In Somalia, inclusive education refers to a ‘system that affords all learners access to free and compulsory basic education and secondary education of real quality, followed by the opportunity to continue with lifelong education and training, so enhancing their personal development and contributing to Somalia’s cultural development, socio-economic growth and global competitiveness.’ In Somaliland, inclusive education refers to children with special education needs who attend mainstream schools.
Special education needs
Somalia identifies different groups under the term students with special needs. These learners are visually impaired, movement impaired or hearing impaired, suffer trauma because of conflict or present early developmental delays due to malnutrition or disease. They also include those with disabilities, the marginalized, nomadic pastoralists and very poor children, girls and those affected by emergencies.
According to Somaliland’s 2017–21 education sector plan, ‘The Ministry will review its narrow definition of special needs, as consideration needs to be given to learners with a range of learning difficulties. Within the Somali context, and especially with the numbers of displaced peoples far more attention needs to be given to slow learners and those with behavioural problems, especially related to trauma.’
Children with disabilities have ‘very limited access to any educational opportunities and face widespread discrimination’ in the education sector. In this regard, Somalia’s 2018–20 education sector strategic plan states that ‘there is no information about schools for special needs children, which suggests that children with special needs attend regular schools.’ A school for deaf students opened its doors in the late 1990s in Borama; this school now serves 174 deaf students and provides grade 1 to grade 5 education. Two other such schools, Hargeisa School for the Deaf and Sound and Silent Primary school, were founded in 2001 and 2003, respectively. For the first time in decades, more than 20 blind and partially sighted students were expected to take the Somali national secondary examinations in May 2019.
In Somaliland, research has shown that 45% of children with disabilities attend school. An informal survey of 10 schools in Mogadishu in 2015 found that less than 1% of children with disabilities were enrolled in school.
Somalia ratified the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1978 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2005. It has ratified neither the Convention Against Discrimination in Education nor the Convention Against Discrimination in Education.
Article 30 of the 2012 Provisional Constitution of the Federal Republic of Somalia protects the right to education, but it is limited in scope to Somali citizens. Article 11 states that: ‘All citizens, regardless of sex, religion, social or economic status, political opinion, clan, disability, occupation, birth or dialect shall have equal rights and duties before the law. All State programs, such as laws, or political and administrative actions that are designed to achieve full equality for individuals or groups who are disadvantaged, or who have suffered from discrimination in the past, shall be deemed to be not discriminatory.’
Somalia’s Ministry of Education, Culture and Higher Education developed the 2018–20 education sector strategic plan, outlining its priorities to increase access to quality education for children and equip youth with the skills and knowledge needed to contribute to social, political and economic development. The latter document states that ‘there is a gap regarding specific laws and policies’ targeting the particular barriers to education that vulnerable groups face, such as girls and nomadic or internally displaced children. In Somaliland, the 2011–15 education sector strategic framework (ESSP Strategic Framework) aimed to establish a national special education needs policy by 2012. This framework also aimed to ‘integrate SEN [special education needs] of manageable disabilities into ordinary primary schools’.
The 2017–21 education sector plan of Somaliland outlines among its objectives ‘To promote equity and inclusion for all students’, in particular of those with special needs, girls, children in the context of emergencies, nomadic pastoralist students and children in hard to reach areas, and out of school children and youth.
Somalia has signed the UN Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1994). The federal government acceded to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on 2 October 2018. Ratification instruments have been prepared and submitted to the Foreign Relations Committee of the House of the People for approval and transmission to the president for ratifying signature. In tandem with the ratification process for the CRPD, the federal government formulated a bill for the establishment of a Somalia National Disability Agency. This bill was approved by both houses of Parliament and signed into law by the president on 31 December 2018. In addition, the Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development has initiated the development process for a Somalia Disability Bill. The provisional federal Constitution provides equal rights before the law for persons with disabilities and prohibits the state from discriminating against them.
A 2015 study by Amnesty International notes that Somaliland and Puntland have made more progress than the Somali federal government in developing policies on persons with disabilities.
The 1993 Somaliland National Charter and the Puntland Charter prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. In Somaliland, Articles 40 and 41 of the Education Act deal with the education of pupils with special education needs. It mentions that the State, diverse ministries, institutions and other national bodies have the shared responsibility to implement programmes to improve the learning of students with special needs as well as their social protection and assistance and to train teachers to this end.
