BY TSI TEAM
The prosperity of any nation depends highly on its learning institutions; how
they influence behaviour and act as catalysts for socio-economic and political development. This need for education is more acute in countries that are emerging from civil strife and are in dire need of rebuilding. Somalia, which has experienced almost two decades of conflict, is currently rebuilding this important sector. The walls of classrooms that were once covered with bullet holes have been replaced with new structures and decor. Although the sight of idle children hovering around the streets and missing classes is common, the road towards education recovery is visible.
The sound of children in classrooms can be heard through the walls. This gives hope for better days to come. In 2013, the Somali government launched The Go 2 School Initiative (targeting three million pupils) in the three main regions of Somalia: South/ Central, Puntland and Somaliland. There have been some goodwill from the Somali government in ensuring that deficiencies in the education sector are addressed, albeit slowly. The improvement of the education sector is high on the agenda of the Somali Government in both its bilateral and multi-lateral negotiations.
The recent high profile visit of the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, where a number of projects were inaugurated including schools, is a good example of the commitment by the government’s that the education sector is revived. According to UNDP Somalia, out of 1.7 million children of school-going age, only an estimated 710,860 are enrolled in schools in the country. About 36 per cent of these schoolgoing children are girls. There are several institutions in the country that provide education from primary level through to university. Despite this, many of the students are not able to communicate in English or any other second international language.
The average primary student/teacher ratio is 1:33. It suffices to mention that just like many countries have experienced long periods of absence of a functional government, Somalia’s private sector provides the solution for most of its socio-economic needs. For instance, there are numerous private learning institutions that have cropped up in Mogadishu to offer alternative education. They are a clear manifestation of Somalia’s re-birth. The numbers are not big, but the few that are coming up provide hope for a population that had been left behind in global education developments due to war.
The Nile Organisation
One of the most prominent is the Nile Academy run by the Turkish institution, the Nile Organisation. It started the first school in Somalia in May 2011, and it has since opened four more schools: three in Mogadishu and one in Hargeisa. The four schools have a total of 780 students with the biggest population studying at Nile Academy, which has a total of 300 students. All the schools sponsored by Nile Organisation offer kindergarten, intermediary and secondary level of education. The organisation has invested in mixed-day schools, a girls’ boarding school, and a boys’ boarding school as well. Mr Osman Demirhan, the director of the Nile Organisation, takes pride in the level of education and progress made so far. “We have computer, science, physics and biology labs. Also, each classroom is fitted with two blackboards: the traditional blackboard and a smart board,” he says.
The smart board is an electronic device that is slowly gaining popularity due to its interactive power. It has a digital screen on which images from the computer can be displayed. The text can also be modified on the screen using a pen or a highlighting tool. Since it’s a touch screen, one has to simply tap the applications with the fingers to access and use them. Osman says that the Nile Academy in Mogadishu attracts students from all over the world. Thus, they have to keep up with the latest technologies and trends.
The coming up of the academies in Mogadishu has created a good environment for knowledge transfer, given the institutions long history in providing education across other parts of the world. “We have done this for over 40 years, and we have only excellence to show for it. We are providing education in over 160 countries all over the world, and so far we have 1000 schools in total,” Osman adds. The schools are spread, in Canada, France, Asia and Africa. These academies are unique because they have pioneered a new mode of instruction that does not just emphasise on class work, but also on developing values that mold the younger generations. “Every week, besides the usual subjects, we have various topics on hygiene. We talk about love and compassion, and the importance of one recognising their own nationality,” says Osman.
The schools use different languages to teach different subjects. All science subjects and Mathematics are taught in English. Somali language is used to teach religion, history, geography and social studies. Arabic and Turkish are also used from time to time. “There is the English language that is used all over the world, Arabic for the students to be able to communicate in any of the Arab countries, and Turkish, so that when they are in Turkey, they can blend in well,” explains Osman.
Just like most institutions in the country, human resource is a big challenge for the education sector. The Nile Organisation has been forced to hire international staff to help the few local qualified teaching staff. The teachers are mainly from Egypt, Kenya, and Tanzania. This year will mark the schools’ first graduation, a key achievement, not only for the institution, but also for the country that has been keen in embracing development and attracting foreign investment. Approximately 110 students will graduate this year, and 90 of them will receive full scholarships to further their studies in Turkey.
This is a key indicator of the increasing role of Turkey in the social transformation of Somalia. Osman asserts that the school management sees education as an important aspect in the rebuilding of the country. “We stress to the students that wherever they go to further their studies, they have to come back and rebuild their country,” he says. “Somalia is in transition and some of the students find the conditions difficult, but we offer them cultural lessons and encourage them to stay and be part of the new progressive society being rebuilt,” he adds. In many stable countries, a few educational institutions might not mean much. But in a country like Somalia, the significance is a symbol of return to normalcy. It is a sign of desire of the people to build institutions that will lay a firm foundation for sustainable development.