It’s not easy to be a student in Somalia. Alongside more commonplace issues of quality and access shared by neighboring nations, Somalia has problems unique to its restless history. In this fractured nation wracked by persistent violence, there are few educational certainties.
Students, parents and teachers can, however, rely on one sure thing. EDC’s Somali Interactive Radio Instruction Program (SIRIP) broadcasts a regular schedule of high-quality, imaginative educational programs on shortwave and FM bands in the South-Central Region, Somaliland in the northwest, and Puntland in the northeast. SIRIP programs are produced and broadcast by EDC with funding from USAID.
The most recent outbreak of violence began in early 2007. An estimated sixty percent of Mogadishu’s residents have fled their homes, and many of them have gone to internally displaced person (IDP) camps at the city outskirts. In these camps refugees live close together in tents and makeshift structures, safer from violence but subjected to ever-increasing hardships.
“The SIRIP radio education program remains the only alternative for education for many IDP children encamped in the Mogadishu outskirts,” says Feysal Osman, Regional Coordinator for SIRIP in South-Central Somalia. “Temporary learning centers were set up right away after their displacement by one of SIRIP’s partners.”
Teachers trained in interactive radio instruction (IRI) methodologies are among the displaced, and they are working to ensure learning continues despite the unrest. EDC had trained teachers in 60 tent schools in the camps and will conduct further trainings of teachers and distribute wind-up radios and other materials to encourage tuning in to the broadcasts.
“A whole generation faced a black future because of lack of basic education,” says Osman. “Fortunately, now there is a joint education response program for providing basic education. EDC’s role here is to provide quality basic education through radio and, together with partners operating on the ground, train teachers, distribute teaching and learning materials, and monitor learning.”
SIRIP does much more than reach the IDP camps. Daunting educational challenges are common throughout the country: Somalia has one of the lowest student enrollment rates in the world, little public financing of education is available, and there is a limited supply of qualified teachers. In addition, the country’s division into three administrative zones after 1991 gave rise to three separate ministries of education that operate independently with little coordinated planning.
Interactive Radio Instruction is well-suited to address these challenges. For instance, IRI can quickly reach a large number of school age children who are in and out of the formal education system, and IRI is by nature less susceptible to periods of unrest as content can be regularly delivered from afar. And while IRI content is most effective with a facilitator or teacher who conducts pre- and post-broadcast sessions, small radios are widespread in Somalia and many children are able to take advantage of the programs outside of a classroom setting. IRI programs are also effective; a recent study showed that children in IRI schools performed significantly better than students without IRI in mathematics and Somali literacy.
Halima Ibrahim, a mother of two who fled with her family to the south west outskirts of Mogadishu, appreciates IRI’s flexibility. “We are not intending to go back to Mogadishu anytime soon,” says Halima. “This radio program is a golden opportunity for our children to continue their learning in the camp’s tent school.”
Ibrahim also says SIRIP reaches many people outside of schools. “For many adults, especially housewives like me, life would be very boring without it,” she says. “The people here are addicted to listening [to the SIRIP programs], which we call Barnaamijka Mustaqbal” (the Program of the Future).
Halima’s example shows why SIRIP works: the demand for education remains strong in Somalia despite years of turmoil, and SIRIP is able to supply continuous educational content.
Mr. Osman agrees, having spent years helping Somalis get the education they desire. “Take a look at photographs showing children learning from SIRIP programs in IDP camps,” he says. “You will observe how Somalis do value education despite all of the difficulties they face.”
Originally published on August 21, 2008