On Puntland certificates, here’s why Somalia’s education minister is wrong

EDITORIAL | Somalia’s acting education minister, Abdullahi Godah Barre, has for the fifth time insisted that Puntland students who took part in a separate exam this year do not get their certificates recognized.

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

There is a clear desire for Somalia to have a standardized, comprehensive set of examination systems to be followed by all those pursuing local education. After all, Somalia would not be the first or the last to establish such.

But by insisting on a straight-jacketed but budding policy, Mr. punishes. Barre only innocent students, who may now be forced to apply for accreditation by repeating a course that they thought they were through.

We argue that it is wrong for the federal government to directly reject the Puntland exam without first examining whether the tests correctly tested the student’s understanding, or even checking whether the syllabus taught in Puntland lives up to expectations.

Puntland was created on August 1, 1998, long before Somalia legally claimed 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 back on its feet, the idea is to strengthen diversity and not ruin success. Puntland’s tradition of setting up local exams did not start today, and students studying there do not have to be victims of a tug-of-war between a federal state and an overzealous federal government.

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

Second, Somalia’s problem begins with a lack of clarity about what federal states or the federal government should do. In transferred systems around the world, the Constitution clearly states what functions each level of government must perform. Therefore, unless a legal framework is set in black and white, it would be unwise for the Minister to assert a policy whose legal protection does not exist.

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

This explains why there are almost no functioning public schools in the Benadir region. And a look at the performance in this year’s national exam, which was announced on Sunday, shows that 9 out of ten schools were private.

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

Clearly, literacy levels cannot be tackled by clamping on areas where a system looks 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, for the past 30 years Somalia has forgotten which language to use as a medium of instruction in schools. It has forgotten how to train and retain good teachers and forgot the resources of public schools.

Then there are incessant threats of al-Shabaab and hunger, which are often combined to keep schools closed. While this made room for an emergency for private schools, they were not cheap and they certainly focused only on profits, too far for ordinary people who are not sure where their next meal is coming from.

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

AXADLETM