Educational and integrational challenges facing Somali students in secondary schools

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2013

53 Pages



1. Introduction and outline to the research:
1.1 Introduction
1.2 The History of Somali Refugee in Ireland
1.3 Post war education in Somalia
1.4 Somali children denied universal human rights
1.5 Problems Assessment integrating in the local system
1.6 Rationale of Research
1.7 The Research Objectives
1.8 The purpose of the research
1.9 Research Question
1.9.1 Constraint of the research
1.9.2 Conclusion

2. A Review of Literature
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Language and communication barriers
2.3 Accommodation family size and home environment
2.4 Cultural Shock
2.5 Challenges of Parents Illiteracy
2.6 Single Mothers and students relationship
2.7 Low income families and its impact on students
2.8 Bullying and Racism at Schools
2.9 Khat and education Impact
2.9.1 Somali immigrant integration and education
2.9.2 The Lack of Unity among Somali Community and the lack of role model
2.9.3 Conclusion

3. Outline of research approach
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Methodology
3.3 One to one in interview
3.4 Unstructured interview
3.5 Focus group
3.6 Main Informants
3.7 Students with less than two years in the country
3.8 Students in the country more than two years
3.9 Students born in Ireland
3.9.1 Why we chose community leaders
3.9.2 Parents
3.9.3 Students’ Parents
3.9.4 Single mothers
3.9.5 Ethics
3.9.6 Problems that arose for data collection
3.9.7 Problem I encountered for data collection and the way I solve it
3.9.8 The Background and experience of the participates

4. Presentation of research finds
4.1 Interview structural and unstructured
4.2 Questionnaire
4.3 Focus Group
4.4 Educational barriers: finding from the data
4.5 Students in less than two year in the country
4.6 Accommodation and Family Size are part of educational barrier
4.7 Islamic School and Time Constrain on students
4.8 Bullying and racism impact on students self confidence
4.9 Students Lack of Integration and education
4.9.1 Remittance is burden on students
4.9.2 Low income families and educational impacts
4.9.3 Parents Literacy is obstacle for students learning
4.9.4 Communication gap between Parent and secondary school
4.9.5 Single Mothers and education barriers at schools
4.9.6 Parent Khat Users and Education impact on students
4.9.7 Curriculum is a complicated system on Somali secondary students
4.9.8 The lack of agreement among Somali community

5. Analysis of Findings
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Education integration challenges
5.2.1 Limited Proficient English
5.2.2 Parents with low education background impact on students’ performance
5.2.3 Lack of Integration and educational challenges
5.2.4 Low Income Family influence on students’ performance
5.2.5 Khat Influence on Students Education
5.3 The imperative of data collection
5.4 Conclusions

6. Recommendations and Conclusions
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Recommendation
6.2.1 Somali Students
6.2.2 Somali Parents
6.2.3 Somali Community
6.3 Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction and outline to the research:

1.1 Introduction

This research examined the educational challenges faced Somali secondary students in North and South of Ireland, especially Dublin and Belfast areas, where there were a large number of Somali communities. It focused the current challenges they were facing in terms of the formal education system and social inclusion. The most of the students were born outside the state with little formal education, and their integrating into the system is a daunting task. Many joined school with an educational, deficit, unstable families, illiterate parents and poor family environment that is entirely dependent on social welfare.

The research tried to examine how these students overcame these educational barriers. The research looks at the parent’s role in improving their children’s educational performance. It also highlighted the enormous challenge and puzzling tasks many Somali student endure.

The study looked closely at the varieties of difficulties that they are facing in day to day life in schools such as lack of tutoring, mentoring and low self-esteem. It explored solutions to address these problems and the last, but not least recommends a resolution that will increase students’ performance. It also suggests significant steps to tackle Somali early school dropout.

1.2 The History of Somali Refugee in Ireland

Ireland has attracted many immigrants from the world especially those fleeing from persecution in their home country. In 1992 to 2008 there were just over 80,000 applications for asylum in Ireland, Somali asylum seekers were one of the top five countries arriving in the country (Loyal, 2011, p 85).

