Now, as peace returns to the capital Mogadishu, the new Somali government is keen to get as many children as possible back into school. There are around 1,600 state-run primary schools in operation offering young Somali children a free education.
Speaking to The Guardian, Somalia’s secretary general for youth and labour in the newly-formed government said that one of the priorities was to ensure girls were in school. He told the newspaper “girls make up 50% of the population [and] there is a need for them to be educated”.
Education is a key priority for many parents in Somalia, a country where a popular proverb is “to be without knowledge is to be without light”. Since primary education is free, there is generally gender-parity at this level in most regions. However, from secondary school onwards, many girls drop out of education. For struggling families, cost is often the main issue, though there can also be cultural pressure on girls to marry early. However, the new secretary general for youth and labour believes it’s important for girls to access education at all levels. He says he would like to see girls “reach higher and higher until we have a female Somali president”.
But even where families want their daughters to stay on to the highest levels, fees remain a huge stumbling block. All the universities active in Somalia are privately run and there are very few state scholarships available. One first-year medical student said her biggest problem was affording the 125 dollars per month fee to carry on her with her studies.
Despite the costs, universities in Mogadishu are reporting an increase in student numbers following the improved security situation. Since there is high demand in Somalia for well-educated and skilled workers, the private tertiary education sector is thriving. Students whose families can afford to pay the course fees can be confident they will have no problems finding employment once they graduate.
The new government recognises that the cost of higher education makes it unaffordable for most Somali families and there are already plans in place to build new state universities and to rebuild those destroyed during the long years of conflict. Many of the new ministers in the government enjoyed free access to higher education and a state grant when they themselves were younger. And as Somalia heads for better times, they would like to see the next generation benefiting from the same.