Primary Education in Somalia
Many years of civil war have led to unrest in all aspects of Somalian life. Among the areas most affected is primary education in Somalia. Though the United States is doing a great deal to help rebuild, significant differences in the infrastructures of both countries’ primary schools still remain.

Primary schooling is the earliest stage of education in a child’s life, aside from nursery, pre-schooling or kindergarten programs. It is an important phase in the learning process because it teaches children the basics of reading, writing and math that they need for later education and life in general.

Because primary schools are the foundation of an entire educational system’s organization, attention to their efficacy is critical. Comparing primary education in the U.S. to that of a developing country such as Somalia provides interesting insight into the reasons that higher education in both countries may differ so significantly.

From the beginning of formal schooling, fewer children are receiving an education in Somalia. While education at the primary level is mandatory for all children in the U.S., roughly 42 percent of primary school aged children are enrolled in school.

In the U.S., primary school lasts from first to fifth grade, resulting in five years of fundamental education. In Somalia, however, primary school ends in fourth grade. Though schooling continues beyond these four years, many children do not. Dropping out before the fifth grade level becomes almost a social norm, as only 8 percent of Somali children enroll in secondary school.

Accessibility to education in Somalia and the U.S. accounts for these staggering differences. Public education is available to all students in the U.S., making the compulsory nature of schooling possible. However, due to the number of schools destroyed by civil war in Somalia, easily accessible education is not a luxury available to all Somali children.

The children that do attend school in Somalia also face obstacles that U.S. students do not encounter regularly. For example, the teacher-to-student ratio in primary schools in Somalia is one to 33. The average number of pupils per teacher in the U.S. is less than half of that, giving each student greater opportunity for individual attention.

Gender inequality is also apparent in the Somali education system. The current social barriers in Somalia do not encourage women to receive an education, so it is not surprising that less than 36 percent of students are female. Because schooling is mandated by U.S. laws, gender disparity is not a noticeable issue in American primary schools.

Other issues U.S. pupils are less likely to face are disparity of textbooks and other learning materials, a lack of qualified teachers and unstandardized curricula.

In the U.S., curricula are standardized by state. Education at the primary level does not vary too much. Most students learn to read and write at the same age and acquire the same basic skill sets during first through fifth grade.

Consistency is lacking among primary schools in Somalia. What one child learns in second grade may be completely different from what another child learns in second grade at a different school. The lack of a standardized curriculum makes country-wide assessments difficult. Even though the Ministry of Education in Somalia would like to rebuild the educational system, the absence of standardization does not provide an adequate place to start making improvements.

A good place to start may be government funding. Public schools in the U.S. are government funded, but many of the primary schools in Somalia cannot function without receiving at least some financial support from students’ parents. A child raised in a poor family may not be able to afford primary education.

The quality of public education varies in the U.S. depending on the economic state of the school’s area, but public education is always available. In order to provide the most help to the Somali educational system, aid should be given to ensure that some sort of schooling is always available to children, especially at a young age.

The good news is that many U.S. aid programs are working to rebuild schools in Somalia.

SAFE, the Somali and American Fund for Education, works with schools in Somalia to ensure their credibility as learning institutions. The organization looks at the community’s involvement in their local schools and awards certain areas money to fund construction of new school buildings. The even better news is that these schools include all levels of learning through twelfth grade, including primary education.

– Emily Walthouse

Sources: SAFE, Classbase 1, Classbase 2, MOE Somalia, NCES, UNICEF
Photo: Atlanta BlacK Star