The particular statistics of Somali refugee are registered under the Justice Department, which is exclusive, unavailable to access, so it is quietly challenging to establish the exact number of Somali living in the state. Those arrived in the country is reported to be feeling glad to be in a safe place according Abdullahi “Ireland accepted me. I am safe, and my family is safe. We are very grateful to be here” (UNHCR, 2013, p. P 1).

Somali refugee arriving in the country increased in the middle of 2004 has grown rapidly since 2007. As the number of Somalia has it subsequently been swelled by family reunification. Most of the Somali refugees proportionally concentrated in Dublin, Cork and Limerick. In the north, there is large Somali population especially in Belfast. They are the top of the list of immigrant non-English speakers. They are fractured community in the republic because of a war that ravaged their country. Most of the Somali students born in the middle of civil war, and they never witnessed a functioning state.

1.3 Post war education in Somalia

The Somali students left a country experience difficult circumstances civil war, and famine and without a central government. They inherited a “failed state” that didn’t offer them any educational facilities and mostly are considered a lost generation as the civil war devastated the entire Somali educational system. According Mary “The dominant image of Somalia is of a stateless, ‘Failed’ country whose inhabitants have lost control of their destinies; a place where everything has collapsed, where violence and hunger dominate”(Harper, 2012, p. 105).

1.4 Somali children denied universal human rights

Somali children were denied their fundamental rights to get a primary education, and a Somali generation lost their chance to enter into schools because of the chaos. They were obstructed to pursue their dreams to learn and to be part of the world society. As stated by that Declaration of Universal Human Rights, every child has an absolute right to get education “The child is entitled to receive education, which shall be free and compulsory at least in the elementary stages. He shall be given an education which will promote his general culture and enable him, on the basis of equal opportunity, to develop his abilities, his individual judgment, and his sense of moral and social responsibility, and to become a useful member of society” (UN, 1959, p 1) .

1.5 Problems Assessment integrating in the local system

Somali students entered schools, with respect to their age, not with their educational abilities, and then it became harder to get accustomed to the full in the education system, because of their limited proficiency in English. As results they excluded in academic activities and some social life; they also found it very difficult to communicate with their peers in the classes.

Apart from educational discrepancy, Somali students face a real test of integrating into society with which they have nothing in general. They went into schools that had a different system and peers whom they met only in the circumstances at schools. Most of their parents are illiterate know nothing about how the education system works, they were traumatized by fierce fighting that destroyed, every part of their life, and the franchising community who lost their real identity as Somalis, but divided into clans.

1.6 Rationale of Research

I am a Somali student, and I disturbed by the countless report from other countries that a larger number of Somali students were lagging behind their fellow students in terms of, underachievement. there is high school dropouts according Duabs “25 per cent of Canadian youth of Somali descent drop out of school, 31 percent were taking courses in applied streams, and 58 per cent of males had been suspended at least once all higher percentages than the general student body” (Daubs, 2013, p 1).

I wondered what was happening in Ireland, and I believe it is a cause that need to my attention as a Somali student to take the first step to expose these challenges and look for a valuable solution to encounter these problems.

I decided to do this research to examine the significant challenges faced Somali secondary students, and to underline the main factors were causing students underperformance at schools and exposing if there is a probability that Somali secondary students are dropping out from the schools.

1.7 The Research Objectives

The goal of this research is to find the challenges facing Somali students especially those newly arrived in Ireland and their adaptation into the schools system. I will explore the various barriers they come across in the schools that utterly different from their school system, their educational experience particularly those born in war torn country and never got the opportunities to attend at schools.

Explore the various barriers Somali students come across in schools which is entirely different from their school system;

Investigate their educational experience in Ireland particularly those who were born in the war torn Somalia and never had the opportunity to attend schools; and Come up with recommendations to be used as policy inputs for the host country, Ireland, to close the gaps between the educational system students had passed through before they came to Ireland and the host country educational system.

