Education: An asset that lasts a lifetime

by Moureen Mutiso & Leah Berger

Today (January 24th), marks the International Day of Education, a UN day recognising the importance of education and its role in empowering individuals and improving societies. This year the theme of the day is “learning for lasting peace”, and in line with the day, we are keen to explore how our education mission enables learners to gain the essential knowledge and values, to empower them to serve as catalysts for peace in their communities. To do this we have spoken to a range of our own senior staff as well as those on the ground, implementing our work in the sector.

Pharo Foundation’s founder, Guillaume Fonkenell, recently commented that “Once someone has received an education, no-one can take it away from them. This is something beautiful about education that is not true of physical things such as homes or hospitals that are not necessarily permanent. An education is something people can take through their whole life, and this is why it is such a focus for us.” Therefore, it is essential that we arm our students with an education that can take them into society and make it a better place. We must teach them to respect one another, express their opinions, but not impose them on others, and to always research something and learn about it themselves. These are all qualities and values that can help us build a more peaceful future.

Looking at this year’s theme of “learning for lasting peace”, we spoke to Muna Ahmed Jama, our Head of Education in Somaliland. She says: “When it comes to the role education plays in serving as a catalyst for peace, we are cognizant of the fact that Somaliland is a country that has seen years of brutal civil war and now has had peace for almost 30 years. As such, all our programmes, one way or the other, focus on ensuring that students understand and learn from Somaliland’s history. At Pharo Foundation we want our students to have pride in how far their country has come, but to also ensure that history never repeats itself again.”

It is incredibly important for us to recognise the role of peacebuilding in education as we venture into creating educational establishments in countries affected by war. Muna Ahmed Jama makes this apparent in the case of our Somaliland schools. It is important for us to teach, history, effective problem solving and communication to our pupils as we prepare them to be the guardians of peace in society, especially in contexts such as Somaliland. However, Somaliland is not our only operational area affected by war. 

We spoke with Majiwa Benson, School Principal at Pharo School Homosha in Ethiopia, which is a free girls-only boarding school, that is attended by many girls suffering from internal displacement due to the civil war. In this context, the role of education in creating the foundations of peace is ever so evident, in the value of respect for different religions and backgrounds which is promoted at the school. The value of respecting one another’s beliefs is something that is highlighted again and again in Homosha as we prepare the future generation for modern society. Beyond that, reflecting on the state of play in Ethiopia, Majiwa noted that in his time there he has seen a society stratified based on social and economic classes, as well as gender. He felt that one of the main barriers stopping those in lower strata from being able to secure good jobs was a lack of education. As such, he very much sees this day’s significance in cementing education as a human right – rather than something for the select few. As principal of our girl’s boarding school in the region he also had this to say:

“Closing the gap between the two genders can only be achieved through education and this is why projects like Pharo School Homosha (Girls’ Boarding School) are so important. This school supports girls in unlocking their potential and achieving dreams that would otherwise remain a mirage due to the lack of quality education and appropriate support in the region. In just the past two years we are proud to have sent 70 girls to local universities and a further three to international universities. We cannot wait to see our alumni go on to being the next movers and shakers in Ethiopia and the entire region.”

He believes that ensuring women can access high-quality information brings us one step closer to educating for a peaceful society, one with less oppression and more equity. It is clear to us that education applied correctly can both be a catalyst for peace and that providing widespread access to education will aid in building a vibrant, productive, and self-reliant Africa. This is backed by data such as that from The World Bank, which states that an estimated 7 in 10 of all children in low and middle-income countries cannot read a simple text with comprehension by age 10. Furthermore, UNESCO details that 244 million children and youth still are not in school. This shows that the right to education is not yet cemented in developing countries and must still be prioritised to accelerate progress towards all of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

With this in mind, Pharo Foundation’s vision is to build and operate an international network of locally relevant and globally competitive schools, covering early childhood education (ECE), primary, secondary school and vocational training. We aim to equip students with the necessary skills and competencies and do this through a local approach, tailoring education to the specific needs of each community. By partnering with local stakeholders, including governments, educators, and parents, the Foundation aims to create schools that are grounded in local culture and values while also preparing students for the challenges of a globalised world.

Those challenges will often include the threat of conflict. To give our students the tools needed to be peacebuilders we have crafted an education system that allows them to gain essential knowledge, values, attitudes, skills and behaviours, thereby empowering them to be catalysts of peace. Furthermore, Muna Ahmed Jama says: “We encourage our students to expand their understanding of local and global views, inspiring them to develop comprehensive perspectives and solutions. We guide and equip them with the skills and knowledge enabling them to thrive in an interconnected and rapidly changing global world.” We partly achieve this by supporting and creating online exchanges between our students and pupils who are UK-based.

We have more than 3,600 students currently accessing quality education in Pharo schools. Beyond this, many more students are receiving education in Pharo-supported public schools in East Africa. In Somaliland, we already run 15 Early Childhood Education (ECE) centres in Hargeisa, all within public schools, and an additional three in Berbera. In Ethiopia, we have built four government-run ECEs and renovated another. Pharo Schools are centres of excellence offering top-quality education, and integration of extra-curricular activities to ensure an all-rounded approach. Although this number is a drop in the ocean, we encourage them to lead by example, for those around them.

The brunt of what Pharo Foundation currently does in education is to provide high-quality teaching and achievement in its own schools. While we are now keen to extend our influence beyond the confines of our Pharo-branded classrooms, achieving access to education for all is clearly something that Pharo Foundation cannot achieve on its own. It can only happen through a partnership with education policymakers, our communities and other schools. Only then can we move towards the much greater goal of education for all.