For Somalis in Britain, the answer at least seems to be ‘Yes’:
Teachers and community workers hope they’ll be able to harness that enthusiasm and confidence in their efforts to address the long-standing problem of Somali pupils’ underachievement. The Department for Education’s statistics on attainment aren’t broken down into ethnic groups beyond broad categories like “Black African”, so there is no national data on how Somali pupils are faring.But in 2010 a report for the then Department for Children, Schools and Families estimated that while the 2007 national figure for pupils getting five GCSEs at A*-C including English and maths was 45%, for Somalis it was just 24%.
There’s no explanation given for just how they arrived at that estimate, so treat it with caution.
But certainly, all the myriad special help organisations for Somalis argue that there’s a problem that might now have a partial solution:
“Mo will be a talking point in schools this term, especially in those with significant numbers of Somali pupils,” says Asha Ali, a Cardiff teacher and the founder and director of SEF Cymru , a voluntary organisation that has offered out-of-hours educational support for young Somalis for 12 years. “He’s such a great role model and ambassador for young Somalis – he has put them on the map in a positive way.”
And this is not the only one:
At Springfield primary school in Sheffield, where 30-35% of pupils are Somali, the headteacher, Beth Stevenson, is envisaging assemblies exploring Farah’s background. “His life journey is such a good story to support kids in just sticking at it,” she says. “He left Somalia to make a new life, and that’s what most of my families are here for. He conformed to the stereotype quite a bit, in having language difficulties and getting in trouble– but he absolutely broke through that.”But it won’t just be what we can teach them, it will be about what family experiences they bring. It’s very important that the kids can reflect. We will probably have a display up asking ‘who is this man, where has he come from, what can we learn from him?’. We can talk to children, but they need to learn it for themselves.”
The question is, though, why should ‘role models’ be so necessary?
Are we supposed to ensure that every identity group has someone teachers can point to and say ‘See! They made it!’?
At the offices of the Islington Somali Community (ISC) organisation in Finsbury Park, north London, staff believe work like theirs – providing extra lessons in maths, English and Somali language, and helping parents to understand the British education system – has contributed to improved attainment in recent years. Young Somalis there who are about to go to university say they had no issuesat school.But problems persist, says Abdullahi Awale, a tutor at the centre who works with primary school pupils – often because parents don’t have the English language skills, time or education to help children with homework. They may not realise the value of after-school clubs either. Without that input, it’s easy for children to fall behind.
“You see some pupils in year 5 who still don’t understand year-2 or -3 work,” Awale says. “Pupils lose self-confidence in class; they don’t have much ambition. They think they can’t learn. They say ‘it’s hard, I can’t do it, I hate it’.”
A lack of role models can also be a problem: “If they don’t see teachers and staff from their country they might feel they can’t do well. I had one boy saying ‘my father is a taxi driver so I’ll be a taxi driver’.”
So what if he wants to be a taxi driver? Given the crime record of young Somali males, I’d have thought that’d be an improvement!
Respondents to a Department for Communities and Local Government study on the Somali community in England, published in 2009, identified a lack of role models, especially male ones, as one of the key causes of crime among young Somali men, with boys described by many in the community as a “lost generation”.
It seems we are putting a lot on the plate of one man who runs fast to fix, doesn’t it?
Omer Ahmed, the director of the Council of Somali Organisations, says .. “The most powerful image wasn’t Mo Farah crossing the line – it was watching British society celebrating a young Somali man wrapped in the Union Jack.”
And there you have it!
He’s British. Why are we celebrating ‘a Somali man’? Why not ‘a British man’?
For that matter, why have all these groups set up to ‘help Somalis’, and so ensuring we propagate division?