in Somalia and the Horn of Africa in general, in order to secure a future where that part of world enters a new era of cooperation and progress for the people of the region. AmSor’s education goals include;
1. To develop new opportunities of learning for Somali children.
2. To strengthen the existing education system.
AmSor is currently working with authorities and leaders of the Puntland State, in order to assist the students in the area. AmSor has relationship with the leaders from Burtinle town of the Puntland State, where they report of having high number of children growing up without education. In the Fall of 2013, AmSor conducted a small survey to see the extent of the problem of lack of education and the reasons that contribute to this problem. This survey was conducted in the Tulo Isse neighborhood of Burtinle District in Somalia’s Puntland State. The survey found that in this particular neighborhood about 17% of high school aged kids do not go to school and the number of student that do not go to school jumped to 59% to younger kids. In addition, AmSor found that the two top reasons why kids do not go to school are lack of resources and older kids dropping out of school to contribute to their families’ economy.
AmSor: The Books Campaign
AmSor’s first and ground breaking project, in the implementation phase of it’s core mission, was the procurement and shipment of English learning books, dictionaries and English learners’ reading materials. This was seen as a measure that can impact a lot of English learners with minimum investment. The books are available at the field office for check out for the duration needed to complete a course, the reading materials are for students who can read and comprehend the English language. These books will help polish their English language skills of these students. In the first pahse of this campaing, AmSor sent two boxes of these books to Burtinle area and this was also an opportunity to tease out the logistical problems of shipping materials to some parts of Somalia, where the post office and courier systems are none existence. The first shipment of the books are still on their way to the area and as soon as the books reach their final destination, AmSor is ready to send the remaining part of the planned books campaign for the pilot year, which end this Fall.