Early Childhood Education programme in Garowe opens for class
Through the hallways of Mariama School, little voices ring out in a song: “Sifr, waḥid, iṯnan, ṯalaṯa.”
In the classroom with colorful murals, teacher Zainab Said is instructing her pre-primary students in how to count in Arabic through a song. “I praise this programme. It is especially important for us teachers to have this specific ability to teach such young students. Early Childhood Education (ECE) is the foundation of learning. I have seen how the Ministry of Education and Mariama Center have improved this programme and our skills.” Zainab has been teaching for three years.
Zainab Said is teaching her preprimary student how to write the Arabic alphabet.
Female teachers in Somalia comprise only 15 per cent. Teacher incentives are being given to 2 female teachers per school in the Slaight Family Foundation programme. Incentives encourage females to choose the teaching profession as well as free up money for the school to be able to pay school fees for the most vulnerable children. Mariama Primary and Secondary School is special as it is completely run by women: the board, the teachers and even the students are all females; the new pre-primary classes are for girls and boys, however.
The Slaight Family Foundation is supporting 12 schools in Puntland. With this initiative, UNICEF is assisting the Ministry of Education to develop an ECE curriculum framework, syllabus, Teacher Training Materials and training of teachers.
“Through community mobilization, parents learned that children who attend pre-primary perform better in school and even at home. They interact so well with other children, learn to play together, respect each other and make friends,” says Hodan Mohamed Abshir, Head of Early Childhood Education at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education of Puntland.
4-year-old Abdulahi (left) and his classmates are learning the alphabet in three languages.
The Slaight education programme has a target of enrolling 900 children aged 3-5 across Puntland by 2023 and has reached 84 per cent of the goal already - with 90 of those students in Mariama ECE Center. Poverty and the pastoralist lifestyle are the main reasons children are not sent to school in Puntland. Some families have many children and can only educate a few, usually males, or they are constantly on the move in search of pasture for their animals. The Slaight Family Foundation is getting these children into the classroom.
During the COVID pandemic, schools were closed for 6 months but about 80 per cent of the students have returned to Mariama School. “The Somali people are very close families and support each other. Parents in town send money to families in the countryside who lost livestock during the COVID pandemic. Then there is no money for their children to go to school. Here at Mariama, we save a few seats for students that cannot pay their school fees. But there are so many more children that need help to come to school,” says Mariama School and Center Head Teacher, Zainab Hassan Yusuf.
Teacher Zainub finds joy in these moments with her students Abdishekur and Manal (l-r).
“Preprimary education really helps these children start life with an advantage. They are taught Somali, Arabic and English, literacy and numeracy. They have a base to make better decisions. They are learning all these things before the age of 5,” adds Ms. Abshir.
“I like best to swing,” says 3-year-old Abdishekur Ahmed Farah as he jumps on a stuffed animal. “I really enjoy playtime with my students, they are even learning now,” laughs teacher Zainab as she makes sure the children share the toys.