Monday, August 27, 2007

Education: Somali children take charge of their education

It is 10.30am on a sunny Thursday morning in the self-declared republic of Somaliland’s capital and 15-year-old Mohamed Yusuf is skipping school. Mohamed is not playing soccer or smoking cigarettes or shining shoes for a few extra shillings; instead he and a half-dozen of his classmates have trekked 5km through the dusty streets of Hargeisa to attend a session of Biyo Dhacay primary school’s Child-to-Child (CTC) club. In other words, Mohamed and his friends are skipping school to attend school.

Funded by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and implemented by the Somaliland Students Assembly (SOLSA), Somalia’s CTC programmes have a simple guiding principle – students identify a problem, then plan and carry out projects to address the problem. The process by which the problems are put forth (often boisterous debate), and by which decisions are made on how to tackle them (hopefully consensus building), is as important as any eventual tangible output.

In the first year of the programme, Biyo Dhacay’s students decided they needed a shaded place to eat lunch and an opportunity to flex their academic muscle against other secondary schools around the city. So their CTC club planted trees in the courtyard and organised a series of academic competitions with other schools around Hargeisa.

Throughout Somalia there are 105 CTC clubs with about 30 students aged 10 to19 in each club. That the clubs exist at all is significant given that after the collapse of the central government in 1991 much of the country’s school system was destroyed.

Today, UNICEF says, Somalia has one of the lowest primary school enrolment rates in the world. And while the idea of child-directed learning has generally been received with enthusiasm, educators reliant on top-down teaching methods are still struggling to fully turn the classroom over to their students.

UNICEF-Somalia education officer Hanna Sundberg says her organisation has also had to guard against slipping into a top-down attitude when working with child-to-child clubs. “The CTC programmes are great for UNICEF because they provide a focal point to transmit our messages directly to children,” she says. “But we don’t want to just keep dumping messages on the children; we want the messages to come from the children themselves."

For Biyo Dhacay’s CTC club, the subject this morning revolves around setting an agenda for the upcoming year. It is also a chance for Mohamed and his friends to deliver a message from their CTC club and share best practices and lessons learned.

“What you need,” Mohamed tells his classmates, “is to elect a secretary who can take minutes of all your meetings.” But just as a debate on the merits of the secretarial position begins to heat up, Biyo Dhacay’s headmistress swoops into the class, reprimands Mohamed and his friends for infiltrating school grounds and puts a quick end to the meeting.

Out in the courtyard, however, the discussion continues. “For the upcoming year our priorities are to increase the number of CTC participants in schools with existing programmes,” says grade 8 student Sagal Osmaan Aaden, “and we need to find a way to collaborate better with our teachers and parents.”

“But what we really need,” another student shouts from across the playground “is a new set of football goals.”
Published with the permission of IRIN
Disclaimer: This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or Mike Hitchen Consulting
Photo: Copyright IRIN