In Somaliland, the Ministry of Education implemented Inclusive Education Guidelines, but in 2015 the national policy on the rights of people with disabilities was still in the draft stage. Somaliland also adopted a 2015 National Disability Policy and a 2012 National Mental Health Policy which discussed the need to implement a unit for data collection on persons with disabilities to inform what provisions are required and how to meet the needs of the population. This first policy aimed to be used as a guideline for designing, implementing and evaluating future government policies, legislation and a national disability action plan to ensure meaningful inclusion of persons with disabilities into Somaliland society. In addition, the Puntland Ministry of Education launched a 2011–15 strategic plan (link not available), including a section on special education, and a 2017–19 development plan that states that the government must give protection to people with disability and fully implement all the disability policies and endorse the CRPD. Finally, the 2016–20 Somaliland National Plan of Action for Children aims to bring together the government’s obligations in the realization of the right to education of children in Somaliland. Similarly, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of Somalia drafted a Child Protection Policy designed to address the most urgent child protection needs in Somaliland in order to enhance enrolment rates of children with disabilities.
According to an OHCHR report in 2015, while Somalia and Somaliland have a national gender policy, Puntland and Jubbaland had yet to develop one. Somalia has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The 2018–20 UN Somalia Gender Equality Strategy does not focus on education but addresses the lack of access to education, the fight against sexual and gender-based violence and the production of increasingly sex-disaggregated data. Strategy 7.3 of Somalia’s 2018–20 education sector strategic plan aims to attain gender equity and parity in education and focus on overcoming cultural barriers to women’s leadership. To this end, key actions include developing a gender and education policy through extensive political and community-level consultations. The Ministry of Education will also review human resources recruitment practices to ensure that a greater proportion of women hold teaching positions at all levels, including management positions. In addition, the Ministry of Education set out to conduct social awareness-raising activities, such as girl ambassadors programmes to promote girls' enrolment and empowerment, in 30% of schools by 2020.
Since 2016, the Somali Girls Education Project has aimed to mainstream disability and inclusive education in teacher training. It also responds to the emerging needs of marginalized sub-groups, such as girls and pastoralists who have dropped out of schools, through provision of accelerated basic education classes.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
The Provisional Constitution of 2012 states that the official language of Somalia is Somali and Arabic is the second language. Article 31 on education also states that the State shall promote the positive traditions and cultural practices of the Somali people while striving to eliminate from the community emerging customs and practices that have a negative impact on the unity, civilization and well-being of society. It also maintains that the state must promote the cultural practices and local dialects of minorities. Somalia intends to adopt a language policy that affirms the status of Somali as a first language, and that is the foundation upon which other languages are learned and through which education proceeds. That said, special consideration is given to Arabic and English in Somalian schools, with both taught as language subject courses.
In Somaliland, Articles 18 and 19 of the Education Act state that elementary schools should generally provide instruction in Somali, while middle school courses are in English. Somali should be taught as a subject.
People living in rural or remote areas
In Somaliland, the Education Act pays particular attention to the development and expansion of education to reach regions, districts and villages. It aims to provide incentives for teachers to work in remote rural areas. In addition, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank Joint Needs Assessment of Somalia provide guidelines concerning the opportunities and challenges of rural development operations in the country regarding education.
Current United Nations programmes mainly consist of school feeding, assisting approximately 130,000 children with two meals a day, and take-home rations for girls, assisting over 60,000 girls. In Puntland, the Global Partnership for Education programme aims to provide primary school fee scholarships to 2,650 pupils from marginalized groups such as rural children, girls, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and disabled children and to purchase and distribute learning materials to 2,650 children. Of the textbooks, 500 are reserved for disabled pupils.
A comprehensive poverty reduction strategy is embedded in the 2020–24 National Development Plan (NDP), which mentions that ‘Stakeholder consultations and the NDP-9 poverty analysis consistently identified low levels of education and poor access to other basic public services (such as health, water and sanitation) as leading causes of poverty.’ Education was identified as the priority social development sector by stakeholders and analysis. Among the areas to prioritize, the strategy highlights ‘Focusing on education initiatives for the most vulnerable’, with ‘low enrolment rates for primary and secondary schools, especially for girls and those in rural locations’ to be addressed and improved. Other priority areas include recruitment of female teachers; reaching out to households to encourage them to send girls to schools; investment in school infrastructure, school water and sanitation facilities; and improvements in security.
