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Communities unite around education

©UNICEF Somalia/2005/Taylor
A community effort: With no central government to provide an education for the nation’s youngest, locally-managed Community Education Committees help children get an education.

MOGADISHU, Somalia, 7 April 2005 - In war-torn Somalia, where a devastating civil conflict has fractured families and ravaged national institutions, communities are finding common cause in the drive for education for all.

While a fragile peace has recently taken hold here, the years of conflict have exacted a heavy toll from the systems that children once relied on for support. Nearly all state structures collapsed after the outbreak of war in 1991. School buildings were demolished and educational materials looted.

Even today, in the aftermath of the war, only 13 per cent of boys are enrolled in primary school. For girls, that number is barely 7 per cent.

With no central government to provide an education for the nation’s youngest, locally-managed Community Education Committees have stepped up to do the job. The committees manage schools financially, liaise with parents, and track students – especially girls – who are out of school.

UNICEF and its partners are currently implementing large-scale social mobilization campaigns to encourage villagers and civic authorities to join the Community Education Committees. Religious leaders, business people, and members of women’s and youth groups have come together with parents and teachers, contributing both to stronger schools and to the ongoing process of reconciliation that is taking place across Somalia.

The committees are proving to be among the most visible and effective forums for national renewal. To date, Community Education Committees have been set up in 90 per cent of schools across the country. Some 23 per cent of committee members are women.

© UNICEF Somalia/2005/Taylor
In war-torn Somalia, only 13 per cent of boys are enrolled in primary school. For girls, that number is barely 7 per cent.

Together with its partners, UNICEF is providing training to committee members in key skills such as school management and administration, and in ways to ensure that all children enrol in and complete primary education. Says Subir Sheikh Abdi, a school supervisor and deputy chairman of Bay Region CEC, “our objective is community ownership. For our schools to be sustainable, the community must contribute. So as a supervisor, I organize and mobilize the community, telling parents about the importance of education.”

Working alongside other United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations, and local development groups, UNICEF has also helped develop a new national curriculum and textbooks for primary grades – a creative challenge in a country with few traces of formal schooling and no federal government to issue guidelines.

Somali educationalists joined a two-year process that was fraught with logistical difficulties and political sensitivities. A series of consultative workshops ensured that all stakeholders had a voice in the process, resulting in a ‘home-grown’ curriculum that respects cultural differences while advocating for the rights of all children.

The curriculum is now in place in nine out of ten primary schools – and for the first time, Somali girls are seeing images of themselves in non-traditional roles.

“Gender training is a key issue,” says Mohammed Abdirahman Jama, a 39-year-old teacher trainer. “In the past, male teachers – and even the bigger boys – harassed the girl students and teachers. Now we discuss how to involve girl students, and how to encourage women head teachers and community leaders. We impress on the teachers the importance of following up on girls who are often absent, and of providing separate latrines for girls.”

These lessons are particularly important in a country where the need for girls to work at home, the low social value accorded to girls’ education, and the lack of female role models contribute to the lowest primary school enrolment rate for girls in the world.

Pervasive poverty and regional disparities compound the problem. More than half of all pupils are located in central and southern Somalia, with much lower numbers in the northeast and northwest zones. Only 12 per cent of teachers are female, and a scant 3 per cent of head teachers are women. Almost half of all schools lack latrines, and less than a third have a source of water on-site. Over a quarter of all teachers work for no salary at all.

Progress is slow – but it is also sure. According to UNICEF’s Survey of Primary Schools in Somalia for 2003-2004, there are currently 1,172 operational schools in Somalia, up from 600 at the start of the civil war. There has been an average increase of 28 per cent in primary school enrolment over the past three years.

The goal of UNICEF and its partners is to create a sustainable education system that does not depend on external aid. Today, communities themselves own and manage about half of all schools in the country – a vivid testimonial to the Somali commitment to provide education for all children, and to the role of the classroom in rebuilding the nation.


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