Fifteen-year-old Nasra Aidarus is happy to be back in class after a four-month school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic that hit Somalia.
The seventh-grader at Daynile Primary and Secondary School was just settling into her new school when classes were canceled in March to limit the coronavirus spread. Her family came back to Somalia in 2018 after living in Yemen as refugees for years.
She was worried she might never fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor.
She said her greatest fear was not being able to complete her education and being married off at a young age because of the school closure.
Aidarus is one of 390 students who went back to the school in the Daynile District in mid-August, but more have yet to report for fear contracting the coronavirus.
Daud Jiran, Mercy Corps Somalia’s country director, said the coronavirus pandemic has taken away years of gains in drawing children, mostly girls, into classrooms.
“When the schools were going on, girls had a safe space,” Jiran said. “We understand from the little assessment that we do that girls are being depended on more by their families. So the burden of social support to their families has become more. Girls dropping out of school have increased.
“We also see when teenage girls stay home long, we see the issue of early marriage increasing now because society feels they need support.”
Aid agencies say Somalia has one of the world’s largest populations of children out of school — 2 million out 5 million of school age.
Years of disruption
The country’s educational system has been affected by decades of conflict, displacement and, most recently, the coronavirus.
Daynile Deputy Headteacher Mahad Dahir Hassan says the school is reaching out to the children’s families, trying to assure them that the school is doing everything possible to minimize the virus’ spread by keeping students apart. Some students have heeded the call and have reported to the school, he said, but others have not. School officials, he said, sometimes even go to the youths’ homes to try to persuade them to return to classes.
More classrooms were created to allow greater spacing in an effort to limit the spread of the virus, which has resulted in teachers working at least two shifts a day.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo has just inaugurated the national curriculum for secondary schools, ending three decades of multiple nonstandardized educational systems in Somalia.