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The deterioration of school curriculum in Somalia

By Abdirahman Said

When a disgruntled Somali person tries to narrate our state failure predicament “meelna nooma fiyooba”(nothing is safe for us) is a common phrase used to describe the many problems that confront our country. External intervention is unprecedented in nature and scale, and ruthless kleptocrats are rapaciously devouring the scant resources available in Somalia. The dumping of nuclear waste which is associated with increased cancer incidents, illegal and unregulated fishing that has displaced thousands of fishing villages, and importation of expired food and medicine, to name a few are all prevalent recurring issues in Somalia.

Somali school children

While the above problems are visible to the majority of the population, there is an invisible war that might have wrought many of these contemporary problems. Namely “The war on our education system” in addition to the aforementioned issues, has radicalised thousands of young generations and in the long term will  undermine our efforts in bringing back the nation-state.

There are two forces backing the campaign to eliminate Somali nationalism and history. The education system of Somalia before the collapse, was one of the best things that Somali people were yearning to see again; free education services from primary to university education and a Somali-centred education system where both the medium of instruction and the curriculum designers were Somali.

But when the Somali government collapsed in 1991, the national education system also imploded. Teachers missed salaries and other education officers abandoned their offices, triggering education materials to be taken away from stores and being scattered in the city streets. Schools were closed.

Some years later, this vacuum was formally filled by international and local NGOs, who paid the salaries of teachers and provided education materials. Unfortunately, the consequence of their actions were underestimated. They have gradually weeded out all materials about Somali history and nationalism from the curriculum. Although the western supported NGOs mischief was suspect, it has reached a tipping point in the later part of 2000s, when UNESCO dared to advertise a programme swapping the old books of Somalia for money in Puntland State. Thousands of books were collected and until now no one knows where the books are. Rumours abound say the books were burnt. Western-supported NGOs developed and adopted new curriculum intermittently, but it is no secret that every time the curriculum is changed, it has less and less of Somali history and nationalism when compared with curriculums that existed before the war.

Western-supported NGOs emphasize the internationalization of Somali children instead of teaching their country, its hsitroy and its culutrals, tradtions and important material such as literature and poetry. Instead children are thought capital cities of all European States.

On the other hand, the Arab-supported NGOs with their own agenda, also flocked into the country to offer modest but growing private education. The Arabs offering came with the concealment of the Somali history as they began to spreading their own history, they copied the curriculum from Gulf nations without giving any consideration to Somali society, culture and history. Students were taught Saudi-Arabia’s geography and culture such as its regions, the mountains, hills and valleys etc, consequently; they have produced thousands of unknowledgeable citizens.

What can be done about this massive change in the education system in Somalia. I recently attended an event in which a group of Somali government officials were welcomed abroad. The officials confected the different projects that were implemented in the country and how Somalia is progressing and on the mend again. As the end of the event was reached, a friend of mine whom I thought was more sanguine than me demurred with our gust’s view, while whispering with me he said a statement that shrunk my enthusiasm and hope as he said: “Somalia needs the build-up of patriotic and informed society”. He is right; Somalia has been lacking patriotic citizens for a long time, partly because our education system failed to produce them. Indeed it is common knowledge that the kind of education the citizens receive reflects the kind of leaders it produces.

What is patriotism? Eamann Callan (1997) defined patriotism as an active identification with ones particular nation as cross generational political community whose flourishing one prizes and seeks to advance. Patriotic education is not a new phenomenon, it exists in both developing and developed countries. For instance early in the year, China has vowed the teaching of patriotic education to Chinese students overseas. In 2002, Japan, a country that always disassociates itself with nationalist sentiments developed a curriculum calling for “deep feeling of love for the country”. Elsewhere the concept of patriotic education is gaining more popularity.

The essence of patriotic education cannot be listed in a short essay, however one of the major benefits of it is “nation building”; the feeling of attachment to a particular political community. The role of education in nation building was outlined by Julius Nyerere (1985) “education is strongly influenced by the past, and serves to influence but not to control future. Formal education in any country is bound to be and from society’s point of view is intended to be an element in maintaining or developing the social, political and economic culture of the society”. Nation-building is the backbone of any functioning society, for instance the success of Islam in early years was attributed to the creation of “umah” by prophet Mohamed (PBH) which changed the loyalty of Arab tribes from venerating and revering their clans to supporting the Umah.

There is no consensus of how patriotic education is to be taught but the most common way is to introduce a course of patriotic education in schools. This course did exist before Somali government failed and even the first years of the civil war before the arrival of the so-called foreign education promoters, I remember at young age, my older siblings taking it as a subject and it was all about Somali history and geography.

Another way to encourage patriotism is to teach history classes, some scholars even belief that teaching a mythical and glorious version of the past has no problem as long as the aim is to mould students in to good citizenship

The history of Somali nationality should be taught, as well as the major events, the renowned figures who opposed the colonials and foreign occupation, the achievements of Somali people including achievements in sports, religion, sciences, philosophy, arts ,literature, also political thinkers and educators. History should not be taught only as story but should trigger students to start critical thinking of how that particular event was missed and what can be done about it and if it confronts them today.

We need to emphasize the awareness of young generation the national current conditions such as the economy, politics and the language, compared with other communities in the world.

It is paramount to open up national museums, memorial halls, and protected historical sites, scenic spots so as to inspire in students a love for the motherland and show them its magnificent landscape.

We need to promote events that are beneficial to cultivating respect for national flag and national anthem; we also need to display the national flag in important conference rooms and meeting places.

We should encourage events that are meant citizens to help one another in order to remove envy and begrudge that may kill our national spirit and show respect for all countrymen who are citizens of our nations.

Lastly, the government should create social movements, unions for children and youth to mould young citizens with sense of pride for their homeland. In Kazakhstan as of 2014, there were 1,434 youth and children unions created by the government.

Abdirahman Said
Email: [email protected]

Abdirahman Said is an independent researcher mainly interested in international relations, international development, good governance, security and strategic issues

Note: some of the recommendations are exempted from “(2006) Action plan for patriotic education” available at Chinese education and society, 39-2, 7-18.

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