College’s international impact: Reinvigorating Somali education

A multi-national evaluation team led by ELRC met in Nairobi, Kenya to analyze Somali education data and formulate recommendations for education programming and education policy

College’s international impact: Reinvigorating Somali education

How can you provide education in a place where basic social services have been decimated by decades of instability, intercommunal conflict, and humanitarian crises? Purdue University College of Education’s Evaluation and Learning Research Center (ELRC), with funding from USAID, is leading a multi-national team that is examining the effectiveness of formal and informal educational models on diverse learners in Somalia. This includes evaluating a USAID-funded Alternative Basic Education (ABE) program designed to jump-start learning for out-of-school children and youth (ages 9-16) in a country with one of the lowest rates of school enrollments in the world  – three million of the estimated five million Somali school-aged children are not in school.

Wilella Burgess, director of the ELRC, traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, in September to meet with USAID and other education stakeholders and partners to review project findings, explore programmatic and policy implications of those findings, and plan next steps.

Somalia’s education system, which includes both formal and informal schools, is primarily funded by donor contributions and there is little national data on student learning. Quality education is one of the sustainable development goals Somali identified as key to reducing poverty, decreasing inequalities, and building the country’s economic prosperity in the Somali National Development Plan for 2020-2024. USAID, working with the Somali Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education (MoECHE), is supporting educational development in Somalia as a means to increase resilience and decrease the drivers contributing to radicalization and violent extremism.

The USAID-funded Bar ama Baro (BAB) Accelerated Basic Education (ABE) program, implemented by Creative Associates, International, hopes to bring accelerated education to 100,000 children and youth in four Somali states (Jubaland, South West, Hirshabelle, and Banaadir). The ABE curriculum condenses two years of formal education into a single year to help over-aged learners catch up. The Somali government is incorporating the ABE curriculum into their educational strategic plan for use throughout Somalia. To further inform effective educational policy, the MoECHE needs good information about what programs are working well and for whom, and this is where the ELRC is helping.

“The Somali Ministry of Education is working to get an educational system back in place,” said Burgess. “They have created a national curriculum which includes socioemotional learning as one of the key components in addition to numeracy and literacy.”

Burgess’ team is examining not only changes in academic outcomes (reading and math) but also the psychosocial indicators that influence student learning outcomes – including quality of relationships and students’ feelings of self-efficacy, well-being, and hope – understanding that they not only have a goal with their education but also the ability to achieve that goal with people supporting them at every stage of their learning experience.

“USAID contracted with us to examine the Bar ama Baro program and formal primary school programs to help them understand what is happening in terms of education in Somalia,” Burgess explained. “We’re focusing on Level One and Level Two learners in the BAB program, to look at what the learning gains are that students are making, and then collecting the same data from students who are in formal primary schools.”

The project officially began in the fall of 2019, but with the COVID pandemic of 2020-2021, implementation was delayed. In late summer/fall 2021, BAB initiated ABE in 197 schools with 808 classrooms across 11 target districts in Somalia. They identified 808 teachers (24% female) and enrolled 39,930 learners (48% female). The ELRC partners collected baseline data from 2,912 learners (1714 BAB learners and 1198 Formal Primary learners), 54 teachers, and 42 head teachers from three states (Jubaland, Southwest, and Hirshabelle) and from the Banaadir region and 11 districts in August/September 2021. Data was collected from the same subjects again in April/May 2022 after one year of instruction, with plans for final data collection on the sample in April 2023 after 2 years of instruction.

Burgess and her team collected data in the form of both academic and psychosocial measures regarding the effectiveness of these new learning strategies and were quite pleased to see the growth of learning among the Somali students.

To this end, in September 2022 Burgess spent twelve days meeting with her Somali and ResilientAfrica Network team members, USAID funders, and representatives from Somali sister education projects in neighboring Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss learning, implications, and next steps. The trip’s purposes were to: 

  • meet with researchers from another ABE program focused on adolescent girls in Somalia (AGES) to compare notes, share learning, and give a fuller picture of ABE to the Somali government and USAID;
  • enable the Somali BAB multi-national evaluation team (Purdue/ELRC, Somali Research and Development Institute (SORDI) and the ResilientAfrica Network) (RAN)  to fully capitalize on the team’s breadth of expertise and Somali context knowledge in the data analysis through face-to-face meetings;
  • meet with USAID to explore preliminary findings, answer questions, and receive insights from their broad experience in Somalia and other development contexts; and
  • attend a USAID/Somalia “pause and reflect” meeting including representatives from all USAID-supported development and humanitarian assistance projects in Somalia to share learning and examine synergies.

Besides contributing to the broader goals of USAID and the Somali government, Burgess said she saw the trip as a good opportunity for the Purdue University College of Education and the ELRC to better understand and contribute to international educational policy.

Burgess and her team are analyzing the collected data using a holistic model that will help identify key levers and barriers to learning for diverse Somali learners. They will share their findings with USAID/Somalia and the Somalia Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education at meetings in January to inform them about BAB program improvements, USAID future education programs, and Somali educational policy.

“There’s a sense of hope and there’s a sense of pride among parents, teachers and community members that ‘we have this school in our community that we didn’t have before’ and the parents expressed a feeling of engagement with and connection to the school,” Burgess said. “Even though almost everyone in Somalia has very little, almost everyone has a cell phone, and they do everything on their cell phone including banking and financial interactions. Many parents commented with pride that their child is now able to help them use the apps on their phone and that’s really enriched their lives.”

This research is funded through the LASER PULSE program, a Purdue-led consortium that is a five-year, $70M program funded through USAID’s Innovation, Technology, and Research Hub. LASER PULSE’s goal is to deliver research-driven solutions to field-sourced development challenges in USAID interest countries.