Mogadishu — Somalia's "Go 2 School Initiative", in which the federal government promised to provide free education for one million Somali children, has hit yet another pitfall after a slow start and lack of necessary funding.
More than 300 teachers who work in Benadir region announced they were starting a strike on Thursday (January 16th) after the government failed to pay their full salaries for a third month in a row, according to the Go 2 School Teachers' Union in Benadir region.
"We decided to stop working after failing to receive our rights, and we will resume working when we are given our rights," Maslah Hashi Dhore, the 23-year-old chairman of the union, told Sabahi.
He said there are 316 teachers in the union and they teach about 40,000-50,000 students in 17 schools in Mogadishu.
"We signed an agreement with the director of education in the Ministry of Public Works on September 7th," he said. "The agreement stated that we would be paid $200 each month, but so far we have only received $300, we got $200 at one time and another $100 at another time, so we are missing $700."
Dhore said the union made an effort to contact the ministry to get their salaries, but "they refused to see us."
Education department, teachers trade blame
Education Director Mohamed Abdulkadir Nur acknowledged that teachers have not received their full salaries, but said the government plans to address the matter immediately.
"Half of the teacher salary, which is $200, was paid by [the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)] and the government was supposed to cover the other half," Nur said January 19th in an interview with Mogadishu-based radio station Goobjoog. "What the teachers are missing now is the government's portion."
He did not provide an explanation as to why the government's portion of the teachers' salary was missing, only saying that all government workers receive their salaries late.
He said the teachers were hasty in their decision to strike.
"We heard their complaints, but we expected them to wait until we raise the money for their salaries," he said.
But some of the teachers on strike said they left well-paying jobs at private schools to work for the government.
Abdinasir Ahmed Ali, a 31-year-old teacher on strike, told Sabahi he used to earn $230 per month when he worked for a privately owned school.
He said he now regrets his decision to become a government employee.
"I wanted to work for the nation, but I have been disappointed. I cannot teach without a salary. I cannot even afford bus fare at the moment," said Ali, who teaches mathematics at the newly re-opened Moalim Jama School in Mogadishu's Hamar Weyne district.
Halima Muhiyadin, 24, another teacher on strike, told Sabahi the lack of salary is not the only problem teachers face.
"The ministry still has not provided a national curriculum to use in teaching the students," said Muhiyadin, who teaches Somali at Mohamud Hilowle School in Dharkenley district. "When we started working we were told we would be provided with a national curriculum to instruct the students, but we are still teaching the students with the UNICEF curriculum."
"We also have problems with other teaching materials such as chalk, which runs out all the time," she said. "There is also no supervision and accountability."
Signs of government failure?
Not paying the salaries of teachers and other essential employees is a clear sign that governance has failed, said Aisha Isaq, who has worked as a teacher and administrator since the collapse of the Mohamed Siad Barre government.
"Failing to guarantee the salaries of teachers and the police who ensure security shows how unprepared the government is to bring progress," she told Sabahi, adding that there is a lack of accountability and transparency in government spending. "Likewise, there is no clear strategy to manage the government's money."
There are millions of dollars of unaccounted for public money that the government could have used to pay for salaries and public services, Isaq said.
She said the government makes efforts to create programmes that appeal to the public, but there is no follow-through.
"For example, Go 2 School raised the hopes of hundreds of thousands of parents and children. It was a progressive step by the government, but it is a national misfortune when such a programme fails," she said.
Farah Hussein, an inspector for the Africa Muslims Agency's education programmes in Somalia, said the failure of the first attempt to provide free education for thousands of at-risk Somali children is a great disappointment to the citizens.
"If the government does not take immediate steps and come up with a clear plan to save Go 2 School, it will be a loss to the nation," he said.
"The children who were being educated and who did not have an opportunity to be educated before will go back to sleeping on the streets, sniffing glue and taking up arms to become militia," he said.
'Please continue to teach'
Hassan Daud, a 13-year-old student at Moalim Jama School, told Sabahi he was sad to be home from school and was eager to return.
"I was taking many different subjects including math, Somali and English," he said, adding that he learned a lot since he started school this year. "We thank our government for providing us with free education and we ask the teachers to please continue to teach."
Since the strike started, Makka Haji Abdi, 45, said her five children who also attend Moalim Jama School have been going to their school building every morning in hopes of convincing teachers to resume classes.
"We are thankful for the government; it did what it could but has little money as we are recovering [from war]," she told Sabahi, adding that patience is required from all Somalis.
"The teachers should help their people and their country [and resume classes]," said Abdi, whose children had never attended school before the government programme because the family could not afford the fees.