After the collapse of the central government of Somalia in 1991, most of the country’s sectors also collapsed, including the educational sector. In response, private individuals stood up to fill the government’s position in providing education services to the public. Education became a profitable business where making money was the main concern rather than educational quality and student performance. This carelessness of educational quality and the performance of students has caused students to develop a bad educational culture. Somali students have a culture of not learning and understanding but memorizing what they study. This culture has prevented the emergence of young educated people who understand what they studied.
Knowledge is not acquired through memorizing what is written in textbooks; rather, knowledge is acquired through understanding what is written in textbooks. The sole purpose of knowledge is to understand what previous generations knew and wrote about something and to develop what they learned by adding your new knowledge to it. This can only be achieved if a person understands the subject. But if a person only memorizes what’s written in textbooks, then that’s nothing but a copy-paste and would not add any value to the person.
In Somalia, when the child reaches six to seven years old, the parents send the child to the dugsi Qur’an (where the Qur’an is studied) before school. In the dugsi, the Qur’an is memorized by heart, which is the only way to study and learn the Qur’an. After remaining at the dugsi for a while, the child is sent to school and starts his or her studies. At this stage, the child only knows one way of learning, which is by memorizing. This is because the dugsi is the child’s only experience of learning. So, when the child starts school, the child implements the strategy of learning that he or she used while at the dugsi, which is memorizing. With teachers and school administrators giving little care to this problem, most students end up not understanding what they have been studying for many years.
This problem also exists at universities. Nearly all of the students at universities only memorize what is written in their textbooks and don’t understand the context. University is the last educational level for a student, and at this level, students must deeply understand their field and could be able to become professionals in their fields, but only memorizing will not allow students to be so. The strange thing one person will see in our universities is that when the lecturer is giving his or her lecture, the lecturer reads out the whole textbook and translates every single word, word by word, for the students. This also takes part in promoting this bad culture of memorizing. If students know that the lecturer is going to read the whole textbook for them, they are not going to see how important it is to read it for themselves and understand it.
Most young Somali students study only when exams are nearby. During exams, students start to memorize what is written in the textbook by heart. When they start their exam, they only write what they have memorized without knowing and understanding what they had just written. And when students finish their exams, they forget what they have memorized. We always see students who are good at memorizing words get high marks on their exams and later graduate with an A or an A+, not fully understanding what they have studied.
This culture of memorizing has prevented the country from having young Somali intellectuals and scholars who are experts in their fields because most of the graduates don’t fully understand what they studied at their schools and universities. This culture also causes young students to not admire education and knowledge and see education as a process that will only lead them to a job. This is because a person can admire education only when they deeply know and understand what they are studying, but if a person just memorizes textbooks during exams, then education and knowledge will not be seen as important to such a person.
So, what is the solution? This problem can be dealt with in either of two ways. The first is to change the whole curriculum to the Somali language. The main thing that causes this problem is that almost all of the students don’t know English, and yet English is the language in which they study. Last year, when the previous government introduced the new Somali curriculum for primary and middle schools, there were some who argued that the Somali language would not be compatible with modern-day knowledge and technology and would be bad for the country’s educational system. This is, in my view, a weak argument because all of the developed countries around the world use their national language for their curriculum, starting from class one to PhD. I believe that if the curriculum is written in the Somali language, young students will be able to study and deeply understand their fields, and thus the number of young intellectuals and scholars will increase.
The second approach to this issue is teaching the Somali students English fluently. The government should add an English class to the national curriculum at an early stage of schooling. When I say English classes, I don’t mean the famous English schools amongst the Somali students, which are known as ‘’Private’’. I mean English classes, which will guarantee that any student who takes their class will become fluent in English or at least become advanced and be able to fully understand the language. If Somali students are taught English very well at an early stage, this problem will disappear and students will be able to study in the right way.