Somalia’s 30 year-old civil unrest has almost completely destroyed the country’s educational system, affecting the future of millions of school-aged children but now it seems that educating its youth, who make up over 70% of the country’s population, offers a peaceful future.
This year, 27,000 students from 120 secondary schools sat for a unified national examination and the results came out this August. The government standardised and unified the examinations three years ago. Before that, there had been no standardised examinations since the collapse of Somalia’s last effective central government in 1991.
In the last three years, students sitting for national examinations jumped from 4,600 to 27,000. Young people in conflict-affected areas of Somalia who have access to secondary education are almost half as likely to support violent groups as those not in school, a new study by Mercy Corps, a global non-governmental, humanitarian aid organisation that has been operating in Somalia since 2005 revealed. This means increasing access to high school education in war zones could help diminish support for armed groups. “We found in general that the provision of secondary education by itself reduced the likelihood of young people supporting political violence by roughly 48%,” said Mercy Corps senior researcher Beza Tesfaye. The study also found that coupling education with civic engagement opportunities meant that young people were nearly 65% less likely to support violence.
The government’s “Go-To-School” campaign to target one million children and youths who were out of school so that they could study and help their country is producing good results, with so many children going to school, although enrolment due to security and Somali’s pastoral economy remain a problem. Crisis and conflict negatively affects the education of upwards of 80 million children worldwide, according to USAID.
Although gains have been made, education in this Horn of Africa nation faces many challenges, including underinvestment. Somalia’s schools are dealing with poor quality of education, insufficient numbers of qualified teachers, and inadequate resources. According to USAID, one out of every five Somali student-aged children is displaced. In 2017, close to 50,000 children lost the opportunity to go to school due to displacement. Only four out of ten Somali children go to school. Nomadic pastoralists account for about 65% of the Somali population and only 22% of pastoralist children receive a formal education .
Successive governments have always promised to give education the same priority as security, but those promises have not yet been fulfilled and it does not look like it will happen in the near future.
Somalia’s Al-Shabaab – an Al-Qaeda-linked group fighting to overthrow the Somali government – is often accused of recruiting thousands of children as soldiers to become frontline fighters, thus denying them educational opportunities where they can learn to dream and believe in their potential and even to live a normal life. A 2018 Human Rights Watch report said since late September 2017, Al-Shabaab has ordered elders, teachers in Islamic religious schools, and communities in rural areas to provide hundreds of children as young as 8 or face attack. The armed group’s increasingly aggressive child recruitment campaign started in mid-2017 with reprisals against communities that refused.
“Al-Shabaab’s ruthless recruitment campaign is taking rural children from their parents so they can serve this militant armed group,” said Laetitia Bader, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. UNICEF – UN children’s fund estimates there are at least 5,000 child soldiers in Somalia. In recent months, hundreds of children, many unaccompanied, have fled their homes to escape forced recruitment.
There is a relationship between education and peace-building. Education does not only help build skills for employment. It provides hope and helps build peace. The Somali government needs to invest heavily in the education sector as a way of attaining peace as much as it invests in the security sector.