Misplaced priorities: Somalia’s struggle for a national Curriculum 

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By Abdirisaq Mukhtar Yousuf

Somalia’s willingness to forge a new identity as a peaceful nation can largely be determined by the type of curriculum it adopts. The type of curriculum it choses will be a reflection of the kind of citizens it wants to produce; citizens with a global outlook and equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to participate in the modern global economy.

When societies are faced with pressing issues or problems, they utilize various means at their disposal to address them. Curriculum is one of the avenues in which social problems can be tackled effectively. Issues such as armed conflict, youth unemployment, high crime rate, rising drug use, HIV and AIDS, and gender inequities are often addressed in national curricula. The curriculum offers a platform in which the issue can be analyzed from various angles and perspectives; students, society, education experts and personnel, and social workers are engaged in the assessment and analysis of the situation.

So what exactly is a curriculum? The word curriculum invokes a different meaning to different people. Some view it as a mere document while others see it encompassing any and everything related to teaching and learning. For our purposes, John Kerr’s 1968 definition of curriculum is most suitable. He defines curriculum as “all the learning which is planned and guided by the school, whether it is carried on in groups or individually, inside or outside the school”.

Two important aspects of this definition are: Planning and schools. This means that learning is planned and guided including the implied dimension of school curricula. This compels us to specify why we are going to teach (objectives), what we are going to teach (content), how we are going to teach (teaching methods, learning experiences) and lastly how we are going to determine the results of the activities undertaken (evaluation procedures and methods). The second aspect refers to schooling in the sense that curriculum exists within the realm of the school and is related to its associated ideas of subjects, teachers and lessons. It is imperative to mention that curricula are anchored on the national goals or development plan of a country; they act as a vehicle for achieving them.

Those who are keen on the Somali education system are quick to state that the system has been ailing long before the collapse of the central government in 1991. Decreased budgetary allocation, declining enrollments in primary and secondary schools, teachers deserting for lucrative opportunities in Arab countries and nepotism in job placement and overseas scholarships had already mired the education system. Fragmentation and disintegration followed after the collapse and still continue to distinguish the education system in Somalia. Regional administrations such as Puntland and Somaliland had established working systems albeit variations in language, structure and curricula. Most schools operate on borrowed curricula mostly from Kenya and Arab countries.

Somalia is surely but slowly emerging from the chaos that has consumed it for more than two decades. The inauguration of the Somali Federal Government in 2012 saw the appointment of Dr. Maryan Qasim for the post of Minister for Human Development and Public Services. In addition to other sectors, the minister was responsible for reviving and restoring Somalia’s education system. The adept minister was faced with the daunting task of formulating a national education policy which would pave the way for the development of a unified curriculum. Unfortunately the cabinet was dissolved in December 2013 as a result of political infighting and bickering.

“One cannot basically administer examinations without having previously set the criteria and conditions under which the evaluation would take place. This is just a desperate measure of asserting authority and projecting legitimacy when efforts should actually be directed towards developing a much needed national curriculum.”

For Somalia to achieve a uniform and integrated curriculum that is capable of lifting the country out of its social and economic problems, a number of preconditions must be satisfied.

The first of those is political stability that can sustain the work of technocrats in crafting policies and developing the actual curriculum. This entails the independence and separation of educational work from political maneuvers and shake ups. Although politics heavily influence the process of curriculum development, it should be limited to guidance in terms of political and ideological alignment and availing of finances and funds. It seems that any momentum gained is usually lost due to the depressingly short life span of governments in Somalia.

A second precondition is the existence of a vision or a national plan towards which the country must strive. A vision for a country is usually set for a period of no less than 10 years. This vision helps curriculum designers and specialists anchor educational enterprise in the country on the expectations and aspirations expressed therein. Unfortunately, neither political stability nor a national vision exists to facilitate the development a national curriculum in Somalia.

A case of misplaced priorities seems to exist at the federal Ministry of Education. The Ministry has been bent on administering national examinations and has done so in the past two years. National examinations must be based on the educational experiences presented and should assess achievement of certain objectives expressed in syllabuses and lesson objectives. Syllabuses can only be developed once all curriculum elements have been identified and defined. These elements include objectives, content, curriculum support materials, teaching methods and evaluation procedures. One cannot basically administer examinations without having previously set the criteria and conditions under which the evaluation would take place. This is just a desperate measure of asserting authority and projecting legitimacy when efforts should actually be directed towards developing a much needed national curriculum.

When it comes to curriculum in Somalia, the elephant in the room is the choice of language as a medium of instruction. A recent study by The Heritage Institute for Policy Studies found that English and Arabic were the preferred languages as media of instruction with not even a single school using the Somali language as a medium. This is scary considering the fact successive studies indicate that pupils in lower levels perform better when instructed in their mother tongue. Decision makers and education stakeholders must ponder over and reflect on this issue as it is the most single important challenge in Somalia’s struggle for a national curriculum.

A curriculum is a reflection of society’s needs, expectations, and aspirations. Solutions for societal problems are explored through the curriculum. Society expects that schools will instill in the learners desirable knowledge, skills and attitudes as well as morals and values. For these purposes, society must play a major part in the entire curriculum development process. There is a definite gap in involving the society in educational decision making in Somalia. Society is vital for providing ideas for the curriculum, formulating objectives and supporting the implementation of the curriculum in schools. Whether it is religious organizations, the youth, women associations, or trade unions, their voices should matter in developing a national curriculum for Somalia.

Somalia’s willingness to forge a new identity as a peaceful nation can largely be determined by the type of curriculum it adopts. The type of curriculum it choses will be a reflection of the kind of citizens it wants to produce; citizens with a global outlook and equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to participate in the modern global economy. As Somalia moves to a more peaceful role, its identity and that of its people must begin with a curriculum that promotes peace education, social and economic development, personal development and freedoms, environmental protection and conservation, and harmonious coexistence with itself and its neighbors.

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