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Free Education Program in Somalia Halted Amid Teacher Strikes

Hawa Abdi Centre for Internally Displaced SomalisThis past September, Somalia launched its Go 2 School Initiative, designed to provide a free education to  one million children in Somalia, where only four out of every ten children currently attend school and, of those attending, only 36% are girls.

The program was abruptly halted when teachers went on strike in January after not being paid, leaving children without schools once again. The teachers were promised a salary of $200 a month but had only received $300 since the program first launched in September, resulting in a strike impacting 50,000 primary school children at the 12 new schools established through the campaign.

This is not the first time the new program has faced challenges. The initiative, which aimed to enroll one million children in its first year, got off to a slow start after a lackluster marketing campaign. It also faced criticism from teachers after the government failed to deliver a national curriculum to be used as a basis for instruction. In addition, parents and teachers voiced safety concerns after the country’s al-Qaida militant group warned that the schools were legitimate targets for attack.

Despite the challenges, many agreed that the program was providing hope for the many Somali families that could not afford private school tuition. In June of 2013, the first national education conference was held in Mogadishu where the Somali prime minister, Abdi Farah Shirdon, promised that the government would give education the same priority as defense, asserting that  it was the constitutional right of each child to receive education free of charge.

The Go 2 School program was launched in September with much excitement at public ceremonies in Mogadishu, Garowe and Hargeisa. UNICEF continues to urge funders to support the Go 2 School campaign, while Maryan Qasim, former Minister for Human Services and Public Services in Somalia, urged teachers to have patience with the government and commence their teaching duties.

Creative Commons Love: UN Photo/Tobin Jones on Flickr.com

Language Change in Moroccan Classrooms Blocked by Government

Children in M'Hamid, Morocco  (IMG_0982CROP)Amidst nationwide calls for education reforms, a recent attempt at a language change in Morocco’s classrooms has been blocked by the Moroccan government. Moroccan students are taught in Classical Arabic (Fus’ha), while some students are also taught in French. However, the common Arabic dialect of Morocco is Darija, a combination of Arabic, French, Spanish and Amizigh, or Berber dialects. Children grow up speaking Darija in their homes and are confused when they have to make a sudden switch to Fus’ha once they enter school.

Fus’ha is constitutionally defined as the official language of the state: government correspondence, most TV programs, newspapers, and school lectures (until college, where lectures are in French or English) are all conducted in it. However, Darija is the language social life is dictated by. Defining Fus’ha as the official language is a part of the “Arabisation” policy adopted by the Moroccan regime right after independence from France in 1956.

Since the early 2000s, Moroccan intellectual and advisors have been calling for the establishment of Darija as a “national language.” Most recently, Noureddine Ayouch, a prominent Moroccan businessman and civil society activist, has been touting the benefits of using Darija as the teaching language in classrooms. In an international conference on education held in October of 2013, Ayouch invited a group of policymakers to discuss this idea: He claimed that it would in fact help students learn Fus’ha because they would be learning it in their native tongue.

The conference received a largely negative reaction from Moroccan government officials on both sides of the political spectrum. Islamist Parliament Member (MP) Moqri Abouzayd described the proposal as an “imperialist attempt to destroy Islam.” Socialist MP Rachida Benmassoud claimed the idea was “historically and significantly irrelevant.”

Many claim that Moroccan’s linguistic divide is linked to its socioeconomic divide: Darija is for the proletariat, French and English for the upper classes, and Fus’ha for the state. Because of this, any attempt to change the country’s linguistic status quo is met with resistance of some sort, creating a stalemate and halting progress.

Creative Commons Love: Vince Millett on Flickr.com

Chile’s Student Protestors Run For Congress

me gustan los estudiantes | I like the students

In the past few years, Chile has been swept up by mass student protests and government reform that has dismantled its structure of educational programs, among other reforms. Those at the forefront of these student protests are now approaching reform internally. Leaders in these protests, including 26-year-old Giorgio Jackson, 25-year-old Camilla Vellejo, and 26 year old Karol Cariola, are running for positions in Chile’s congress on November 17th.

