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Mogadishu Children Attend School despite Political Chaos

About 20 years ago, the government of Somalia collapsed, and so did its education system and other social services. There are a few private schools, including universities, but few can afford the high tuitions. In the capital, Mogadishu, education has deteriorated even more, with fighting between rival factions and between the factions and the Ethiopian-backed government. Voice of America English to Africa Reporter Jamal Ahmed Osman visited some of the schools in Mogadishu.

Al Hikma School is in southern Mogadishu and it provides all levels of education under one roof – primary, intermediate, and secondary. In one class, the students range from 13 to 25 years old.

Al Hikma is one of about 10 schools in the capital. They set their own curriculum and teach in English or Arabic. Parents pay about $10.00 tuition per month. Various NGOs help supply books and teaching materials. But most families cannot afford the tuition, and their children stay home.

Most of the schools are Islamic. The boys are on one side of the class, and the girls are on the other. The students say they are happy to sit separately.

The students and teachers have problems continuing their education because of the growing instability in the city. The school is located near a military base where fighting has sometimes broken out.

Student Mohamed Jama Faisal: "I have been going to this school for six years. I have never seen such problems. Sometimes wars can happen either on your way to school or at school and this worries me and my family."

Mohamed's classmates have fled the country, while others have died in the violence: "This remaining year is like an endless nightmare. It is even longer than the five years I have been at this school. Two of my friends died on their way to this school when [fighting] erupted. [In the last round of fighting] a mortar shell that hit the Mogadishu University compound killed [one of its professors] Professor Kastro."

Students aren't the only ones who are worried; teachers are too. Hussain Ilyas Farah is a teacher at Al Kalamschool in southwestern Mogadishu. Unarmed security guards are posted at the school, but that has not kept uniformed students from being arrested. Military and civilian police officials deny they are behind the attacks. Many parents have withdrawn their children from school. Farah says: "Neither teachers nor students are safe outside or inside school. Men in military or police uniforms attack us inside school when they are attacked by Islamic insurgents. These attacks result in death and injury among students and teachers."

A study of Bendadir Province shows that 35% of Mogadishu's students were displaced in the violence. More than 30 schools were forced to close; many others moved to temporary locations. There are about 10 schools left in the capital.

The Formal Private Education Network in Somalia is an umbrella group that includes most schools in Mogadishu. Its officials say that over the past two years the number of students have fallen by half due to the growing insecurity in the city.

Hussain Farah is the head of the group and says the Network provides education under unusual circumstances. He hopes things will improve in the coming years. So far, there's no evidence it will.

Ethiopia has withdrawn its troops from Mogadishu, where they supported the transitional federal government. Observers say fighting between it and opponents will likely increase insecurity in the city until one side decisively prevails.