NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Somalia, taking advantage of improved security, is launching an ambitious campaign on Sunday to get one million children into school in the next three years.
Fewer children attend school in Somalia than almost anywhere else in the world. Only 36 percent of girls and 45 percent of boys enrol in primary school, far fewer in the war-torn south and central regions.
“There has never been a more opportune time during the last two decades than now, to act on behalf of Somali children,” the United Nations children’s fund (Unicef) said in a statement.
Somalia’s federal government, with the backing of African Union peacekeepers, has extended its control across southern and central Somalia over the last year. It has pushed the al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebel group al Shabaab out of several major towns in the region, increasing access for aid agencies.
This has “opened up a rare window of opportunity” to revive education in the country, Unicef said.
It will spend $117 million on school reconstruction, teacher training and salaries, textbooks and support to education ministries in Somalia and the semi-autonomous northern regions of Somaliland and Puntland.
Some 4.4 million Somali children never attend school, out of a total population of 9.2 million people.
Around 67 percent of Somali youths are unemployed, one of the highest rates in the world. Mass illiteracy and unemployment has deprived a generation of hope and left many vulnerable to radicalisation.
“Education will be the foundation of a new Somalia,” Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon said at a national education conference in Mogadishu in June. “My government will give education the same priority as defence and security.”
Education is key to pulling Somalia out of crisis. It can give young people skills to become productive members of society, rather than joining militias, and knowledge to improve their health and wellbeing.
“Without a stable path to education, the cycle of poverty and instability will extend beyond generations,” Unicef said.
Somalia has been in conflict for two decades with no single entity ever fully in control. Despite the African peacekeepers’success in securing urban centres, the rebels still control much of the countryside.