In an effort to move beyond the past of its former French institutional structure, in 2000 the Djiboutian education system underwent a comprehensive overhaul. That year the National Assembly mandated the education of all children through the age of 16 by establishing a nationwide programme with its own textbooks, teachers, university and degree programmes. By 2016 the government had succeeded in providing 80% of the population with access to education. Efforts to close the gap for the remaining 20% continue to be the object of significant outreach projects on behalf of the government in tandem with international developments organisations, such as the World Bank and UNICEF. Beyond securing universal education, the current priorities of the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training (Ministère de l’Education Nationale et de la Formation Professionnelle, MENFOP) concern the evaluation and improvement of teaching staff, the incorporation of ICT into classrooms, and strengthening technical and vocational education systems. To achieve these goals, 24% of the national budget was allocated to education in 2018, while the country continues to host refugee and migrants populations, offering them social services, such as accommodation, school and health care.
The current system is already running at overcapacity, and in 2016 a number of primary students saw their schooling pushed back by a year due to the lack of physical space. A dual flow system, which sees teachers working two shifts per day, was implemented to address the issue, however, with the school-aged population expected to increase by 3.5% per year in the medium-term, the need for more physical classrooms will continue to grow.
The Education Action Programme 2017-19, initiated by MENFOP and supported by the World Bank, the Global Partnership for Education and UNICEF, seeks to address the pressing issues of over-enrolment and limited facilities. With a budget of $26m, authorities are working to eliminate double shifts for teachers, prioritise the inclusion of vulnerable populations into the education system and generalise preschool programmes across the country.
Additional initiatives to address inadequate capacity led the government to announce that it would build 153 new classrooms and refurbish 541 existing ones in the short term. This will aid in reducing classroom sizes, which at the primary level average around 50 students per class, according to MENFOP. Djibouti’s Strategy of Accelerated Growth and Promotion of Employment 2015-19 plan, which is the first operational deployment of the Djibouti Vision 2035 development programme, makes it a goal to have no more than 40 students per class by 2019.
A number of international development agencies have come to support Djibouti in its ambition to make quality education accessible to its entire population. To that end, with the support of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), in March 2017 MENFOP launched a project to strengthen bilingual education. Through the project, six new language schools, including 118 new classrooms and six bilingual language laboratories, will be constructed with an initial capacity of 3500 students to be expanded to 9000 by 2019. Such facilities will be distributed throughout the country to increase opportunities in Djibouti’s outer regions and will cater to students of all socio-economic levels.
Meanwhile, the World Bank’s Strengthening Institutional Capacity and Management of the Education System in Djibouti project, first introduced in 2012 and aimed at reinforcing the capacity of MENFOP, was extended another year beyond its initial closing date of August 2017. The intervening year saw 30 targeted primary and middle schools receiving grants of between $50,000 and $150,000 in order to implement school improvement initiatives. The needs of each school are identified by on-the-ground school management committees composed of directors, local teachers and parents, and community representatives. Through this programme, from June 2017 to March 2018, 90% of school departments developed and approved annual work plans, 672 students gained access to didactic equipment in technical colleges and 15 partnerships with private sector firms were made to train or recruit students.
In June 2018 the World Bank also launched the five-year Support for Women and Youth Entrepreneurship Project, devoting $15m from its International Development Association fund to support over 6000 potential youth and female entrepreneurs in Djibouti and over 2300 small and medium-sized enterprises. Given that the current estimated rate of unemployment for those under the age of 30 is 70% and that only 39% of women are active in the workforce, this investment in skills-based education is intended to bring more youth and women into the workforce.
School of Excellence
The government has also committed itself to the cultivation of future leadership. In September 2017 authorities opened the designated School of Excellence (SoE) aimed at identifying young talent at the primary-school level. The Chinese government built and equipped the institution, which currently educates 125 students across five classrooms taught in English, Arabic and French. The SoE will also cooperate with Dubai-based investment group Sahara Global’s International School of Africa, which launched in 2016 as a bilingual and digitally orientated school. The Dubai facility will share its expertise with and provide pedagogical training to the Djibouti SoE. In order to acquire the digital and computer technologies required for the SoE, in October 2017 MENFOP signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with China’s Haier Group. The agreement will see Haier Group provide the equipment for the school’s digital curriculum, with the potential for Haier to build a manufacturing plant at a later date.
Integrating ICT into the academic lives of students has become another priority of MENFOP, with public schools incorporating new information technologies since 2015. The 2018/19 academic year will mark the fourth anniversary of introducing tablets in the country’s primary schools. While middle and secondary schools have integrated smart classrooms and laptops in order to acquaint students with digital technologies.
“MENFOP is currently setting up a digital policy for effective control of the education system and optimal integration of new technologies in the learning-teaching process. The dissemination to all schools will be done gradually,” Mouna Ismaël Abdou, general inspector of MENFOP, told OBG.
The use of ICT in higher education was the main topic at the Conference on Higher Education, Policy and Research, which took place in Djibouti in May 2017 and included delegates from Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. In addition to recognising the significance of ICT to the promulgation of research and development, the conference recommended that the region create a cross-border consortium of open distance and e-learning systems to pool localised information and increase accessibility to research.
Djibouti is home to approximately 27,800 refugees, the majority of whom are from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and more recently, Yemen. While refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than the global average, according to UNICEF, Djibouti’s government has committed to ensuring that refugee children are afforded the same educational opportunities as its own citizens. In 2017, 67% of the 7566 school-aged refugee children in Djibouti were enrolled in educational programmes taught in English and Arabic. The education plan for refugee children was designed in collaboration with the US Embassy in Djibouti City.
