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Curriculum reform: co-production of textbooks between state and nonstate actors

Why do non-state actors adhere to state policies, even though it goes against their interests? In this example, we explain how private schools partly implemented a public curriculum reform, although it ran contrary to their business models.

Private schools in Hargeisa and other large urban centers in Somaliland market themselves by using curricula from other countries such as Kenya, Turkey, Sudan or elsewhere, often taught in Arabic or English. Generally, parents perceive curricula from other educational systems to be better than the curriculum developed by the Somaliland administration. A parent, for example, exclaimed that private schools ‘are much better than the public schools. They teach better subjects. It’s like European education’.72 Offering foreign curricula taught in English or Arabic has hence become part of private schools’ business models.

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In 2016, when the MoEHE published a new curriculum, it also introduced a reform stating that all private schools could only use the Somaliland curriculum. This was complemented with a decree stating that primary education should be taught in Somali only. The reform came after public debate about the use of foreign curricula in private schools in Somaliland.73 Seen from MoEHE’s point of view the decree was merely a repetition of the ‘National Education Act’ from 2013, which states that: ‘the national language shall be the main medium of instruction’.74 To private schools, this was an unfair and unnecessary intervention in their business model. The conflict escalated in the summer of 2016 and a number of private school associations stepped in to negotiate with the MoEHE. Private school associations function like unions, protecting the interests of private schools. Moreover, they provide different kinds of support, such as teacher training and school books, in return for a percentage of the income generated through school fees. A representative from a private school association explained how they negotiated with the state administration:

[a]ll private schools, I mean all the associations came together and met, like Al Huda, Noradeen, MASNO, Al Irshaad, Salaam [names of school associations]. They met in a hotel and we then went to the ministry and said ‘It’s not possible’.75

The two parties, the private school associations, and MoEHE met several times over a period of three weeks in August 2016.

The outcome of the negotiations was that private schools should teach the new Somaliland curriculum, but they were allowed to use English or Arabic as the medium of instruction. As part of the deal, two associations, MASNO and Al Irshaad, joined forces under the name MASIR and translated the Somaliland curriculum into English. The new MASIR produced textbooks were recognized by the MoEHE, and are now available next to books from the MoEHE. Moreover, a different association, Geeska Africa, is currently producing additional textbooks in Arabic to supplement the Somaliland curriculum in the subjects of Arabic and Islam.

When asked why the associations decided to negotiate with the state ministry, an education manager from one of the private school associations answered that: ‘[p]olicies are written amendments. It never happened that we refuse these completely, we always negotiate with them [MoEHE]’.76 Private schools did not simply ignore the policy and decree from the state administration but agreed on a compromise, despite having no real interest in abiding by the reform. While teaching in Somali and using the Somaliland curriculum is against the business models of many private schools (since foreign curricula and Arabic or English as the media of instruction are preferred by many parents in Somaliland) they could not, or did not want to, completely ignore the state administration’s rule. As the education manager of a private school association explains: ‘without them [MoEHE], there is no value. Our certificate has no value […] We need them because they are our government, they rule […] We are part of that system under the ministry’.77 Put differently, although the reform goes against their own interests, schools still need the state. The state administration produces private school licenses, certificates and constructs national examinations needed to access secondary and university education.

The example shows that the state administration possesses enough symbolic power to force negotiations with private actors. Although the reform was not implemented as intended, the state administration, as well as the overall idea of the reform, nonetheless shaped the sector. In other words, the idea that the state administration is the overall regulatory authority is not challenged. Instead, non-state contestations are limited to ‘the mechanics or techniques of state practices that are [otherwise] recognized without question as such’,78 a central feature of the routinized exercise of symbolic power.

In the next example, we see that even though education policies and reforms are produced between meso-level state and non-state actors, state policies are also filtered through school-level power configurations.

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