Editor’s note:The recent visit to Abaarso School of Science and Technology in Somaliland by the CNN anchor, Anderson Cooper for a 60 minute special assignment, has created a renewed interest of the school’s accomplishment as well as a controversy on the status of Somaliland. WardheerNews would like to re post an interview we had with the founder of Abaarso school, Jonathan Starr.
No country has achieved economic growth without investing in education. Educating children, particularly through primary to high school prepares them for higher learning and adulthood. It’s also one of the most effective ways to spur development. Jonathan Star -an American financier found Abaarso school of science and technology in Somaliland. ” with the goal of setting up a great school. Jonathan and his staff of foreigners did not know the local customs, did not speak the language, and were not professional educators.” when they first undertook Abaarso school. Fast-forward to the present time, Abaarso sends some of its students to some of the best schools in the world including Harvard, MIT, Georgetown and Carnegie Melon. In Somalia education was always revered. Even through song, education was encouraged. There is a Somali song ” Macalinku Waa” by the late great Somali poet and playwright Hassan Sh. Muumin that says: ” An educator is the Brain of the world, it’s he who unveils the potential to explore, invent and create. He is the apparatus to spring awe and wonder to the world. He inspires knowledge that leads to fulfillment and growth”. WDN brings you this exclusive interview with Jonathan Star, the Headmaster, Founder, Managing Director of Abaarso. Abdelkarim A. Hassan and Adan Makina have collaborated the interview for WardheerNews.com.
WardheerNews (WDN): Mr. Jonathanr Starr, we are delighted to welcome you to WardheerNews.com, however, before we delve into the bulk of the interview, could you please share with us a brief background history about yourself ?
Jonathan Starr: Thank you, I’m happy to be doing this interview. I am an American who graduated from Emory University and was awarded Summa Cum Laude (highest honors) in Economics and Phi Beta Kappa. Following college, I had a career in finance that peaked when I founded and led Flagg Street Capital, a private investment firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During that time I also sat on the board of directors of a publicly traded US company. In 2008 I began working on the plans for Abaarso School and I moved to Somaliland in 2009 to start Abaarso’s operations and head the school.
WDN: What inspired you to come up with the idea of establishing a school in Somalia, and specifically, what attracted you to Somaliland?
Jonathan: My interest in Somaliland originally came from my uncle, Billeh Osman, who is from Erigavo. While Billeh has lived in the US since I was young, he often spoke of his home country. Eventually I decided it was time to see what Somaliland was all about. My visit in 2008 was a powerful experience; before I left I had committed to launch a school. I felt it was a wonderful opportunity to make a special contribution to the world. Now, having completed our 6th year, I am immensely proud of what our students and staff have accomplished.
WDN: The education sector in Somalia lacks strong oversight which makes it possible for many unregulated mediocre schools to be established for the sole purpose of for-profit. How would you rate the private education sector in Somaliland and what makes Abaarso different?
Jonathan: The data we attain from our own entrance examinations makes clear that there are major quality issues in the local education systems. This shows up both in students’ extremely weak fundamentals and their lack of critical thinking skills. What is even more concerning to me is the rampant cheating going on at all levels.
One can think of redeveloping the education system as a 2-step process. Step 1 is getting students to school. With all the government and private schools this is clearly happening in the cities. Step 2 is the quality of education delivered at those schools. With Step 1 complete it is now time to focus here.
In terms of for-profit vs. government schools, the issue really comes down to the quality of people running each specific school. For example, the for-profit Young Muslim’s Academy clearly has a positive school culture not found in many other schools. At the same time, the government school Qudac Dheer has produced several of the best students to come through Abaarso. So in the end it comes down to individuals executing on their job and putting the proper love and attention into their school.
From the start Abaarso has been focused on delivering the highest quality of education at a price that Somali families can afford. This focus on quality meant fighting for a high standard not otherwise seen in the country. Establishing a high achieving culture was an extremely difficult task, but now our students are accustomed to it. Students entering Abaarso learn valuable lessons from their older peers, such as how to develop their thinking skills and becoming tenacious while also maintaining one’s integrity.
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