Changing Somalia’s approach to education and training could solve its labour deficit problem and make investors happier. An interview with the dean of Science and Engineering at the University of Nottingham -Professor Andy Chan
If Somalia’s labour force intends to catch up with the labour force of the rest of the developing world and the developed world, what steps must the country take?
Let’s assume that the country will be stable for a long time first. The best investment that Somalia can make is in educating and training its people. Human resources is important, in fact, most of the skills needed are fundamental. You need the education to sustain a reasonable workforce. When people are educated, they will start to realize how society should work. They will begin to think of things like how to maintain peace, or how to access resources like water or land in a sustainable and peaceful way. This is a long term approach.
My suggestion is that resources towards improving the education sector be increased: Funding for scholarships, funding for educators, funding for research and development, funding for laying down the right infrastructure like learning institutions, libraries, and school sports facilities among others within the sector.
The other suggestion would be that the country needs to start at a basic level. Every individual in the country, every child, should have a basic minimum level of education. This can be a primary school or high school level. In an ideal world, this should happen. Somalia can make it government policy.
At the moment, education in Somalia is split between vocational training for needed skills, and the professional classroom white-collar job-driven education. What can you say about these approaches, given the history of Somalia…?
In a free world, you don’t fix these things. The market determines the kind of training and skills that is required. Somalia, at the moment, is existing on subsistence and primary industries. It should focus on these. Making the decision arbitrarily on what level and approach to give skills development might not be the best way. The market will determine this.
That said; the idea of a knowledge-based economy for Somalia might be immature. Going by Mass Law’s Hierarchy of needs, this might not be at the top of the country’s priorities right now. Somalia is still based on subsistence and primary industries, so perhaps it is best to focus on this. Most countries start this way anyway. Knowledge-based economy for Somalia right now might be too early because you will put in a large amount of money, but since you don’t have the labour to support it, eventually you will have to import a lot of labour and spend a lot of money while doing so. In the process, you will lose a lot of money. From a market point of view, this is not wise.
You come from a STEM (science and mathematics) driven education system. If Somalia is to adopt this, what kind of outcome should the country expect in the long run?
I went to Sudan two years ago when the political turbulence was still there. Something stood out though; the telecommunications sector. I visited various outfits within the sector. Sudan has a large number of telecommunications training centers. It is so successful in this that Sudan is currently the main supplier of the telecoms workforce in the region as well as the regional training hub.
Somewhere down the line, the government and the industry players will have to sit and find the most effective way forward. They will have to decide where they want to put investment into.
I am not certain I can make the pronouncement for Somalia. But what I do know is that the country can, for instance, take all its primary industries and take them to the next level technologically. This is a fairly achievable exercise. For example, subsistence farming can be mechanized for greater production.
Technology has democratized learning and access to information. Because of this, online learning can be used to address the daily challenges that our societies face; for instance, the inability to access classrooms due to a natural disaster, being unwell, or insecurity. How can Somalia take advantage of this?
“In a free world, you don’t fix these things. The market determines the kind of training and skills that is required. Somalia, at the moment, is existing on subsistence and primary industries. It should focus on these. Making the decision arbitrarily on what level and approach to give skills development might not be the best way.”Professor Andy Chan, Dean of Science and Engineering at the University of Nottingham
This is something that we think about a lot lately. Massive Open Online Courseware (MOOC) has been very effective in China for instance. This was in response to the lockdown arising from the coronavirus. What the country has done is to create short courses (two hours long) that are sold at $0.5 cents. This is fairly cheap. And it can be done in Somalia too, especially with the aim of reaching students in the villages or in areas that are inaccessible to teachers or the schools are inaccessible to students. The idea is to create the learning material, the courses, then have the right infrastructure put in place i.e. internet access to all those who are interested.
The materials range from basic livelihood education like carpentry, farming, and sculpture to more sophisticated learning courses.
Everyone can have access to the learning material; in fact, most of the material can be made free for all. If you need a certificate, that’s when you pay a small fee. Somalia has good IT infrastructure, this would make it easy for a project of this nature to take off.
What infrastructure would need to be in place for this kind of learning to be successful?
All you need is the availability of the needed learning materials- good content, electricity, cable laying for the internet or the use of drones to act as routers for specific periods of time in places where cable laying does not make sense economically.
We would like to know the role education should play in combating extremism and intolerance…
What drives extremism is a situation where you have set of people who want to give another set of people one ethos, one way of seeing the world. This is based on controlling access to information and dictating the kind of information available to one set of people.
People should make informed decisions for themselves about what is important, what to believe in, what is right and wrong for humanity and such, based on having sufficient access to and understanding of as much information as possible. As an educator, I hope that we can advocate for and push for more public access to essential information (like children’s and human rights etc).
I hope that Somalia can genuinely democratize information. The democratization of information should be an anchor of education in the country. This democratization should start at an early age; before extremism conditioning. Access to multiple sources of educational material through the internet is one way to do it. There are other aspects to it too no doubt.
During your presentation at the recently held 4-day SORECO conference in Mogadishu, you mentioned something about the importance of soft skills in the job market. Can you explain this a bit more?
Let’s start off with the definition: Soft skills are the skills that make us human. They include things like morality, empathy, leadership, teamwork, networking etc. Soft skills are what makes us stand out from computers. The things we possess that a computer can’t replicate. The problem is that modern education does not take care of this. Yet for employers, the importance of technical skills is diminishing while that of soft skills is rising. Employers need people who take initiative, people who can be responsible for others, and people who are versatile and are good team players among other qualities. You need these to be marketable today…