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From the Field

UNESCO Opens the Door to Quality Education in Somali Schools

Jean Bernard in Somalia (Jean Bernard image)

Jean Bernard in Somalia (Jean Bernard image)

Jean Bernard with Workshop Participants in Hargeisa, Somalia (Jean Bernard image)

Jean Bernard with Workshop Participants in Hargeisa, Somalia (Jean Bernard image)

by Jean Bernard, Ed.D.*, Consultant to UNESCO PEER (Programme of Education in Emergencies and Reconstruction)

Other than the wind, heat and dust, the first thing that strikes you on the unpaved road from the airport to the UNESCO PEER Field Office in Hargeisa is the extreme poverty.  Even before the onset of the worst famine in 60 years, Somalia was one of the poorest countries on earth. As we dodge the goats and donkey-drawn water carts past rows of dilapidated huts and shanties, I wonder how on earth schools in this environment can begin to achieve all children's right to quality education, a promise that UNESCO and its flagship EFA (Education for All) have promised to fulfill by 2015.

After three months working with Somali educators on improving teachers' guides, a simple and necessary tool for supporting teachers and schools, I have come to respect their steadfast refusal to despair, even in the midst of conditions that would be intolerable anywhere in the industrialized world. During the writing and editing workshops held at the Ministry of Education's Curriculum Development Center, participants had no access to computers, reference materials or other resources (other than the books I had brought with me). Electricity was unreliable, water infrequent, and since out of necessity most of our meetings took place on the veranda of the dilapidated colonial school building housing the CDC, on most days our writing notebooks, markers, clothing and hair became covered with a fine layer of red dust.

Yet the participants, most of whom were university professors of education in their respective fields, resolutely persisted in completing the task, which resulted in drafts of 48 new teachers guides written in Somali and Arabic, rich in suggestions for enhancing learning and imbued with such UNESCO principles as peace, human rights and gender equality. Having endured 20 years of armed conflict and the general insecurity of life in a failed state, these educators were quick to recognize and seize the opportunity to participate in building a better future for their children and for the country. It was both a pleasure and an honor to work with them.

As a follow-up to the distribution of new, 2nd edition primary textbooks in Somalia, UNESCO PEER Offices in Hargeisa and Garowe in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Higher Studies, the Ministry of Education of Puntland, and the Ministry of Education of Central and South Somalia, have launched an activity aimed at improving and updating teachers' guides for each of the pupils' books with the aim of improving the overall quality of teaching and learning. The revision process began in May, 2011 with a Writing Workshop at the MoE&HS Curriculum Development Centre, with participation by authors from Somaliland and South Central Somalia, and was followed by a Review Workshop in Garowe and an Editing Workshop in Hargeisa.  By the first week in August, the 41 participants in these workshops had produced completely revised and improved drafts of teachers' guides in six subjects (Arabic, Islamic Studies, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies and Somali) at eight levels (48 books) ready for layout and approval by their respective Ministries.

Support to teachers in the form of user-friendly, relevant guides written in the languages of instruction is a key component of the Strategic Partnership for Recovery and Development of Education in Somalia, a joint effort involving DfID, UNESCO PEER and UNICEF to address the needs of education sector with the specific aim of enhancing the rehabilitation of the entire educational system. The process of reviewing and revising guides, which have been in use since 2003, followed closely in the path of the newly revised subject syllabuses and improved textbooks, with much of the work coordinated by UNESCO PEER devoted to aligning the guides with content changes and sequences introduced in new textbooks as well as introducing innovative teaching methods and suggestions for ongoing assessment of pupils' learning.

Fully developed, detailed teachers' guides for each textbook, in each subject and at each level, are doubly important in the Somali education context, where few teachers are trained and experienced enough to be able to facilitate quality learning without such support and where other forms of teachers' resources, such as school or district level teachers' libraries, professional networks or web-based resources, are simply not available. The revised guides, once laid out and adapted in line with the two versions of the syllabuses and pupils' books for Somaliland and Somalia, will be printed and distributed to schools with the support of DfID and UNICEF as essential tools for developing the capacity of teachers to provide accessible, meaningful learning experiences to Somali children.

* Jean is former Senior Specialist in Textbook Revision at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris (2004-2009 on an Appointment of Limited Duration Contract funded by USAID). She is currently head of Spectacle Learning Media in Stratham New Hampshire and continues to work with UNESCO and other international organizations as a consultant on temporary contracts.  She is aspiring to become a member of the UNESCO National Commission in 2012.