Investing in human capital: teacher training

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Abdirisaq Mukhtar Yousuf

As we usher in a new government for the next four years, it is imperative to ponder over the challenges and opportunities that are present in teacher education today. The first step to investing in human capital begins with adequate and appropriate investments in the education sector.

It is no secret that countries which have made adequate and appropriate investments in education are more developed than those which have not. Usually, the quality of education in a country is a critical measure of the quality of its citizens. According to the American Commission on Teacher Education, the quality of the teachers in a country largely determines the quality of its education system. This is to say that teachers play a crucial role in the achievement of the national education goals of any country.

The teacher is the most important element in any education system because it is the teacher who is mainly responsible for the planning, implementation, and evaluation of educational activities. The teacher is the “soldier” on the ground and is the one who is in direct contact with the intended recipients of the educational services. The availability of competent, qualified, and motivated teachers directly affects the future development of any country. Therefore, it is imperative for any country to make appropriate investments in teacher education.

Teacher education is defined as “a program for education, research and training of persons to teach from pre-primary to higher education level” (National Council for Teacher Education, 1998). Based on this definition, teacher education entails the holistic development of the teacher in terms of knowledge, pedagogical skills, and professional skills. The student teacher is molded into a well-rounded person who is ready to take on the complex challenges of the teaching profession.

The above definition is an inclusive statement in its attempt in capturing the aspects of teacher education. Teacher education does not exist in a vacuum but rather is an integral part of the overall education system of any country. The training and production of well-qualified teachers is a priority that is equal to, if not more important than, the training and production of doctors and engineers in countries such as Finland and Germany. Only the top achieving candidates are considered for teacher training in these countries.

The contributions of Somali teachers to the development of the education sector in Somalia are enshrined in the two major milestones of the sector: their participation in the adoption of an official script for the Somali language in 1972 and in the national literacy campaigns of 1973 and 1974. Teachers were at the helm of the literacy campaigns travelling to rural areas and living amongst pastoralists for lengthy periods. Because they did not have many resources they became adaptive, versatile and improvised most of the time. The harsh conditions under which they worked did not deter them because they were motivated by a higher calling: the joy of teaching. One must remember that this was a time when the “revolution” was young and the winds of nationalism were blowing strong.

The expansion of the Somali National University in 1970 gave a boost to its Lafoole College of Education in Afgoi. The medium of instruction in the College was English while the rest of the university used Italian. The College attracted sizable funding and technical assistance from countries such as Italy and the USA and as a result produced highly qualified teachers. By 1983 the College has produced 3,561 teachers.  Pre-service teachers were trained on a variety of subjects ranging from the essential sciences to physical education and journalism. Expertize of a teacher, that is knowledge, skills and competencies in the subject matter were stressed. However, professional development such as in-service training and continues training programs were not available to teachers once they graduated from the College.

By the mid-1980s, Somalia was slowly but surely drifting towards chaos. Even before the collapse of the central government in 1991, Somalia’s education system had failed. School enrolments in both primary and secondary levels were drastically declining, unpaid teachers deserted their posts for more lucrative work in the Gulf countries, nepotism and tribalism were tarnishing higher education, overseas scholarships were dominated by family members of those close to the regime, and budgetary allocations for education had reached an all-time low.

“Somali teacher’s participation in the adoption of an official script for the Somali language in 1972 and in the national literacy campaigns of 1973 and 1974. Teachers were at the helm of the literacy campaigns travelling to rural areas and living amongst pastoralists for lengthy periods”. Author.

In the chaos and anarchy that ensued, school buildings, university facilities and resources were looted and destroyed. Thousands of professionals including teachers fled the country. The education sector suffered immensely as Lafoole College of Education, once a beacon of knowledge and scholarship in the country became a displaced persons’ camp. The library was desecrated and books were used as fuel for cooking fire. Lawlessness became the norm and teachers were often deliberately targeted by warring factions.

As we usher in a new government for the next four years, it is imperative to ponder over the challenges and opportunities that are present in teacher education today. The first step to investing in human capital begins with adequate and appropriate investments in the education sector. A recent study by the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies identified three major challenges facing teachers in Somalia: lack of teaching qualifications, low salaries, and teacher shortage.

A large number of teachers today are not professionally trained and lack subject specialization. There are no criteria for their employment as well. Majority of teachers, if at all, are graduates of non-education faculties. It is remarkable that the plethora of private universities in the country do not offer teacher training programs except for a very few; most notably Amoud University and Mogadishu University. Also, a career in the teaching profession is simply not appealing these days because of its low salaries and relatively low status.

The government’s recent efforts at reviving the Somali National University are a welcome sign of its commitment to providing public quality higher education. Similarly, special attention must be put on restoring Lafoole College of Education which lay in ruin now. Scholarships and allowances must be established for those students willing to enroll in teacher training programs. The revival of the education sector should begin with producing highly qualified teachers capable of propelling it even farther. The kind of teacher training program that should be implemented is one that produces holistic teachers; ethically and morally sound professionals with the desirable knowledge and skills. A teacher is tasked with more than just teaching. A teacher should be able to identify pain, hurt, talent and joy in his or her students.

If we are to make the teaching profession more appealing to younger people in Somalia, then a number of support programs must be put in place. Continues professional development and in-service training coupled with such amenities as low-cost or free housing for teachers can complement a competitive wage package. The certification of teachers will entail the recognition of not only course work but also hours put teaching practice. In addition to that, the establishment of a credible and recognized teachers’ union is critical to the professionalization of their job.

The writer is Educationist and Curriculum Development Expert Abdirisaq.yuusuf@gmail.com