UNICEF and USAID Fight for Education in Somalia

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MOGADISHU — Somalia has been plagued by conflict for more than two decades. As a consequence, the country has faced much instability that has left the current generation without the opportunities of formal education. With the country ranking at 165 out of 170 countries on the Human Development Index, the state of education in Somalia is one of the causes of the weak position for the nation.

The main barriers to education in Somalia are conflict, the prevalence of child soldiers and poverty. While these three issues affect the access to education in different ways, the topics are all interlinked.

While the conflict has taken various forms over the past two decades, Somalia has continuously faced social and developmental setbacks. By 1994, many schools were already destroyed with learning materials unavailable for remaining facilities.

With the pervasiveness of clan conflict, the need for militias to defend against enemies led to an influx of adolescent militarism around the country. With increased pressure for children to become soldiers and the dilapidation of the countries academic facilities, many teachers and students abandoned education in Somalia.

According to the Africa Educational Trust, around 43 percent of the nine million Somalians live on less than $1 a day and 73 percent live on less than $2 a day. Most of these citizens are among the 1.1 million displaced during the current conflict and famine.

Before 2011, parents were required to pay for the education services their children would receive. However, with poverty rates so high, many children were unable to attend school as their households were unable to afford the education. While primary school became public in 2011, many teachers became difficult to retain as Somalia lacked sufficient government funds to cover the running costs of academic facilities.

As a result, Somalia has one of the lowest enrolment rates for primary school and secondary school. Only 30 percent of children attend school with the rate dropping to 18 percent when rural areas are exclusively considered. Out of the two million youth aged 15 to 24, only 6 percent are enrolled in secondary school.

With these impacts, conflict is creating a negative cycle in Somalia. By restricting children’s access to education, poverty is being transmitted from generation to generation. On average, with every additional year of schooling, an individual’s income increases by 10 percent and boosts their country’s GDP by 18 percent. Without education, Somalia is faced with extremely weak intergenerational mobility.

As education promotes inclusive democracy, enhances good governance, and drives sustainable peace, Somalia is missing a fundamental building block to a potential future without conflict. Emphasizing the importance of education in Somalia would provide a protective role against violent conflict by creating stability and daily routines for children. This would help to ensure that fewer children go off to become soldiers and that the younger generations are able to respond to conflict in a non-violent manner.

While Somalia still faces great educational dilemmas, UNICEF Somalia has created five programs that focus on improving education in the country. Its efforts aim to improve both access and quality of education to children in Somalia. In 2016, it provided 3,607 teachers incentives to continue their work in academia. As UNICEF aims to ensure that all children have access to education in times of emergency, the organization empowers the youth of Somalia through technical education and vocational training for employment.

Along with the efforts made by UNICEF, USAID provides support to the country through the Somali Youth Learners Initiative (SYLI). The program expands access to quality secondary education opportunities for more than 150,000 youth. By improving the secondary education attendance, SYLI aims to support the next generation of Somali leaders. In addition, SYLI is concentrated in areas that have experienced high levels of violence and where extremism threats prevail.

The USAID program has had much success building 333 classrooms as well as 455 other structures including science labs, libraries, and girl-friendly spaces. SYLI has provided around 20,000 textbooks and other teaching materials in Somalia while also training more than 2,231 teachers.

The conditions of education in Somalia are one example of many cases across the world of how conflict is affecting school enrollment. More than 50 percent of the children not attending school live in areas affected by conflict. UNICEF estimates that $26 billion is needed to get children enrolled and learning in schools around the world. To prevent the recurrence of violent conflict, a universal effort must continue to be made to promote education.

Tess Hinteregger

Photo: Flickr

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