Working Under Fire: being a teacher in Somalia
The following is an article Education International (EI) received from Mr. Abdurahman Hassan Warsame, Vice-president of the Somalia National Union of Teachers (SNUT), which has applied for EI membership. EI does not currently have an affiliate in the war-torn country.
Education has always been an integral part of the Somali way of life. During the pre-colonial period, children received religious education which featured memorisation of the Koran, the holy book of Islam, and the study of the basic principles of the Islamic religion. This education took place in a “dugsi”, meaning a “shelter” in Somali. After independence in 1960 many modern schools were opened throughout the country. Pupils were able to study a variety of academic subjects. Unfortunately, the expansion of education in the country was not accompanied by progress in teachers’ rights or the creation of teacher unions, as the post-colonial government saw freedom of association as a threat to its very existence. In the face of oppression, no-one dared advocate for teachers’ rights. Teachers were arrested and sometimes even tortured for holding political or academic views not in line with those of the authoritarian regime. In 1991, with the collapse of the Somali central government, all education activity came to a grinding halt. Some schools were destroyed in the factional fighting that followed the fall of the military regime. Others became homes for squatters or landless people. Teachers and their families suffered from widespread unemployment. As the civil war continued, education became less of a priority to people living under the mercy of cruel warlords, widespread famine and chronic drought. Nowadays it is a real challenge to be a teacher in a war-torn country like Somalia. Dangerous may be a better word, because teachers have to work literally under fire. There are daily casualties in the teaching ranks. As I write this article, there is renewed fighting in Mogadishu, the capital. Six teachers and 11 students have either died or been seriously injured in the latest spell of violence. Schools have been closed for weeks in midst of the final examinations. It is against that background that the Somalia National Union of Teachers (SNUT) was created as a non-governmental, non-profit, non-political organisation to help teachers in these difficult times. SNUT endeavours to promote the rights of teachers and quality of education in Somalia, and is prepared to work with all national and international parties concerned. SNUT works in the following areas:
- The promotion of teachers’ rights, especially in the current difficult circumstances, where these rights are constantly violated by employers who may fire teachers at a moment’s notice without any justification or any termination allowance;
- The promotion of equal opportunities for lady teachers, who now represent only 1% of all teachers despite the fact that 56% of the country population are women. They are not encouraged by society at large and the school owners’ associations in particular.
- Assistance to teachers with special needs. Differently-abled teachers are not employed in schools despite their talent and knowledge.
- Formulation of national education strategy. SNUT will work with all concerned in the development of a national strategy for education.
In order to realize all these and other visions and ambitions to promote teachers and education in the country, SNUT is seeking to work with EI and its member organisations. SNUT believes membership of EI will give a moral boost to Somali teachers as well as credibility and authority to stand for the rights of teachers everywhere in Somalia. SNUT hopes to exchange views and experiences with other sister organisations.