1.8 The purpose of the research

This research will investigate.

a. What is the educational integration facing Somali secondary students in terms of language, religion and culture?.
b. What is the indication on the influence of the lack of English language on Somali secondary students and their families at schools?.
c. What is the association between the educational low performance of the Somali secondary students and their parents Khat addiction?
d. What are the major educational integration challenges facing Somali secondary school students and their effect on their class performance?

1.9 Research Question

- This research will investigate Somali secondary students experience in schools in Ireland.
- What is the educational integration facing Somali secondary students in terms of language, religion and culture?.
- What are educational challenges facing Somali secondary students in Ireland?
- What are the experiences of Somali secondary students in terms racism, bullying and discrimination?.
- What are the roles of Somali parents supporting their children education?.

1.9.1 Constraint of the research

Immigration is a new trend to Ireland, not enough research had done on the Somali community whose their presence not yet felt across the board. But I gathered a substantially published material from European and North America countries, as where large part of Somali Diaspora experience. They have similar difficulties with their counterparts in Europe and America. There is a substantial material that had written on Somali problems such as their lack of integration, of low-income families; I supported my argument from different aspects of researches that had written. It was on the internet not being problematic to my research.

1.9.2 Conclusion

This chapter has outlined the research topic and the research. Here I also said the rights of all children to have an education are universal human right and how Somali leaders failed to uphold these rights. I outline the urgent need to identify the causes of Somali student’s educational barriers. The research questions and the other factors related to the problems that Somali secondary students are encountering in their daily life at schools and how to be meet their needs.

2. A Review of Literature

2.1 Introduction

This section is structured as follows.

The rest of the research project is set out at literature review, we exploring what have been written on Somali students who are attending secondary school in foreign countries, the key challenges they are facing at schools.

The central goal of this section was to evaluate the existing literature on Somali secondary student’s educational integration barrier and challenges they encountered at schools. It outlined the principal factors affecting Somali secondary students and it also looked at the broader view of several opinions related to the subject and importance of parent’s role to support their children’s educational needs.

The first part observed language and communication barriers and It looks at the connection between unemployment status and the motivation of the students. It also reviewed existing literature review on the role of the Somali community at large and how their division hinders the progress of their children education performance at schools.

It looks at the lack of educational integration of Somali secondary students in the school system and within their peers; it would explore if there were bullying and discrimination against Somali secondary students in the schools, reported in the literature review.

This section structure as follows.

2.2 Language and communication barriers

Language is a general problem for most immigrant students who english is not their first language, and it is the largest barriers facing on non- English speaker students. According Christensen “Language education is a primary issue for educational systems, since the evidence strongly suggests that children who do not speak, read or write the language of education to the level of their peers perform lower in the school” ( Stanat, 2007, p. 13).

Somali secondary students are part of large immigrant families who English is not their first language. It has a direct effect on their low educational performance. According studies carried out by OECD “immigrant students in Ireland are the heterogeneous group. There is a gap in achievement between those students who speak English at home and those who don’t” (Miho Taguma, 2009, p. 9).

UNESCO stated that the students who lack the language of the education medium were the essential educational barriers that faced students for the first time they joined schools. According UNESCO “Teaching and learning take place through language that is not the first language of some learners. It places these learners, at a disadvantage, and it often leads to significant linguistic difficulties which contribute to learning breakdown. Second-language learners are particularly subject to low expectations and discrimination." (, p. 1).


in the literature review, we highlighted that majority of Somali students lack of english and they live a household that an english was not a common knowledge. it shows how a lack of english language is an educational barrier on students.

2.3 Accommodation family size and home environment

All immigrants’ communities face housing, integration and social integration barriers but Somali face peculiar problems because of their larger families, which was very hard to accommodate in the housing unit. According study carried out by Finland “The Finnish climate and the cost of having many children in Finland influenced family size and children's upbringing. All respondents pointed out that every winter and summer children needed new clothes and shoes. Their children also had hobbies like their Finnish friends, and these types of pressures made it financially very difficult to have large families in Finland" (Filio Degni, 2006, p. 12).