These students are a part of a growing force of social reformers running for office in Chile. Union leaders and environmentalists are joining their movement and seeking political office to affect change in the political and social climate of the Chilean democracy. Though Chile has been nominally a democracy since 1990, many right-winged leaders hold an un-democratic sway in office: Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who ruled in a dictatorship until 1990, still served as a “senator for life” and many members of the armed forces are “designated senators” – allowing both to have veto power against any reform in the senate.

Jackson and his fellow protestors want to continue their fight internally because they believe there needs to be systemic change in the government: Jackson claims that students are facing “a legacy of the privatization of education, an understanding that education is not a right but something that you can purchase.” Vallejo continues to say the treatment of education as a commodity “immediately distorts the principal objective which is to educate not earn profits, as well as generates a brutal socioeconomic segmentation…in other words the children who are born poor are going to receive a poor education and will continue to be poor. ”

Protestors like Vellejo are demanding not just educational reform but a social revolution: “We realized the problem was bigger, the problem was structural.” If elected, the future of Chile’s social and political reform holds promise in regards to educational structuring and schooling systems.

Creative Commons Love: Carlos Lowry on Flickr.com

Rift Widens in Nigerian Lecturer Strike

kids @ staff schoolTensions continue to rise as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Nigerian federal government make no progress in negotiations. The union insists that the government honor its commitment to an agreement established in 2009. However, on Wednesday, Senate president David Mark called negotiators of the disputed 2009 agreement ignorant.

Mark described the writers of the past agreement as “people who do not know their right from their left and, in the process, put the federal government into the problem it is facing today, because when the agreements were read out I thought they were mere proposals, only for Chukwumereje to confirm that they signed the largely un-implementable agreements characterized by payment of all manner of allowances.”

The ASUU went on strike on December 4 2011. The strike was temporarily lifted in February 2012 to allow negotitations. These talks disintegrated leading to the current strike, which has been in process since June 2013.

Dr. Nasir Fagge, President of the union, points to nine stipulations in the agreement, including general funding minimums, pay increases, transfer of land to universities, and research funds. Of the nine conditions, only two have been satisfactorily met.

The monetary value of the union’s demands amount to N$1.5 trillion (approximately US$9.5 billion) to be dispensed in three years. This does not include allotments for injury and overtime pay demanded by the strikers.

Creative Commons Love: Dolapo Falola on Flickr.com

Thailand’s Educational Breakdown

School

As Thailand introduces their “One Tablet Per Child” initiative to bring tablet computers to each of their 9 million Thai schoolchildren, many wonder if this will manifest as merely a political gimmick or become a truly effective tool to combat Thailand’s growing education problems.

In the past week, the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Thailand’s educational system last out of the eight countries assessed from the Association for Southeast Nations (ASEAN). This is while Thailand’s budget for education comprises 20% of the national budget and salaries for teachers comprises of another 9%–among the highest proportions in the region and the world.

While Thailand has made true advances in providing universal education and bridging the gender gap, it has not solved its endemic problems of political corruption, poorly trained teachers, and teacher safety.

As a constitutional monarchy, Thailand is ruled by both a king and its parliament: however, the parliament is prone to upheaval and position shifting. New and opposing political factions are voted in every few years, making it difficult to maintain stability in the government and in supporting ministries and initiatives.

The current minister of Education, Chaturon Chaisang, is the fourth education minister in the Yingluck Shinawatra parliament,  which has been in power since 2011.  In response to the WEF rankings, Chaisang admits he is “very concerned” and believes the Thai education system has lacked any consistent development in the last 15 years.

In concert with the shifting political landscape, the “authoritarian and militaristic culture” in which Thai students are taught is also detrimental to their learning. Chaisang acknowledges that any future reform should concentrate more on teaching than on structural problems. He said, “Our teaching method is wrong. Our curriculum is outdated…university graduates, despite having studied English for 12-16 years, can’t speak it at all.” In the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international study to evaluate education systems, Thailand ranked in the world’s bottom 25%.