Refugees and inclusive education in emergencies
The National Policy on Refugee-Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons was adopted by the federal government in July 2019. It sets in its principle 6 on the right to an adequate standard of living that ‘All refugee-returnees and IDPs have the right, like any other citizen, to an adequate standard of living, and regardless of any circumstances and without discrimination, they shall be provided with … basic education’. In its principle 8 it establishes that ‘the Federal Government of Somalia shall also ensure that refugee-returnees and IDPs have access to or may obtain replacement documentation for title deeds, educational certificates and other crucial documents.’ Its principle 9 sets that ‘refugee-returnees and IDPs, whether or not they are living in camps, shall not be discriminated against in the enjoyment of their rights, including the ones listed below, as a result of their displacement: ... the right to access to education, health and justice, and all other rights that the Somali National Constitution and international instruments provide’ and ‘the provision of special efforts to ensure that women and girls have unrestricted access to education’. Finally, the policy highlights that ‘basic health and education services will be established or reconstructed in areas where refugee-returnees and IDPs return or resettle, and will be upgraded or expanded in urban areas where refugee-returnees and IDPs integrate locally; the school transfer of refugee-returnee and IDP children will be facilitated with respective documentation; and diplomas and degrees obtained in other countries or parts of the country will be recognized’.
Since 2014, UNHCR has been working to ensure the reintegration and inclusive support of repatriated refugees and poor children from the host community of Kismayu, Jubaland (Mercy Corps). In parallel, between June 2018 and April 2019, Finn Church Aid aimed to ensure inclusive access to quality education for 3,000 children of drought-affected displaced and host communities. The interventions targeted four primary schools through school rehabilitation, training for teachers and children as well as awareness raising. Similarly, Inclusive Education in Post-Conflict Somalia was implemented in 2013 in Mogadishu, Afgoye and Baidoa and aimed to address some critical gaps in Somalia’s education sector, mainly in infrastructure, pupil enrolment and gender inclusion. This project has allowed pupils to access functional and disabled-friendly classrooms and separate latrines. In addition, teachers have acquired skills to better deal with out-of-school and special needs children.
According to the National Development Plan, ‘The Ministry of Planning in close consultation with the Ministries of Labour and Education commissioned in 2018 a research consortium on the creation of an inclusive, indigenous and sustainable Human Capital Development Mechanism (HCDM). The overarching objectives of the HCDM are first to establish partnerships with leading human capital development stakeholders from the public sector, private sector, civil society and academia in line with NDP-9. The baseline study and the national strategy will be released in early 2020 and will guide developing the human capital of the Somali citizens.’
Within the federal government, the Federal Ministry of Education is officially responsible for education in Somalia. The Somalia National Disability Council represents persons with disabilities at the national level, while the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is the lead ministry on disability. Since 2013, the Ministry of Human Rights has organized public awareness campaigns and initiated legislation on human rights. Within the Puntland government, the Ministry of Education aims at developing and managing the region’s education needs. In Somaliland, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is responsible for child protection and disability.
Education is provided primarily by a range of non-government institutions, including the traditional Koranic (Q’ranic) school system, communities, foreign donors, the governments in Somaliland and Puntland, and the private sector for vocational training institutes. In this regard, there are also a number of local non-government organizations who provide services and advocacy to promote inclusive education, such as Action Africa Help, ADRA Somalia, Africa Educational Trust, American Refugee Committee, Amnesty International, CARE International, CISP (International Committee for the Development of Peoples), Concern, Disability Action Network, Disability Protection Association, Education Development Trust (previously CfBT), EFASOM (Somalia Coalition for Education for All), Handicap International, Mercy Corps, OIC Somalia (Organization of Islamic Cooperation), REACH Somalia, Relief International, Save the Children, Somali Disability Empowerment Network, Somali National Association of the Deaf, Trocaire and World Vision. Locally, the Disability and Development Center encourages students to engage in advocacy for the rights of children with disabilities.
According to the 2020–24 National Development Plan, ‘The ESSP Strategic Framework cites transparency, accountability, poor infrastructure and weak capacity as challenges within the Ministry of Education and outlines that fewer than one percent of its personnel are paid from government sources.’