Somali culture sees children as a blessing and having larger families as a wealth, but Somali immigrant with larger families are facing difficulties in social housing because there are not enough units to accommodate such number according a study done in Canada “Somali tend to have a large, families and face difficulties in finding suitable rental accommodation” (Aulakh, 2012, p. 1).


we highlighted the social problems that faced Somali community such as lack of integration, accommodation and cultural shock that shakes the community cohesion. the literature outlined the challenges faced Somali families who have a large family on their children education.

2.4 Cultural Shock

Traditional Somali society are a male dominant society where the father had absolute authority on the household, this customs had changed dramatically when they arrived in the western world; there are family conflicts that have an impact on children’s education. According “because of the breakdown of the traditional support systems available in Somali, abusive relationships between parents and children, as well as among married couples, were increasing in the Somali community." (Bushra, 2004, p. 110).

Somali culture was preventing parents to engage in their children education according research carried out by open society foundation in Norway “language and cultural barriers, make it difficult for Norwegian-Somali parents to engage with the schools system, and to assist children with their studies." (Nielsen, 2013, p. 2).


we outlined the cultural shock that shakes Somali families structure in diaspora, and it is affects on students. also we stated that Somali culture was an obstacle to the parents role to their children education

2.5 Challenges of Parents Illiteracy

A large portion of the Somali immigrants are illiterate, and they found very hard to support their children’s education. According Goodhart, “many Somalis arrived in Britain, particularly in the 1990, traumatized by war. A high number of older Somalis are illiterate, there was not written language until 1973 there is of course reasons why Somalis have proved to be such a challenging minority; (GOODHART, 2013, p. 230) .

One main barrier facing immigrant students could be their parent’s literacy, and it has an effect on their studies. According Achiron “students’ performance or underperformance is directly connected to their parent low level of education and is a contrast the students lack of language that is mostly associated with reduced performance” (Achiron, 2012, p. 2).


We highlighted the impact the illiterate parents on students’ performance at school and most Somali parents are illiterate that they cannot support their children homework. Most Somali secondary students face a peculiar problem for their lack of support from their parents.

2.6 Single Mothers and students relationship

Somali mothers face difficult conditions for child-rearing, and they represent a high number in new immigrant parents. Single mothers are torn apart either to rear their children at home or thinking how to bring their spouse and their children they left behind in Somalia. According Bushra “Single mothers feel the pressure more than two-parent families. Some women had to leave their spouse and children behind in Somalia.” (Bushra, 2004, p. 123)

Some Somali mothers chose to leave from their husbands in order to the get extra financial support from the state this might be a main the principal factor driving Somali single mothers according Goodhart “Maximizing welfare returns may be one reason for the high numbers of single-mothers families in Somali households thought to be around 60 percent” (GOODHART, 2013, p. 230) .


Somali single mothers are new phenomena for Somali immigrant, and it spreads fast among the societies. There are other factors that contribute single mothers as there are family conflict and cultural shock, that affected the children education.

2.7 Low income families and its impact on students

Poverty is the main source of students underachievement’s as it well documented that the principal barriers facing secondary students in Ireland to achieve good results was their low income families. According Patrick “many students, from disadvantaged backgrounds are simply unable to compete on equal terms in an examination system where others may have vastly superior resources, these resources include: higher family income, better educational parents, supportive peers and good studies families” (Enright, 1999, p 126).

Somalis are particularly vulnerable to fall into low income classes compared to the rest of immigrants according to Poison “Somali community living in Canada face enormous poverty, unemployment and lack of opportunities mainly single mothers; the unemployment rate is above 20% the highest of any ethnic” (Poisson, 2013, p 1).