Additionally, many teachers are leaving the profession due to an increase of attacks on educational representatives. Since 2004, Malay Muslim separatist groups in the southern provinces of Thailand have conducted periodic attacks on teachers, who are seen as representatives of the Thai government. According to Human Rights Watch, 160 teachers and education personnel have been killed by these groups. The most recent attack took place on July 24th and killed two teachers in a roadside bomb.  Due to these attacks, many schools have been closed for weeks, causing students to fall behind.

Confronted with these problems, Chaisang has initiated a series of brainstorming sessions—beginning with his own ministry and then extending into the private sector. His goal is to collect a spectrum of ideas to recreate the education system. Various academic and non-profit organizations are recommending proposals that suggest creating a more neutral educational ministry that can stand independently from political influence, reassessing teacher education and qualifications, and revolutionizing and standardizing fundamental training of teachers.

Creative Commons Love:  Luke Grange on Flikr.com

Bicycle Program Approved in Peru

Christopher and Carlos and My Bike

Peru’s Ministry of Education announced the approval of an enterprise, “Routes of Solidarity: Rural Bicycles,” that will provide bicycles to children living in rural villages to increase school attendance.

Early trials have shown that students have greatly benefitted from this program: in April, students in the northern province of Lambayeque decreased their journey by more than two hours.

Pilar Appiani, Director of Promotion for Schools, Culture, and Sport, said, “Bikes have reduced the time it takes students to get to educational institutions, which has resulted in improved academic performance as students arrive at class less tired, more clear-headed, and earlier.” Once fully implemented, the program could benefit 100,000 students living in rural areas.

Creative Commons Love: Speculum Mundi on Flickr.com

Mexico’s Teachers Protest Education Overhaul

School Friends

Mexico’s teachers are protesting a federal proposal to overhaul Mexico’s education system. Their protests are causing chaos in Mexico City and are forcing the state and federal governments to reconsider the bill.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s decision to focus on educational reforms stems from his desire to build up the Mexican middle class. Currently, Mexico is ranked last in standardized test scores in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD. Additionally, there is extreme corruption present in the school system: teachers buy, sell, and inherit their positions; additionally, removing poorly performing teachers is very difficult, even amongst allegations of sexual and substance abuse. The union system in Mexico is very strong and also full of corruption. This year, Elba Esther Gordillo, the leader of the large National Education Worker’s Syndicate, or SNTE, was arrested and failed on embezzlement charges.

In light of these events, Nieto and the Secretary of Education have proposed a bill that requires more frequent evaluation, stricter employment practices, and better mechanisms for firing poorly performing teachers.

The teachers protesting these reforms argue that these reforms are a disguise to begin privatizing the Mexican school system. Floriberto Alejo, a 50-year-old teacher from Oaxaca state, who came to Mexico City to protest, said that this overhaul attacks a teacher’s seniority, and “this evaluation is disguise to start firing…peers.” He believes that making the evaluations–which will now take place every four years–more difficult will fire many public school teachers and force parents to move to private schools.

The protests have been led by two nationals teachers’ unions, the National Education Syndicate (SNTE) and the National Educational Workers’ Union (CNTE), and are taking place in Mexico City. Around 20,000 strikers are blocking the main roads in Mexico City, and 4,000 have blocked the main roads to the international airport. They plan to cease their march only when lawmakers agreed to sit down with union representatives to negotiate.

The protests have shut down 24,000 schools in five impoverished states across southern Mexico. School was scheduled to start the week of August 20th; however, two millions students have not returned to school because their teachers are striking.

The teachers also believe that the proposals only attack the teachers and not the real problem: the long-term inadequacy of budgets and extreme corruption in the school systems.

The President claims that the teachers are misunderstanding the proposal. He says, “The education reform will give them opportunities that they don’t have today. The reform benefits Mexico’s teachers because it is designed to give them job stability, clear rules and certainty for ascending within the national education system.”

However, there has been no direct confrontation from either the President or the Mexican Secretary of Education. Edna Jaimie, director of México Evalúa, believes that both the state and federal governments are choosing not to heighten the conflict.

