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The can-do kids: Somali children smashing through the barricades (WEDNESDAY - 19/January/2011)

They face huge barriers of language, culture and poverty – but Manchester’s Somali children have achieved an astonishing breakthrough in their exam results.
Just eight years ago, barely 14 per cent of pupils in the city gained the government’s GCSE benchmark.
Today, that figure has rocketed to 46 per cent.
Experts put the rapid improvement down to huge commitment on both sides – from the children themselves and from the parents, teachers, community activists and charities who have spurred them on to succeed.
The results are not just remarkable, but show what obstacles can be overcome. Many Somali families in Manchester arrived in the 1990s and early 2000s, fleeing a bloody civil war.
The Somali community remains rooted in Moss Side and Hulme – areas of above-average deprivation – and many older members still do not speak
Even today, Somalis are more likely to face poverty or unemployment than other ethnic groups.
Mahamud Fuad Osman, 24, is a youth worker at the Hideaway Youth Project in Moss Side, where half of the children who attend are from Somali families.
Mahamud – who came to the UK from Somalia in 1996 – said the crucial difference was in after-school provision.
“A lot of older Somali people still don't speak the language or understand what it is they need to do to help their kids with their homework,” he said.
“However, a lot more kids have integrated now and learned the language, and how the community does things here.
“One of the main reasons they are doing better is that there are a lot of youth workers and centres they can go to opening after school. Kids can go and use the computers and get help with their homework.”
Hassan Adan, 57, who runs a Saturday school at Fallowfield Library for local youngsters, said there had been a transformation in attitudes to education in the Somali community.
“Some of the parents are really concerned about their children doing well in school, so they give them teaching at home or take them to centres,” he said. “It’s a change. We have given the Somali community lots of fight, and said we have to do something about your children because they are not achieving as much.”
Joe Flynn – who runs the council’s Ethnic Minority Achievement Service – has helped oversee the introduction of a number of mentoring schemes concentrated in Longsight, Rusholme, Moss Side and Hulme.
He said: “We have put in place a volunteer programme because we have become aware there are now quite a number of Somali undergraduates and postgraduates at our two universities.
“We still have quite a number of children causing us concern – perhaps a bit too close to gang culture - but the areas they live in mean they will be exposed to that.
“Overall we are very pleased with the way the community has responded, and most of all the way the children have responded. We have a whole generation of graduates coming through.

Catherine Shannon
January 18, 2011
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