The self-declared republic of Somaliland has introduced free education at primary and intermediate levels and doubled teachers' salaries but these decisions will be hard to sustain and could affect the quality of public education, say experts.
"We need to ask ourselves, does the Somaliland government have the capacity to handle this [salary] increase? The short answer is ‘no’," Saeed Osman, a Uganda-based researcher in Somaliland's education development, told IRIN.
"The Ministry of Education requested the Finance Ministry to recruit 2,000 teachers but the response was that only 1,500 teachers could be recruited," he added. "This shows that Somaliland's government lacks the capacity to handle the increased school enrollment."
Somaliland's Finance Minister Mohamed Hashi Elmi announced on 16 January the introduction of free education in primary and intermediate schools. He also increased, by 100 percent, salaries of civil servants, teachers and personnel in the national forces.
"We have employed about 1,500 new teachers; for this reason all public primary and intermediate schools will be free of charge," Elmi said.
However, education experts say the government's move could damage the quality of public education in Somaliland.
"Look at the countries in the region, such as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. When they announced universal primary education, school enrollment increased by about 200 percent," Osman said. "A similar increase will happen in Somaliland, can we handle this?
"The salary increase announced by the government will not amount to much because a teacher used to earn about US$100-$180 with the parents' support fee included; without the parents' support, a teacher earned $50, so with the new increase, this will come to just $100; this is not adequate if the parents' support fee is withdrawn [as will happen under the free education system]."
At least 200,000 students are enrolled in Somaliland's public primary and intermediate schools, according to estimates by the Ministry of Education.
Ali Mohamed Ali, the director-general for education in Somaliland, said: "Only 21,639 students in public primary/intermediate schools are currently benefiting from free education; we hope that the newly employed 1,500 teachers will bridge the gap. Somaliland's school enrollment increase is 6 percent annually, we do not anticipate a sharp increase from this."
Before the election in June 2010 of President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud, Somaliland's annual education budget was 14.6 billion shillings ($2.3 million) out of a $45 million annual budget. However, sources in the Finance Ministry told IRIN this year's education budget was about 35 billion shillings ($5 million) out of the government's $90 million annual budget.
"About 90 percent of the increased budget is expected to come from the Inland Revenue," a source in the ministry, who requested anonymity, said.
The increased budget has yet to be passed by Somaliland's Council of Ministers and House of Representatives.
Somaliland has been largely stable since 1991 when it dissolved the union with Somalia and public schools were free until 1994 when civil war broke out with the former Somali National Movement - the liberation movement of Somaliland - between 1981 and 1991. This caused economic hardships for the government, leading to students being charged 15,000 Somaliland shillings ($2.50) each per month since 1995.
Thousands of children are expected to take advantage of the free primary education. "The programme will give a chance to poor families to send their children to schools even though the yearly school enrollment in public schools was about 6 percent of the total number of students," Ali, the director-general of education, said.
Sa'ed Ahmed Khayre, a teacher in Ahmed Dhagah Primary and Intermediate School in Hargeisa, said: "Public school principals used to earn much more than the teachers and we believe that the new salary increase will give us the chance to evaluate the teachers who are doing their jobs well or not.
"The increase will boost teachers' livelihoods and encourage them not to seek other jobs; it will improve the quality of public school education because earlier we used to care more for quantity rather than quality."
Parents and students have welcomed the government's announcement.
"Three of my seven children are in the public schools; I used to worry about their school fees daily because if I don't pay on time, my children get thrown out of school," Nimo Ahmed Nuh, a petty trader in Hargeisa, said. "This [free education] was one of the promises made by KULMIYE [ruling party] during its campaigns last year."
Mawlid Mohamed, 16, a student at Sheikh Madar Primary/Intermediate school in Hargeisa, said: "We used to be chased home if our parents didn't pay the school fees on the 25th of every month; now we are glad this will come to an end."