Lawmakers have removed the provision that creates an evaluation requirement from the bill in response to the protests. Many believe that this will make the law ineffective and undo the progress made by the bill.

Creative Commons Love: rageforst aesthir on Flickr.com

5,000 New Schools To Be Opened in Bihar, India

Smiles

The government of Bihar, India, intends to open 5,000 new schools in the state in an attempt to tackle problems that can be resolved through girls’ education.

Bihar females face a plethora of problems, such as child marriage and female foeticide and a high fertility rate. The chief minister, Nitish Kumar, stated that his government aims to open 1,000 new schools a year. He stressed that the only way to face these issues is through education.

Kumar reported that the fertility rate is 3.6%, noting that if girls matriculate and are educated, the rate drops down to 2%. He also stated that if attempts are made now, the population will stabilize by 2040.

According to Kumar, the number of girl students has increased due to the government’s initiatives, such as free uniforms and bicycles. Although problems such as female foeticide continue despite their being illegal, Kumar stated that this problem could over time become resolved thanks to an education reform.

 Creative Commons Love: jinka! on Flickr.com

Youth Unemployment on the Rise in Morocco

For Morocco's sake !

As Morocco’s unemployment continuously grows, education and skills are no longer enough to obtain a job, in either the public or private sector. While the young Moroccan men and women that are not educated have an even harder time finding jobs, the unemployment rate for educated youth is still terribly high: 22% among males and 38% among females. According to the Gallup organization, one out of three young Moroccans wants to emigrate to find jobs—this number increases as the youth’s education increases.

According to Moroccan Sociologist Samira Kassimi, layoffs and business failures are the main cause of unemployment. However, there is a mass influx of graduates into a labor market that cannot absorb them all.

Meanwhile, unemployed Moroccan graduates continue to protest in metropolitan areas in Morocco. Every year, more graduates continue to join the movement. Graduates protest four or five times a week—the more they protest, the higher the possibility for a government jobs. Organizers keep a tally—protestors are awarded points for attendance and for scuffles with police. The more points a protestor receives, the higher his or her name is placed on a list given to employers looking for employees.

The campaign for jobs has become a game for many protestors and has brought both anger and shame to them. Protestor Abdul Rahim Momneh says, “I have a degree, a master’s degree in English, and I’m here…idle without a job, without dignity, without anything.”

However, the Moroccan government is making efforts to alleviate the stress on the labor market. The strategy to reduce the unemployment rate is multi-tiered, according to Employment Minister Abdelouahed Souhail. Souhail claims that this strategy calls for encouraging investment, building up workforce skills, and tailoring education towards the businesses required in the labor force.

The primary contradiction and cause of joblessness for those educated is that they are being educated in fields that do not offer jobs—the labor market needs people with skill sets that are hard to find.

The government is working on identifying employment trends and gauging the effectiveness of vocational training programs in an effort to understand labor market needs and decrease the unemployment rate.

Creative Commons Love: Hasna Lahmini on flickr.com

Proposal To Establish Ten New Colleges in Ghana Shot Down

A recent proposal by the Government of Ghana to establish ten new colleges of education was shot down by the Forum for Education Reform (FFER). The Forum argued that establishing new colleges would not help to address the education issues that the country is currently facing.

University of Ghana

University of Ghana

The Forum believes that a more effective and cost-efficient method to improve the education system is to focus on improving teacher education and expanding and improving the current facilities within the 38 colleges already in existence. They also believe that it is important to update the quality of instruction, infuse technology and update teaching methods and models.

The Chair of the Forum, Sir Sam Jonah, stated that developments such as these would lead to better output from the teacher training institutions. Additionally, he believes that through expanding current facilities the colleges’ enrollment, currently around 400 students, could easily be doubled.

The Forum announced a willingness to work with the government to establish the right standards for teacher education in Ghana. They believe that “the consequence of neglect of this area will severely undermine the country’s development.” The 14 member Forum signed and released a statement in Accra expressing their position.

Creative Commons Love: Georgia Popplewell on Flickr.com