(ERGO) – Education for hundreds of children in the southern Somali region of Bakool is at risk after local schools closed down due to lack of funds to pay the teachers and provide school meals.
Elbarde district education commissioner, Mohamed Hussein Omar, told Radio Ergo that nearly 2,000 students would be affected if 12 schools that previously benefited from donor support closed permanently. At least 348 children have already dropped out because the free school meals programme has ended.
The schools in the district were providing free education and free lunch to the students, most of whom come from poor or internally displaced families living in the area. Local NGO, Hiddig, was paying the salaries of 30 teachers and providing school lunches with funding from the UN children’s agency, UNICEF.
However, eight schools closed down last December because there was no money to pay the teachers’ $100 monthly salaries. Three have remained closed, while five reopened for the start of the new academic year in August at the request of the education authorities.
The education commissioner informed the head teachers that the South West state education ministry was in discussions with donors and was hopeful that support would resume if the schools opened again.
Anab Ibrahim Abdullahi, a teacher at Qurac-joome primary school, said 46 students at her school had dropped out since the free meals programme stopped.
“Some of the students have become shoe-shiners because their families can’t afford to feed them. Currently, there are some spending their day at the khat market collecting the leftover khat to sell,” she said. “Before this the meals used to be an incentive that was keeping them in school.”
Qurac-joome school was established on 14 September 2017 by UNICEF. The six teachers have not been paid since they resumed work in August and are juggling various jobs.
“We take turns to teach the students. Some of the teachers go to the market to hustle for their families while the rest teach for the day. The next day, the other teachers turn up for work and those who taught the previous day go to the market to hustle, so we don’t demoralise the remaining students and we don’t fail to provide for our families,” Anab explained.
Mohamed Ibrahim Hassan, the head teacher of Abeesaale primary school, said hundreds of students whose parents cannot afford to pay school fees could lose out on education. He said none of the teachers were happy to continue working without pay.
“Education gets disrupted when the teachers don’t get paid. As a head teacher, I can’t even tell the teachers to take their jobs seriously. I can only reprimand someone if they are being paid to do their job,” he said. “The schools will close if the teachers don’t get any salary.”
Abeesaale primary school, with 213 pupils, reopened after hearing from the ministry that the resumption of funding was imminent. It is the only school in the village 30 kilometres from Elbarde town and was built in 2017 by the local community. The teachers were paid by funds raised by the residents until UNICEF began supporting it in September 2019.
Hiddig’s Elbarde officer, Abdullahi Omar, said UNICEF stopped its support to the 12 schools in the district in September 2020 when the project ended.
Parents in Elbarde are concerned about their children’s education and are asking for support for the schools to be reinstated.
Salado Adan Ali, a mother living in Qurac-joome IDP camp, is worried about the future for her five children who were enrolled at the primary school.
“We are people who lost our livestock to drought, and we have nothing today. We provide for our children by collecting firewood,” said Salado, whose livestock died in drought in southern Somalia in 2012.
“The teachers are not getting any salary and we can’t afford to pay them, yet we need them to teach our children.”