In the colonial period, Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland pursued different educational policies. The Italians sought to train pupils to become farmers or unskilled workers so as to minimize the number of Italians needed for these purposes. The British established an elementary education system during the military administration to train Somali males for administrative posts and for positions not previously open to them. They set up a training school for the police and one for medical orderlies.
During the trusteeship period, education was supposedly governed by the Trusteeship Agreement, which declared that independence could only be based on "education in the broadest sense." Despite Italian opposition, the UN had passed the Trusteeship Agreement calling for a system of public education: elementary, secondary, and vocational, in which at least elementary education was free. The authorities were also to establish teacher training institutions and to facilitate higher and professional education by sending an adequate number of students for university study abroad.
The result of these provisions was that to obtain an education, a Somali had the choice of attending a traditional Quranic school or the Roman Catholic mission-run government schools. The language of instruction in all these schools was Arabic, not Somali. The fifteen pre-World War I schools (ten government schools and five orphanage schools) in Italian Somaliland had an enrollment of less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the population. Education for Somalis ended with the elementary level; only Italians attended intermediate schools. Of all Italian colonies, Somalia received the least financial aid for education.
In British Somaliland, the military administration appointed a British officer as superintendent of education in 1944. Britain later seconded six Zanzibari instructors from the East Africa Army Education Corps for duty with the Somali Education Department. In 1947 there were seventeen government elementary schools for the Somali and Arab population, two private schools, and a teachers' training school with fifty Somali and Arab students.
Until well after World War II, there was little demand for Western-style education. Moreover, the existence of two official languages (English and Italian) and a third (Arabic, widely revered as the language of the Quran if not widely used and understood) posed problems for a uniform educational system and for literacy training at the elementary school level.
The relative lack of direction in education policy in the prerevolutionary period under the SRC gave way to the enunciation in the early 1970s of several goals reflecting the philosophy of the revolutionary regime. Among these goals were expansion of the school system to accommodate the largest possible student population; introduction of courses geared to the country's social and economic requirements; expansion of technical education; and provision of higher education within Somalia so that most students who pursued advanced studies would acquire their knowledge in a Somali context. The government also announced its intention to eliminate illiteracy. Considerable progress toward these goals had been achieved by the early 1980s.
In the societal chaos following the fall of Siad Barre in early 1991, schools ceased to exist for all practical purposes. In 1990, however, the system had four basic levels--preprimary, primary, secondary, and higher. The government controlled all schools, private schools having been nationalized in 1972 and Quranic education having been made an integral part of schooling in the late 1970s.
The preprimary training given by Quranic schools lasted until the late 1970s. Quranic teachers traveled with nomadic groups, and many children received only the education offered by such teachers. There were a number of stationary religious schools in urban areas as well. The decision in the late 1970s to bring Islamic education into the national system reflected a concern that most Quranic learning was rudimentary at best, as well as a desire for tighter government control over an autonomous area.
Until the mid-1970s, primary education consisted of four years of elementary schooling followed by four grades designated as intermediate. In 1972 promotion to the intermediate grades was made automatic (a competitive examination had been required until that year). The two cycles subsequently were treated as a single continuous program. In 1975 the government established universal primary education, and primary education was reduced to six years. By the end of the 1978-79 school year, however, the government reintroduced the eight-year primary school system because the six-year program had proved unsatisfactory.
The number of students enrolled in the primary level increased each year, beginning in 1969-70, but particularly after 1975-76. Primary schooling theoretically began at age six, but many children started later. Many, especially girls, did not attend school, and some dropped out, usually after completing four years.
In 1981 Somalia informed the UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries that the nomadic population was "omitted from the formal education program for the purposes of forecasting primary education enrollment." In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the government provided a three-year education program for nomadic children. For six months of each year, when the seasons permitted numbers of nomads to aggregate, the children attended school; the rest of the year the children accompanied their families. Nomadic families who wanted their children to attend school throughout the year had to board them in a permanent settlement.
In addition to training in reading, writing, and arithmetic, the primary curriculum provided social studies courses using new textbooks that focused on Somali issues. Arabic was to be taught as a second language beginning in primary school, but it was doubtful that there were enough qualified Somalis able to teach it beyond the rudimentary level. Another goal, announced in the mid-1970s, was to give students some modern knowledge of agriculture and animal husbandry. Primary school graduates, however, lacked sufficient knowledge to earn a living at a skilled trade.
In the late 1980s, the number of students enrolled in secondary school was less than 10 percent of the total in primary schools, a result of the dearth of teachers, schools, and materials. Most secondary schools were still in urban areas; given the rural and largely nomadic nature of the population, these were necessarily boarding schools. Further, the use of Somali at the secondary level required Somali teachers, which entailed a training period. Beginning in the 1980-81 school year, the government created a formula for allocating postprimary students. It assumed that 80 percent of primary school graduates would go on to further education. Of these, 30 percent would attend four-year general secondary education, 17.5 percent either three- or four-year courses in technical education, and 52.5 percent vocational courses of one to two years' duration.
The principal institution of higher education was Somali National University in Mogadishu, founded in 1970. The nine early faculties were agriculture, economics, education, engineering, geology, law, medicine, sciences, and veterinary science. Added in the late 1970s were the faculty of languages and a combination of journalism and Islamic studies. The College of Education, which prepared secondary-school teachers in a two-year program, was part of the university. About 700 students were admitted to the university each year in the late 1970s; roughly 15 percent of those completed the general secondary course and the four-year technical course. Despite a high dropout rate, the authorities projected an eventual intake of roughly 25 percent of general and technical secondary school graduates.
In 1990 several other institutes also admitted secondaryschool graduates. Among these were schools of nursing, telecommunications, and veterinary science, and a polytechnic institute. The numbers enrolled and the duration of the courses were not known.
In addition, several programs were directed at adults. The government had claimed 60 percent literacy after the mass literacy campaign of the mid-1970s, but by early 1977 there were signs of relapse, particularly among nomads. The government then established the National Adult Education Center to coordinate the work of several ministries and many voluntary and part-time paid workers in an extensive literacy program, largely in rural areas for persons sixteen to forty-five years of age. Despite these efforts, the UN estimate of Somali literacy in 1990 was only 24 percent.
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