When Kadhar Beileh decided to transfer his two eldest sons, Abdikani and Mohamed, Amin from Elm School, a private school in Hargeisa in the Republic of Somaliland, to the United Arab Emirates in 2015, he was laughed off and told his children had no chance of joining the international school.
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The UAE school brushed him off and tried to shut their door on them and was told point blank that he should not waste his money paying for an examination fee because the boys would fail the entry test, ostensibly because they hail from the unrecognized Somaliland, whose educational standards are supposed to be poor. This is a common perception people who never visited Somaliland have.
Kadhar stood his ground and insisted to pay for the test. His insistence would later pay off and he and his sons had the last laugh.
“Much to my surprise and relief, the headmaster told me my two sons passed the entry exam with flying colors, and that they even performed better than the other children from UAE and other foreign countries. The headmaster seemed really impressed with their performance and asked me to put him in touch with the Elm School to personally congratulate it.”
Well, Somaliland might not be recognized internationally, but they can at least boast of Elm School, which is considered a premier institution likely to produce tomorrow’s Somaliland leaders. Concerned parents who wanted the best for their children started school. Their decision was not only timely but also entrepreneurial. The school has Kenyan teachers, assisted by their Somali colleagues, who are the engine behind the success of the institution.
Elm School is considered to be in the same league as Kenyan elite international private institutions in terms of education quality and status. Established in April 2007, the school has hundreds of students, including eight Kenyan children, some of whom were born in Hargeisa, and whose parents are teachers at the school. They have lived in Somaliland for years. Some of the children are orphans and from poor families, and they study on a full scholarship as a way of giving back to society.
Elm school has a seal of approval for quality education, a safe conducive environment for learning as well as qualified teaching personnel. The school is accredited by the British Accreditation Service for International Colleges and schools (ASIC) and is cleared to offer international British system of education.
The institution also provides Kenya’s 8-4-4 system, which is slowly being phased out to be replaced by the Competency-Based Curriculum, which is being rolled out by Elm School making it the first school outside of Kenya to implement it.
The school has a kindergarten, lower and upper primary and a secondary school. These units are dotted across the fast-growing city of Hargeisa, which, unlike other Somali cities, enjoys peace and stability essential for a conducive learning environment.
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HAPPY AND FOCUSED TEACHERS
So why is Elm School different from other schools in Somaliland? I asked teachers, students, and parents.
“The school caters for our food and accommodation and everything we need. Basically, they are responsible for us. We are happy. If I was not happy, I wouldn’t be here. We are hardworking and the teachers are professionally trained unlike other schools here who just get anyone, where as long as you are Kenyan and can speak English, then you are hired. I believe that is why Elm School is the best,” Grade 1 teacher Linet Kimunto, from Kisii county, who has a Master’s in Education Management from Mount Kenya University, said.
Teachers say the school is well managed and their welfare is well catered. They believe this is why the school is doing well.
The institution has hired 79 Kenyan teachers who teach English, Mathematics, Science, Environmental and Social Studies. Somali teachers teach Somali language, Arabic and Islamic Religious Education. Here, teachers are well remunerated, with the Kenyan teachers housed and fed free of charge. Transport is also provided to and from school.
They say they have coped with the different culture and weather, and know they have to adhere to local laws and norms. Somaliland is predominantly 100 percent Muslim and this means alcohol is illegal. The teachers say since the school carters for all their needs, they end up saving almost all their salary.
The best performing teacher is handsomely rewarded to encourage him or her to do better. Some Kenyan teachers who in the past performed well were even allowed to invite their spouses to Hargeisa for a visit in an all paid expense by the school, while the single ones who also performed well got a range of other presents, including monetary perks.
“People outside Somaliland assume we have nothing good to offer. The perception outside is that Somalis live a life of misery and that there is no quality education. Thank God we have Elm School and we are really proud of it for providing quality education. I told other parents we must support and protect the school as it is our national pride,” Kadhar, a parent, said. His other five children study at the School.
The first group of students who started in Kindergarten in 2007 is set to sit its O level and A level examinations in May. The candidates and their teachers are oozing confidence they will pass and make the school proud. They will seat for their final exam — dispatched from the UK and to be marked there— in Sheikh, a famous chilly mountainous town outside Hargeisa.
“Elm School is the best school in Somaliland. The teachers are good and kind. When I first joined, I could not speak English, which I can now speak fluently. My best subject is Environmental Studies. I want to be a lawyer when I grow up,” nine-year-old Iselin Arafat Mohamed who is in Grade Three said.
Her school mate Subeer Abdilatif Hussein, 9, is also happy about the school. His only concern though is that boys in Hargeisa like fighting. His teachers say generally Somali kids are hyper compared to Kenyan children.
“Our teachers are very nice. Hargeisa is good but I don’t like how some kids behave. They like fighting always,” the bespectacled young boy said.