Somali unemployment status drive them to be a welfare dependent according GOODMART “Somali is heavy welfare dependent and notoriously clannish, on welfare dependency; 39 percent of Somali households claim income support (easily the highest claim rate for ethnic minority), and 40 percent claim child benefit” (again the highest for an ethnic minority)” (GOODHART, 2013, p 231).


In the literature review, we highlighted the relationship between the poverty and low educational performance at school. How the poverty affects student’s motivation. We discuss the plight of Somali immigrants and the immense poverty exists among the communities that trap their children talents to perform well in the school.

2.8 Bullying and Racism at Schools

Bullying is common phenomena that took places most of the schools but the most vulnerable group of this kind of bullying are Somali immigrants according Kaahin“racial and sexual harassment is common in mixed schools taunting or physical assault on account of racial and religious difference is causing concern to many Somali parents who believe that their daughters are easily target if they choose to wear hirable” (Kaahin, 1997, p. 32).


A lack of English among Somali secondary students had impact on their educational performance at school and impaired their integration into their peers. As Somali girls covered their heads as an obligation from their religion they were more likely to be bullied or discriminated in the school. Such treats might become one of the main reasons of educational integration barriers they often faced at the schools.

2.9 Khat and education Impact

Khat users spend most of their time outside their homes, and they neglect to take care of their children then it will influence students’ performance at home According Mohamed “Khat users spend a reasonable amount of time searching for the substance and using it, they are often absent from their homes/families that mean that these have very little time to spend with their children and spouses. Children need encouragement and supervision as they grew up. More often not, children of chewers lack the fatherly roles that other children whose parents do not chew Khat. (Mohamed, 2012, p. 24).


We discussed the absence of the father's role in their home and students lack of support from their fathers. In this case, there were possibilities that Somali secondary students might take their fathers footstep and start chewing Khat earlier that would impaired their educational integration.

2.9.1 Somali immigrant integration and education

Most immigrants in Ireland faced integration barriers and Somali are one of the communities who found very difficult to integrate. According Loyal “the accommodation of socially and culturally distinct migrants into Irish society has become a major political, media and popular concern (Loyal, 2011, p 249) .

Somalis are doing the opposite of integration as they exclude themselves from the rest of the community... According Lewis “If Somalis appreciate the efforts of foreigners to master their difficult language, their pleasure is tinged with deeply ingrained suspicions, despite their strong sentiments of national self-esteem and an ethnocentricity with borders on arrogance, they wish to guard the secret of their culture, and only to share them on their own terms, and as they chose. In the harsh struggle for survival that is the nomad ‘slot, suspicion is the natural to scarce pasture and water” (Lewis, 2011, p 24).


Somali culture had influenced on Somali secondary students that they got suspection from integration process and they chose to live among themselves. It leads more isolation from the rest of the community and less integration into their peers.

2.9.2 The Lack of Unity among Somali Community and the lack of role model

Another problem that faced the Somali community is a lack of unity among their community which dived into clan. According Lewis “Somali immigrant are divided by their clan allegiance The six major divisions of the country didn't combine together to confront the world, nor did they regularly an as stable or autonomous political within the political system, they were too large and widely dispersed to do this, and lacked the necessary business, these divisions were based on primary on tracing kinship in the male line." (Lewis, 2011, p. 27).


Somali lack of unity contributes the difficulties that their young generation faced and their loyalty into clan created more competition rather than cooperation that affected student’s unity.

2.9.3 Conclusion

Somali secondary students faced many challenges that prevented them to complete their education. There were some factors that directly connected to their self-confidence that impaired their educational integration such as their low-income families, and the lack of support and guidance from their parents. Family’s size and housing environments contribute their low educational performance as well. The most significant of the literature review highlighted that they were post-war students who had been traumatized by the civil. I need to understand the core, educational integration barriers met Somali student it allowed me investigate further.


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Educational and integrational challenges facing Somali students in secondary schools
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Daud Gilingil (Author), 2013, Educational and integrational challenges facing Somali students in secondary schools, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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