Puntland Makes Strides in Expanding School Access
GAROWE, Somalia—As dawn breaks in this city, the capital of the Puntland region of Somalia, hundreds of schoolchildren fill the roads, carrying bags and books as they head to classes to receive education that many of their parents missed during decades of civil war.
“I’m rushing to school right now. I need to be there by 7 a.m.,” said 16-year-old Hassan Ali, who attends Darwish Primary School here. “I want to study hard and excel in life like other people because I know education is the key to success.”
The situation in Puntland, a largely autonomous region that maintains its own government, is different from conditions in southern and central Somalia, including Mogadishu, where children sometimes are afraid to go school due to frequent attacks by Al-Shabaab, an extremist group linked to Al Qaeda that has killed thousands of civilians in the region.
The outbreak of civil war in Somalia in the early 1990s crippled education. By 1994, fighting had destroyed most schools, and teachers and students fled the country.
But Puntland has been able to rebuild much of its education system in recent years.
“During the civil war, all infrastructures were totally destroyed, and nothing was spared,” said Nazlin Umar Rajput, chairwoman of the National Muslim Council of Kenya and a human-rights advocate for minority groups across East Africa. “But now the education sector in Puntland has progressed systematically despite periods of civil war, unrest and drought that left thousands of people dead.”
In Puntland, the regional ministry of education develops curricula and manages public schools. Elsewhere in Somalia, including the federal capital, Mogadishu, schools are mostly private. They operate independently, follow different curricula and charge fees.
“Almost every child in Puntland is able to access education,” said Rajput. “The country has harmonized its curriculum and centralized examinations, unlike other regions.”
School enrollment in Puntland has also increased in recent years, as the government has built more schools, libraries, water projects and other facilities. The region now has more than 500 schools and more than 100,000 students. More than 5,000 teachers are registered here, though not all have official credentials. The average teacher-to-student ration is 20 to one.
Students attend two years of early childhood development classes, eight years of primary education, and four years of secondary education, according to the ministry of education. The region also has more than 10 universities.
Puntland’s education system has attracted international agencies that are now helping parents, teachers and the education ministry provide quality education for all children, said Rajput, making the region a role model to others emerging from conflict.
Recently, for example, the Global Partnership for Education, an international organization that works to ensure that poor children in developing countries receive a quality basic education, committed $5.6 million in grant money to assist Puntland’s efforts. The money will make education possible for more than 2,500 children from the region’s poorest households who might not have been able to attend school for financial reasons, like being kept out of classes by their parents to work.
“This grant will help thousands of children in Puntland go to school, stay in school and learn with qualified teachers,” Alice Albright, the partnership’s chief executive officer, said in October, when the grant was announced. “Other countries which have experienced civil war and drought can learn from Puntland,” she said.
Abshir Aw-Yusuf Isse, who was Puntland’s minister of education at the time, said the grant “will help us realize our vision of a quality education system that guarantees and fosters success for learners regardless of their abilities, and responds to and recognizes the potential of all learners.”
Central and southern Somalia have been difficult for donor groups to work with, due to security issues, Albright said.
Conflict and civil war often disrupt educational activities in those areas.
Rajput added that “insurgent groups also control what is taught in the curriculum because they control those areas.”
In Puntland, education officials said at least 200,000 children still do not attend school.
Still, parents praise what the ministry of education and international donors have accomplished.
“We are happy that our children can now access education,” said Zainab Hussein, a mother of six who has three children in school. “It was hard to go to school because of civil war and gender issues. But today the government cannot allow you to sit with your child at home without taking her to school.”
Ali, who is in grade 10, sees the progress as an opportunity to achieve his dream.
“I want become a doctor and help our people,” he said. “Our country has not enough doctors and people die every day.”