On Puntland certificates, here is why Somalia Education Minister is wrong


EDITORIAL | Somalia’s acting Minister for Education Abdullahi Godah Barre has insisted, for the umpteenth time, that Puntland students who sat a separate examination this year will not have their certificates recognized.

Barre’s argument is that Puntland, being a part of Somalia, should have sat the same exam as other federal states; Hirshabelle, Galmudug, Jubaland, South West, and the Benadir region.

There is an obvious desire for Somalia to have a standardized, unified set of examination system to be followed by everyone pursuing local education. After all, Somalia wouldn’t be the first one, nor the last in establishing such.

However, Mr. Barre, by insisting on a straight-jacketed, but nascent policy, is only punishing innocent students who may now be forced to seek accreditation by repeating a course they thought they were through with.

We argue that it is wrong for the Federal Government to outrightly reject Puntland exams without first investigating whether the tests properly tested the student’s understanding, or even check whether the syllabi taught in Puntland meets expectations.

Puntland was established on August 1 in 1998, long before Somalia legally asserted a federal system. It had a stable administration and often ran its own affairs as other parts of Somalia’s south fell among warlords.

Now that Somalia is standing back to its feet again, the idea is to strengthen diversity, not vilify success. Puntland’s tradition of setting local exams did not start today and students studying there don’t have to be victims of a tug-of-war between a federal state and overzealous federal government agent.

The problem with Somalia is not whether a federal state should have its own exams, there are other federal governments in the world like Germany which allow regions to run their own education systems What is needed is to enhance quality.

Second, Somalia’s problem begins with a lack of clarity on what federal states or the federal government should do. In devolved systems around the world, the Constitution says clearly what functions each level of government must do. Therefore, unless a legal framework is set in black and white, it would be imprudent for the Minister to assert a policy whose legal protection is non-existent.

Third, until last month, Somalia did not have a national secondary school curriculum. For the last thirty years, basic education in Somalia [primary and secondary schooling] was commercialized.

This explains why there are nearly no functioning public schools in the Benadir region. And a look at the performance in this year’s national exams announced on Sunday shows that 9 in ten schools were private.

The result of this anomaly has been Somalia’s poor literacy levels. According to the World Bank, just three in ten people in Somalia can read or write and it is worse for girls because 25 percent of the female population can read or write.

Clearly, literacy levels cannot be tackled by clamping down on areas where a system appears stable. But this may not explain the massive failures in national exams yet.

According to a report published in July by the Heritage Institute of Policy Studies in Mogadishu, Somalia has over the last 30 years forgotten about which language to use as a medium of instruction in schools. It has forgotten how to train and retain good teachers and forgot about resourcing public schools.

Then there are incessant threats of al-Shabaab and hunger, all of which often combine to keep schools shut. While this gave room for an emergency of private schools, they were not cheap and they certainly only focused on profits, too far for ordinary folk who aren’t sure where their next meal will come from.

We agree that there is a need for Somalia to adopt a standardized form of pedagogy. But we disagree that that will come through punishing innocent students who spent years preparing for an exam. Somalia needs to adopt dialogue for most of its problems. Because that is what it needs now for its future.


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