Education in the classroom holds the key to rebuilding war-torn Somalia

The key to rebuilding war-torn Somalia is to get children back to the classroom, according to a major report carried out for UNICEF by York researchers.

In a country plagued by corruption, famine and weak governance our social scientists suggest education could help build peace.


The report follows collaborative research by our University’s Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit (PRDU) and the Institute for Effective Education (IEE).

Professor Frank Hardman, Director of Research at the IEE who led the study in partnership with Professor Sultan Barakat, Director of the PRDU, said: “Education, specifically through schools and teachers, is becoming increasingly articulated as a means for transforming conflict and building peace.”

To form their findings, Professor Hardman and his colleagues examined the circumstances behind the collapse of state education across Somalia and crucially looked at how schooling could be reinvigorated after years of neglect and decline.

Conflict in Somalia

Armed conflict has had a catastrophic effect on Somalia’s development including the destruction of much of the capital city of Mogadishu.  Over 1.5 million people have fled the country, becoming refugees in locations around the world.

Violent extremism in the form of the al-Shabaab militant group and armed gangs of Somali pirates add to the tensions - and the traditional nomadic lifestyle of over 60 per cent of the Somali population presents logistical issues for any state-wide education programmes.

Around 90 per cent of schools in Somalia were also destroyed in fighting and only 38 per cent of the population are literate.

Education uptake

Somalia also has one of the lowest student enrolment rates in the world with less than 42 per cent of primary age children in school. 

Professor Hardman said: “Large numbers of young people are denied access to education, resulting in poverty, unemployment and disaffection amongst the youth, creating circumstances which act as a powerful recruiting ground for armed militia and extremist religious groups.”

He added: “The impact on international security will be far reaching.”

However, the UNICEF report uncovers grounds for optimism with grass roots community-based schooling achieving some success in bringing children back into the classroom.


Professor Hardman said:  “In the most peaceful communities we studied in Somalia, education was acting as a medium for social reconciliation and peacebuilding because it allowed children from different groups in the community to come together to go to school.”

Professor Hardman says the priority for Somalia should be to build more primary and secondary schools alongside an expanded teacher training programme capable of delivering a curriculum and pedagogy that is relevant to the needs of the communities it serves.  The development of pilot programmes to monitor and test the theory of such change will also be required.

He said:  “Rebuilding the education system will help overcome many of the challenges as it can be used to underpin the peace process, build government legitimacy and set the country back on course to recovery.”

Interdisciplinary research

The research is outlined in a major report commissioned by UNICEF Somalia, Beyond Fragility: Conflict and Education Analysis in the Somali Context and is part of UNICEF’s four-year programme Peace-building, Advocacy and Education in Conflict-Affected Contexts.

The study is also part of a wider PRDU and IEE interdisciplinary research programme looking at the role of education in rebuilding war torn communities across the globe. The programme - Education in Conflict and Emergencies - aims to improve our understanding of how education can ease violent conflict and act as a catalyst for lasting peace.

The text of this article is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. You're free to republish it, as long as you link back to this page and credit us.

Education, specifically through schools and teachers, is becoming increasingly articulated as a means for transforming conflict and building peace.”

Professor Frank Hardman
Institute for Effective Education
Featured researcher

Frank Hardman

Professor in the Institute for Effective Education

He is a specialist in the areas of language and education, with a focus on education in post-conflict countries.

View profile

Featured researcher

Professor Sultan Barakat

Director of the Post-war Reconstruction & Development Unit.

View profile