Somalian education sector shows sign of progress despite low enrolment rates, spending

Somalia’s population is estimated to have reached 16 million in 2020, growing rapidly at nearly 3 per cent annually.  Almost half of this relatively young population is eligible to attend school. This growth is driven by large family sizes, averaging six members per household, as well as high gross birth rate. The demand for education places demographic pressure on government resources, already constrained by years of conflict, finds IIEP-UNESCO Dakar’s Somalia Education Sector Analysis 2022.

A student writes on the blackboard at Qansahley Primary School in Dollow town, Somalia.

While Somalia is undergoing economic and societal rebuilding, with growth witnessed in key sectors, some key human development pointers remain of particular concern. For instance, poverty remains widespread with 69 per cent of the population estimated to be living below the poverty line in 2018. Moreover, nomadic and rural populations suffer the most from the weakened government's ability to provide basic services, which affects their access to education.

To improve the education system structure, the government adopted the General Education Act in February 2021 and streamlined the structure of other sub-sectors, including religious education, technical and vocational education (TVET), and components of the general education sub-sector, such as Alternative Basic Education and Adult Basic Education. The new law is the result of a review of the 2017 General Education Act to, among other elements, provide clarity in the functions of different agencies and departments within the sector.

Tracking progress amidst institutionalization of the education system

While progress has been made in the institutionalization of the education system, access remains low and drop-out high.  The average number of school years Somali children can expect to receive in their life known as School Life Expectancy, is 1.72 years, with considerable disadvantage to girls who receive 1.48 years of schooling compared to 1.95 for boys. This is significantly lower than the African average of 7.7 years, and even lower than the five years observed in South Sudan which has experienced recent conflicts like Somalia.

1.72 years
is the average number of school years (School Life Expectancy) Somali children can expect to receive in their life

One of the greatest achievements in the Somalian education sector in recent years has been the reintroduction of national primary and secondary examinations. While low levels of access to education were recorded, these assessments reflect positive achievements in terms of learning outcomes.

At the primary level, 90 per cent of grade eight students were seen to have passed end-of-cycle examinations in 2020. Gender parity was further seen to be achieved in results, with female and male students demonstrating parallel pass rates. Gendered differences were, however, seen at the subject level, with more male students passing the exam sections in social sciences and English than their female counterparts.  As the primary level examinations were only introduced in 2020, it is not possible to identify trends over time, however, the strong learning outcomes observed is a positive indicator for the quality of education being received in Somalian primary institutions.

"Somalia has yet to deliver on its promise to the country's children in education, but progress is notable with the adoption of a new education law, the launch of end-of-cycle exams, the reintroduction of technical secondary education to improve the external efficiency of education, and the launch of dialogue in partnership with public school owners to encourage them to run schools in a standard way. This, coupled with the sharp increase in education funding in the last five years alone, even if overall it remains low, are all tangible achievements that Somalia can be proud of and build on."

Polycarp Omondi Otieno
Education policy analyst and planner at IIEP-UNESCO Dakar

The coverage of the end of secondary examinations has increased significantly, with 11 times more students sitting the exam in 2020 than in 2015, when the examination was first introduced. This increase in coverage has been accompanied by a decrease in the pass rate, although this remained relatively high at 75 per cent in 2020. Female students were seen to make up only 38 per cent of students sitting the Form 4 examination in 2020, with this proportion seen to be increasing overtime. While females are seen to be underrepresented in the population sitting the exam, high levels of gender parity in pass rates are observed with female students having an average of 74 per cent against 75 per cent for male students.

Elsewhere, male dominance in the teaching profession at basic and secondary levels is another pointer the sector will need to address to deal with the complex issue of retaining girls in school and sustaining quality education. Females represent only between 12 and 18 per cent of the total number of teachers at the primary level, and less than 5 per cent at the secondary level. An influx of young females into the profession, particularly at the primary level, has however been recorded in recent years.

90 %
of Grade 8 students passed end-of-cycle examinations at the primary level in 2020

Low enrolment rates persist beyond secondary education

Another major concern, not only for the sector but the country at large, is the huge proportion of eligible young people that is not reached by post-secondary programmes, with enrolment in TVET and tertiary education representing only 5 per cent of the total eligible population. Growth in enrolment is currently limited by the small number of public TVET institutions currently present, alongside the operation of only one public university.

TVET is heavily supported by non-state organizations, local NGOs being the most prominent supporters, followed by international NGOs. Furthermore, the provision of TVET is concentrated in urban areas at the expense of rural populations, increasing the vulnerability of the poor and unskilled youth to the lure of radical groups. Programmes are short, with more than half of trainees enrolled in programmes lasting less than six months. However, the government is in the process of re-entering the sector, with a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Education, Culture and Higher Education, and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs signed in April 2021.