In a country where less than 1 in 10 girls attends secondary school, enrolling in university is a distant dream for most Somali girls.
Today Barwaaqo Jamac is a young health science student at Somaliland’s University of Hargeisa. She studies hard, and is one of the top students in her class. But the road to university was not easy sailing for Barwaaqo.
Barwaaqo’s family lives in a camp for displaced people in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. When she was still attending secondary school at the camp, her parents did not have much money to spare. They had a large family with seven children to provide for.
“I wasn’t expecting to attend university because my family struggled to pay my secondary fees,” recalls Barwaaqo. “I was in and out of school most of the time because of money. I missed several lessons and struggled to catch up.”
Barwaaqo’s story isn’t unique. Secondary schools in Somaliland are male dominated, and girls drop out more frequently than boys. Girls do not get additional support from teachers to keep up in class, even though they tend to have more responsibilities outside the classroom than boys.
In 2016, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and its partners met with Barwaaqo and some other girls in her school who were struggling to stay in school. NRC provided catch-up classes for the girls in four key subjects, and supplied them with textbooks and other learning material.
Top of the class
Barwaaqo placed top in her school in the national exam. Even more impressive was that it was also a the first time ever that a girl was top of a class in the school. Barwaaqo attributed this to the extra tuition classes and learning materials provided by NRC.
“The remedial classes gave us the opportunity to be taught by the best teachers! We also received textbooks, school uniforms and sanitary kits,” says Barwaaqo. “Without this support many girls could have dropped out of school.”
After scoring well in the national exams, Barwaaqo faced another serious challenge. The university fee was too expensive for her family to pay. However, NRC and the Somaliland Ministry of Education provided Barwaaqo with a scholarship due to her high school record. She finally realized her dream to study health science, and today she is enrolled at the University of Hargeisa.
Low enrolment rates
Somaliland has one of the world’s lowest enrolment rates for secondary school in the world. In a 2014 study, only 8 per cent of girls were enrolled in secondary school. Girls’ participation in education is consistently lower than that of boys, according to UNICEF. Less than 50 per cent of girls attend primary school overall in Somalia.
NRC’s Hormarinta Elmiga Project provides special support to girls in schools, to help them do well. This includes setting up afternoon classes for key subjects, providing them with textbooks, school uniforms and awarding scholarships to local universities.
With NRC continuing to support the education system, HE-II which is funded by the European Union, supports 72 students with university education through scholarships.
This story was originally published in Norwegian Refugee Council