The National Policy on Refugee-Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons set a clear role for ministries where it states that ‘This policy recognizes the roles of line ministries both at federal and state levels, and departments of the BRA with their sectoral responsibilities towards refugee-returnees and IDPs. The particular ministries responsible are the MOPIED [Ministry of Planning, Investment and Economic Development], Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Ministry of Public Works, Reconstruction and Housing, Ministry of National Security, Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development, and Ministry of Youth and Sports, although other ministries can be involved where applicable.’ It calls for an interministerial task force to be established to assist refugee-returnees and IDPs.
Somaliland has adopted several laws, policies and measures to enhance the protection of human rights, including a policy on the rights of IDPs.
Schools are often physically inaccessible to children with disabilities. In addition, the distance to school and inaccessible transport options often prevent children with disabilities from attending school. In this regard, many schools do not have buildings and classes are often held outside or in temporary shelters.
In Somaliland, the 2017–21 education sector plan of Somaliland highlights that the ‘the priority of the Ministry of Education and Higher Studies (MOEHS) will be to provide accessible, safe and friendly learning environments. With the support of donors and implementing partners, the Ministry will ensure that all learning contexts are accessible to all students, particularly those with special needs.’ A 2014 presidential decree stipulated that all buildings in Somaliland, both public and private, were to provide access to all.
Article 30 of the Provisional Constitution of Somalia asserts that the state must adopt a standardized curriculum across all schools of the country and shall ensure its implementation. In Somaliland, the government aims to facilitate access to education for children with special needs. To do so, the Ministry of Education and Higher Studies is committed ‘to strengthen the national curriculum for primary education by improving its relevance and delivery taking into account matters of gender, special needs and vulnerable children’. In addition, the ministry is committed to reviewing the alternative basic education curriculum to incorporate culturally relevant material for the education of pastoralist and nomadic students and to take into account matters of gender, special needs (standardized sign language) and vulnerable children.
In Somaliland, Strategy 7.2.1 of the 2018–20 education sector strategic plan was to strengthen capacities and quality assurance systems ‘for production of inclusive and conflict sensitive learning materials’. This plan also asserted that all available materials were drawn from sources outside Somalia, making the education content decontextualized. The plan also aimed to develop a ‘robust quality assurance system’ in order to ensure the production of quality learning materials that respect the principles of conflict sensitivity, inclusion and tolerance. Since very few learners speak and understand English at a level sufficient to be able to be educated in that language at the high school level, textbooks materials are often seen as a barrier to learning unless they are written in accessible English.
Somali National University plays a crucial role in the training and certification of teachers; however, inclusive education is not one of the nine subjects covered during the training. The modules for primary teacher trainees include Arabic language, English language and Somali language. That said, some teachers gained training in inclusive education and special education needs during their time as refugees in Dadaab. In this regard, in Somaliland, there is currently no curriculum for early childhood education teacher training available and no clear training policy or strategy.
In 2005, Save the Children led a teacher training programme in Somaliland and Puntland to ensure that teachers worked in a child-centred and inclusive way. Teachers were encouraged to work in mixed classes and to end gender-based allocation of tasks such as cleaning and fetching water. The programme also developed a curriculum that promoted alternative models of education for the most disadvantaged children. This allowed 26 teacher mentors and head teachers to receive training in inclusive education. These mentors will then guide 200 teachers in teaching methods and approaches towards quality, gender-sensitive education.
Finally, the Global Partnership for Education and the federal government of Somalia aim to establish two national primary teacher training institutes and special education centres to enroll 240 student teachers and 60 children with special education needs.
Somalia’s 2018–20 education sector strategic plan states that it is likely that ‘data gathering methods exclude these children who are already enrolled in school meaning that their special needs are not being addressed.’ Indeed, limited data is available regarding students with special education needs. In Puntland, the 2017–21 education sector strategic plan identifies some indicators linked to inclusive education, such as the percentage of higher education male–female enrolment, the percentage of schools with a safe, inclusive learning environment and the number of schools with inclusive child-friendly water sanitation and hygiene facilities. Somalia's 2018–20 plan also mentions among its priorities to ‘improve tools and EMIS [education management information system] quality assurance mechanisms, and strengthen the skills and capacities of EMIS personnel at federal and state levels.’