Education for educations sake is important but most students in Somaliland study to enter a profession and to generally enhance their career prospects in a self declared independent State with very little employment opportunities and foreign direct investment. Navigating through the Somaliland Ministry of education website, it is clear to see the government’s education priorities lies in the areas of primary and university education. There is no mention of secondary schools but this is not a worry as every other private school in Somaliland is a secondary education institution. However, what really is worrying is the government’s lack of acknowledgement of the importance of vocational education and training (VET).
As if banished from the meaning of education altogether VET is sidelined by wonderfully colourful pictures of neatly dressed and happy primary school students and graduates on their graduation days. Granted, with very little resources the Kulmiye administration cannot plant vocational training colleges all over the country but it can easily promote their importance.
Richard Dowden, the Director of the Royal African Society, saw that Africans in general were ashamed of working manually or in skilled labour as they wanted to be educated in order to work in offices when he went out for the first time to teach in Uganda in 1971. They educated themselves, he discovered, to escape the shame of working on the land as farmers and in other jobs they saw as undesirable. This appears to be the case in Somaliland today.
VET is every bit as important as the old traditional academic subjects which all Somaliland students flock to learn and in many ways more useful for their own development. The silly argument concerning the value of VET within African society is what has hampered development and continues to make the continent an aid receiver and not a donor. Are Africans not aware that Asia’s growth and export powers are as a result of investment in VET and hard manual work?
Are they not witnessing on the continent itself that this strategy has worked and now that Asian nations such as China and South Korea have a near monopoly on world exports of most consumer goods? Is the impact of this success not evident in the form of greater poverty alleviation and development in these Asian countries?
Somaliland policy makers are not stupid. They see the importance of VET yet they do very little about it and it is easy to suspect here that they do not want to disrupt the business of formal education in the country. And a huge business it is. However, to govern is to choose and with this in mind, the Somaliland administration, especially the Education Minister, must decide what is the best education policy which has the most realistic potential of achieving the difficult tasks of reducing the enormous graduate and youth unemployment as well as creating employment.
With not much thought, I am sure the minister will conclude that greater promotion and support for VET is the magic bullet she requires to achieve both of these difficult objectives.
The professional classes of Europe emerged out of the industrial revolution to manage production and the labour force. They also were needed to legally and administratively make the revolution work. Their skills were not what created the industrial revolution itself but merely made it operate smoothly and facilitate its success. From their narrow and ill informed views of VET, it appears as though Somaliland policy makers and advisers want to entirely skip the industrialisation process and create a knowledge economy.
Even if this were possible, who will it service? Would blue chip multinational companies outsource intellectually protected engineering designs, legal work or accounting needs to a developing unrecognised country with poor internal infrastructure? No. However, this may change in the future if the Somaliland government re-evaluates its educational priorities and gets real about its development needs.
With Unemployment sky high in Somaliland and most acute among young graduates who entered universities with high aspirations and hopes, it is time the government sat down with captains of industry, international partners and donor agencies to plan a national growth strategy. At the top of their list ought to be VET as this has proven to be an effective tool of development as it provides the means of production for developing nations.
It does this by giving citizens the skills to produce goods they can sell and the transferable skills they can take to other economies in order to support themselves and their families. And they are more useful than degrees in that these skills will be recognised globally where as most degrees from Somaliland are not by international employers.
While university educations is crucial it must be balanced with VET options which many students would take up given the poor track record of degrees in getting employment after graduation. The sad fact is that the higher education many Somaliland students have received does not match the employment prospects open to them within the country and this has sadly lead to far too many of them risking their lives in far away deserts and even when successful in reaching Europe or America, living with broken dreams as they work as manual labourers.
The policy window for the introduction of VET programmes is now wide open as the European Union, the largest donor agency in the world, wants to focus on budget support and private sector lead development strategies in order to reduce poverty and its impact. Although Somaliland is yet unrecognised and may not as a nation benefit from this scheme, as a region in the eyes of the EU funders it has every right to its fair share of the cake if the government is pro active about applying for it.
If they are successful, the government then will have the money to invest in VET and also through partnerships with the private sector increase employment in the long term as the skills the work force will be equipped with will be those necessary to bring interested investors to the country.
At present there are too many daydreamers in Somaliland who think the world will hand them development and economic prosperity on a plate. The sad fact is that while Africans appear to be obsessed with degrees, the rest of the developed world is turning to VET to compete with the emerging economies in manufacturing.
If Somaliland is to truly develop it is time its people were given the training and opportunities that would allow them to roll up their sleeves for a more promising future.
Liban Obsiye - Bristol, UK