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OP-ED: The journey of a book

Storyline:Archive, National News

By Alinor Osman

Mohamed, age 12, is lost in his English Level 2 textbook. He leans in close, meticulously following along in the story passage so he can answer the questions on the next page. The stacks of books on each of his classmate’s desks represent a world of knowledge they are eager to explore.

These textbooks — including math, science, Somali, Arabic and English — are essential to the Bar ama Baro accelerated basic education program. Each one took a long journey from development and printing to being delivered to urban, IDP and rural schools in 31 districts.

The U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Bar ama Baro program is implemented with Somalia’s Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education and its state-level counterparts to open new opportunities for Mohamed and over 100,000 other Somali children.

Bar ama Baro, part of the Ministry’s efforts to expand basic education, allows out-of-school children and youth to complete the eight-year primary cycle in four years and allows for transition into the formal school system. This requires high-quality textbooks that can support learning at an accelerated pace.

Writing impactful textbooks

Before a textbook makes it onto a student’s desk, it takes a team of writers to turn a curriculum into a practical and engaging tool for children.

Bar ama Baro contracted Beder Printing House, a Somali company, and trained them on the specifics of accelerated basic education and how to improve the textbook writing process. The program provided ongoing support and reviewed the accelerated basic education syllabus, scope and sequence, textbook and final teacher guides developed by Beder.

“The writing process of the textbooks went through a rigorous quality assurance process and multiple review layers, and our team of Somalia experts worked tirelessly to ensure that the books were of the highest quality and that all feedback from different stakeholders was incorporated during the review stages,” says Beder’s Writing Supervisor Aden Abdullahi, Ph.D.

Bringing subject experts together for review and design

The textbook chapters went through several stages of review to draw from different areas of subject expertise and improve the textbook quality, starting with the Beder supervisor, the Bar ama Baro technical team, the Ministry of Education supervisor and finally USAID.

Next, the textbooks were presented to key stakeholders from the Ministry of Education, state ministries of education, schools, and NGOs to ensure their feedback was heard and incorporated.

“It was very important to get people from different groups involved in the reviewing and validating process,” says Amin Mukhtar Ahmed, the Director General for the Hirshabelle State Ministry of Education. “Our feedback ensured that the curriculum was relevant, effective and inclusive.”

Turning a curriculum into a physical book

Beder printed more than half a million copies of the books for over 100,000 students.

“We were thrilled, and it gave us a great sense of pride and accomplishment to hold the physical books in our hands for the first time,” says Mohamed Hassan Mukhtar, the Ministry’s Director of Curriculum Department. “It represented a huge milestone in our efforts to expand access to education for out-of-school children and youth.”

Delivering books by any means necessary

The final step is to get the textbooks into students’ hands. While this is more straightforward somewhere like Mogadishu, the program has to get creative to deliver books in rural and hard-to-reach areas.

Isolated districts like Baardheere and Diinsoor received textbooks books by air. In Lower Shabelle, when road access was not feasible and there were no local flights available, the books were shipped by boat to Marka and Baraawe, then transferred to carts and trucks to make it the last stretch to schools.

Access to textbooks has been a game-changer for Mohamed. He finds it easier to remember what the teacher said in class, completes practice exercises that have significantly improved his understanding and academic performance.