- Before COVID-19, an estimated 3 million children in Somalia were out of school and those in school were struggling to learn.
- The COVID-19 pandemic combined with the effects of protracted crises have exacerbated Somalia’s education challenges.
- Through several interventions, GPE has been supporting Somalia to ensure the most vulnerable children have access to learning.
This story was written in collaboration with Save the Children.
For 3 million school-aged children in Somalia, getting an education is still a distant dream. Challenges confronting the education system are the direct consequence of protracted emergencies – stemming from conflict and natural disasters like drought and flooding – over the past two decades. The COVID-19 pandemic is further exacerbating education challenges and threatens to put decades of gains at risk.
Key challenges facing the education sector in Somalia include the lack of access to school for too many children and widespread inequity. Even when children go to school, the quality of education is low. This, along with a high number of unqualified and untrained teachers, multiple curricula, poor education infrastructure and weak capacity for service delivery, means children are struggling to learn.
Through two emergency grants, GPE has been supporting the Federal Government of Somalia to ensure the most vulnerable children are in school and learning.
A focus on the most vulnerable students
In 2020, Somalia received a US$9.17 million accelerated grant towards supporting the education of emergency-affected children. The grant, managed by Save the Children, supports the regions with the highest proportion of school-aged children in need of humanitarian assistance. These include children from internally displaced communities, over-age children who never returned to school and children with disabilities.
For the first time in Somalia, the Federal Government, with support from GPE, has launched initiatives to cater to children with disabilities. These initiatives are allowing schools to better support the needs of these children and ensure they are participating and learning.
In an effort to increase equitable access to education, GPE has supported the construction of 82 teaching and learning spaces in locations with the largest concentration of internally displaced Somalis. Furthermore, 50 schools are receiving safe drinking water to help children stay healthy and maintain hygiene and sanitation practices at school – a critical intervention in times of COVID-19.
Since girls face greater challenges to learn, the GPE program also focuses on initiatives to increase gender equality: gender-segregated latrines have been constructed in 50 schools; 3,000 girls have received sanitary kits and over 4,700 girls have been provided with school uniforms.
To improve learning outcomes, the GPE-funded program has supported the procurement and distribution of nearly 295,000 textbooks and learning materials benefiting over 35,000 students. Additionally, 450 teachers and head teachers in community schools – whose salaries are usually paid by parents – are now receiving financial incentives on a monthly basis. The incentives aim to ensure that the poorest communities, who may not be able to pay teacher salaries, can retain their educators and continue to enroll their children in school.
Overcoming the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic
The pandemic disrupted education around the world, and Somalia was no exception. To curb the spread, the government closed schools. As there were no distance learning options available at the onset of the pandemic, a large number of children were left without access to education. As in many other countries, the most vulnerable children were the most affected.
A US$5.4 million COVID-19 emergency grant, also managed by Save the Children, enabled the GPE program to focus on promoting learning continuity while ensuring a safe return to school. The COVID-19 grant focused on supporting the most urgent needs that were unlikely to be covered by other donors in the short term.
With these funds, an online platform was launched, which hosts both video and audio educational content. To date, 200 schools have been registered and over 5,000 students are accessing the platform on a daily basis. To ensure wider coverage, the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education airs both the audio and video lessons through national TV and radio FM channels.
Vulnerable students received radios with memory cards and USB flash drives, which carry all lessons for grades 1 to 8. In total, more than 9,900 radios were distributed. To compensate for the limited access to electricity, solar panels were distributed to help students charge and use the radios for lessons. The audio lessons serve 70% of students in hard-to-reach areas, along with marginalized and internally displaced children.
The COVID-19 grant also ensured children with disabilities continued learning during the pandemic. It supported the production and distribution of over 8,600 copies of braille textbooks, which benefitted more than 650 visually impaired students. In addition, 199 hearing-impaired students received assistive devices.
The GPE program is encouraging a safe return to school for students by procuring and distributing 10,900 water, sanitation and hygiene supplies including soap, hand sanitizer, cleaning gloves and buckets, among other materials. Furthermore, another 42 schools can now access safe drinking water as a result of this grant.
Fostering a partnership approach
GPE’s contributions go beyond funding. The GPE partnership approach has fostered coordination within the education sector by encouraging regular meetings of the education sector committee in Mogadishu, and annual joint sector reviews to monitor the implementation of Somalia’s education sector plan. The European Union plays a key role as the coordinating agency for GPE’s work in Somalia, and USAID is chairing an education donor group.
The two GPE accelerated funding grants were also developed in close collaboration with the Somalia Education Cluster that coordinates education in emergencies. These efforts have proven to be an effective catalyst for a better coordinated and harmonized approach to improving education in Somalia.
GPE is helping the Federal Government of Somalia focus on the most pressing needs of the education system, but of equal importance is how GPE’s support has improved sector dialogue and brought partners together under common goals. By working in partnership, the Federal Government of Somalia, GPE and other development partners is able to transform the education system at scale.
*Name has been changed.