In December 2017 President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh signed into law two presidential decrees that mandate the inclusion of refugee children into the national education system, with the greater goal of facilitating the socio-economic inclusion of refugees in society. These actions are in line with the country’s commitment to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, a policy vision that was unanimously signed by all 193 nations present at the at the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants in September 2016 in New York.
Shortly after the implementation of the decrees, the country hosted ministers from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional trade bloc composed of eight nations from the Horn of Africa, for the First Regional Ministerial Conference on Refugee Education. Here Djiboutian officials urged its regional neighbours to pursue similar policies concerning the education of refugees.
MENFOP has recognised the importance of qualified teachers, and international aid organisations have played a major role in providing training sessions to local educators. From 2010 to 2014, the US Agency for International Development, together with MENFOP, assisted in developing the national teacher-training plan, training over 1200 primary school teachers in the process, while also establishing 12 school libraries and providing job training to 120 out-of-school youths.
The ministry’s Training Centre for Teachers of Basic Education (Centre de Formation des Enseignants de l’Enseignement Fondamental, CFEEF) has also been active in engaging with international institutions to improve the pedagogical expertise of the local academic community. The CFEEF plays a central role in the education system by providing skills-based development support, and educational and vocational training for local teachers and academic staff. In November 2016 the CFEEF and the University of Montpellier established a five-year partnership with the objective of training teachers and academic faculty. Financed by the French Development Agency, the partnership programme will train teachers over a series of 44 sessions in its first two years and support the operation of a new training centre for the next three.
“We attach great importance to the training and mentoring of teachers and principals because they are key players in the education system,” Abdou told OBG. “Broad policy reform is under way at MENFOP, particularly in assessment, professional ethics and accountability. We are aiming to make efficient use of the staff at the ministry to improve the quality of Djibouti’s education system.”
The University of Djibouti (UoD), which was established in 2006 in Djibouti City, remains the only public institute of higher education in the country. The UoD comprises five faculties and two technological institutes, with 10,000 registered students in the 2017/18 academic year. In February 2018 a second campus in Balbala was added.
The private higher education sector is comparatively underdeveloped in terms of investment. However, institutions such as the Higher Institute of Commerce and Business Administration (Institut Supérieur de Comptabilité et Administrations des Enterprises, ISCAE), founded in 2011 as the first private institute of higher education in the country, are moving in to fill the needs of the labour market. The government is currently preparing legislation regarding standards for such institutions so that they may address student demand. “There seems to be a lack of understanding as to the importance that private higher education can bring,” Choukri Abdillahi Mohamed, director of the ISCAE, told OBG. “As the UoD cannot accept every single student graduating from high school in Djibouti, private education can help relieve the student load and better respond to the demands of the market. By the early to mid-2020s, I believe that there will be legislation that will allow us to better move forward.”
On an administrative level, the Ministry of Higher Education and Research (Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche, MESR) has been active in confirming the ratification and implementation of the 2014 Addis Ababa Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Certificates, Diplomas, Degrees and Other Academic Qualifications in Higher Education in African States. The agreement seeks to encourage inter-regional and international cooperation by standardising academic qualifications and facilitating the movement of African students, teachers and researchers between Africa’s higher education institutions. At the May 2017 Conference on Higher Education, Policy and Research, Quality and Future Challenges for East Africa and the Indian Ocean, held in Djibouti, it was decided that the country would work to encourage the ratification of the Addis Convention by other African states.
Foreign Education Centres
In terms of international support, Turkey has come to play an increasingly important role in recent years. In March 2017 the Maarif Foundation, which was established in 2016 to offer Turkish education to the international community, signed an MoU with Djiboutian authorities to establish a series of schools in the country, ranging from preschools to high schools. In addition to renovating a pre-existing building into a kindergarten and elementary school, which is expected to open in September 2018, an educational complex focusing on science and technology is planned for construction over a 50,000-sq-metre plot of land. Turkish universities have also committed themselves to offering 50 scholarships to Djiboutian students.
In terms of higher education, Turkey’s Istanbul Technical University (Istanbul Teknik Üniversitesi, ITU) signed an MoU in 2016 with Djiboutian administrators to partner its engineering faculty with the UoD, which in March 2018 inaugurated new electrical and construction engineering departments. Shortly after, in May 2018, the MESR signed a three-year cooperative agreement with Turkey spanning higher education and research development. With the commencement of the 2018/19 academic year, members of the ITU faculty will initiate courses in artificial intelligence, maritime engineering and transport logistics.
Beyond Turkey, in April 2017 Djibouti was one of 15 countries that banded together to create the African Alliance for the Development of Vocational Training. With the backing of the IDB, the alliance is expected to facilitate the development of human capital, particularly with regard to vocational training for young people. MENFOP also told OBG that it is in negotiations with the Chinese government to implement a cooperative technical education programme.
Technical & Vocational Training
Support for technical education and entrepreneurship has come from both public and foreign sources. The government is seeking to encourage a public-private network aimed at identifying the skills most critical to the development of the services sector. Particularly, MENFOP is concerned with developing competencies in port-related industries, construction and tourism, in line with the Vision 2035 development plan. Meanwhile, the General Directorate of National Education and Vocational Training, which falls under the remit of the MENFOP, is running 11 institutions dedicated to the development of professional skills, including seven technical high schools and four higher vocational training centres. These institutions are based on the Tunisian and Moroccan models of technical training.
Djibouti has made significant progress in incorporating refugee children into the country’s national education system, and is engaging with the global community to build capacity in the sector. Efforts to incorporate ICT into school settings and democratise technological access are also likely to remain an immediate focus, as officials continue extending educational opportunities to all students in Djibouti. However, the primary medium-term challenge will be how to boost the country’s technical and vocational training at the secondary and tertiary levels to meet the demands of a growing economy.