Education International
Education International

Somalia: the end of education

published 22 October 2008 updated 22 October 2008

Five teachers and eight students have been killed, and nearly 30, 000 more students have been deprived of the right to education after the last schools still operating in Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu were closed in mid-October due to the unacceptable risk of violence.

Osman Mohamoud, President of the Somalia National Union of Teachers (SNUT), said in a statement that schools have tried to operate close to “a war zone” for long time, but it is now impossible to continue to put the students and their teachers in harm’s way.

“As teachers, we have persevered as long as we could to keep teaching in the most dangerous situations, but it has become impossible to expose young children to any more danger,” Mohamoud said. "It is unacceptable to turn the last of our schools into military bases. School should be a safe haven for our children.”

Most schools in Mogadishu closed their doors long ago because of the intense unrest, but a few remained open – despite the increasing violence and rising death toll. In the previous three months, at least five teachers were killed and more than nine others were wounded. In the same period, eight school children were killed while fifteen others were severely wounded in shelling of the neighbourhood known as K4.

“We closed the last 34 schools and universities that remained open in Mogadishu because Somali government forces deployed around the K4 area where schools had moved to,” said Mohamed Saeed Farah, spokesperson for the Somali Association for Formal Education (SAFE), a local umbrella group. At least 27,200 students were concentrated in the K4 neighbourhood because of its relative stability compared to the rest of the capital. Now, even that one oasis of relative calm is gone, and along with it any opportunity for learning.

The closure marks the end of all educational activities inside the capital, where violence and lawlessness have been the order of the day for the past two years since Ethiopian-backed Somali government forces retook the south-central part of the country from an Islamist group that had been in control.

Schools in south and central Somalia have long been closed due to two decades of violence. Both Ethiopian and Somali government forces have targeted schools, while insurgent groups launch their attacks against the soldiers close to school premises.

Somali government police spokesman Colonel Abdulahi Hassan Barise told local media that the soldiers were deployed after insurgent fighters fired mortars from near the schools. He promised that his troops would protect the schools. “Schools should not close because of the deployment of the troops because they will also protect the students and teachers,” Col. Barise told reporters. “Education should continue as it used to.”

However, education as usual is clearly impossible in the current context. The SNUT has written many times to local government officials and to successive education ministers urging them to put a stop to the militarization of schools and the targeting of students and teachers, but to no avail.

Officials of the SNUT, the only teacher trade union in the country, have faced constant harassment from warring sides, and the union’s main offices in Mogadishu have been closed down by Somali government soldiers.

Mohamoud issued his statement on the school closures via email from Sweden, where he is seeking asylum. He fled Somalia over a year ago following repeated death threats from local groups and harassment from Ethiopian and Somali government forces.

Meanwhile, Somali teachers continue to try to uphold their professional responsibility. Some have been volunteering to teach in the internally displaced people’s camps on the outskirts of Mogadishu. According to the United Nations, more than one million displaced people, almost half of the residents of the capital, live in squalid conditions in makeshift shelters. To support themselves and their families, teachers are also compelled to take on additional jobs, such as construction workers, market vendors, bakers, etc., while others are engaged in small businesses.

Teachers who are not fortunate enough to find jobs are surviving with the support of their working colleagues. The SNUT has been instrumental in arranging solidarity partnerships between working teachers and those who are unemployed.

“Despite being in an existential struggle, SNUT members and officials are in constant touch and are trying to help each other get through this difficult period in our history,” Mohamoud said.

By Abdurrahman Warsameh

Abdurrahman Warsameh is Vice-President of the Somali National Union of Teachers