Africans who are residents in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are the least likely of all residents to use the educational and economic resources available to them adequately. These immigrants, who are mostly Somalis, have recently arrived from refugee camps in Kenya. Their proficiency in English is minimal. At the same time, they lack basic educational skills. Unlearned in the complexities of Western cultures, they are overwhelmed by simple transactions. African immigrants, youth and adults alike, have difficulties adjusting to school and work.
African adults are the major beneficiaries of Ubah. Their adjustment and educational difficulties have not received as much media or public scrutiny as that of African youths in Minneapolis schools. Mr. Mohammed Hassan Osman, a community leader, a writer, and a former dean of the Lafole College of the Somali National University, estimates the number of African adults, 20 years and older, in the thousands. And they all need upgrading in English and basic skills. Mr. Osman is insisting that their problem is more complex than that of school children. For example, although adults have opportunities to take English courses from literacy centers or churches, they lack the initial skills to apply to, or the wherewithal to continue in, these programs.
School age African youths have received wider attention from educators and the media. Their predicament is more acute and visible. As floods of refugees started descending on the Twin Cities, the schools burgeoned with new students. School authorities were alarmed by their numbers and their need. In the 1993-94 school year Minneapolis schools educated 68 Somali students, a number which increased to 874 by 1998. The students were found to lack proficiency in English and basic skills, like, reading, writing and mathematics. Nor do the students get help with school work from their parents. Jessie Montano, a supplemental instructions director, stated: "We're not just dealing with children who come here and do not speak English. In many cases, we're dealing with kids that do not have basic skills."
Twin Cities educational authorities improved the new students' education in two ways. First, Language and cultural interpreters were hired to teach these "Limited English Proficiency" (LEP) students. Second, 150 of them were enrolled in special school, the High School of New Americans. In both cases, students are main-streamed into age appropriate classes. Although these methods are ingenious and helpful to many students, they fall short of fully empowering the students into their new school life. Some educators question these methods. They predict dire consequences for the students themselves and the larger society of the Twin Cities. Jeannine Oulette-Howitz argues in the Minnesota Parent that, "the mere existence of 'high school for new Americans' calls attention to something much larger and ultimately more profound in its potential impact on Minneapolis and its schools-and the entire state of Minnesota-than the 150 students in Gethsemene; the high school for new Americans is but one small response to the burgeoning population of LEP kids in Minneapolis"
The director of unified students services for Minneapolis, Paul McMahon, concurs, "this is going to hit us - bang, there are 20-year-old Somalian freshmen. They do not know English, and they are going to be on the job market."
The issue, it seems from the educator's arguments, is complex. The commendable programs being set up by the educational authorities leave some students behind. Possibly, these students are very far gone age-wise into their illiteracy that no ordinary school can help them. Add to this group, those Africans who could not enroll in school because of their age. These young men and women, of both groups, have expressed to us their frustration of inadequacy at work and school. They claim they can not use all the opportunities they have been offered, their education has been disrupted by the civil war in Somalia, and in America, they have been marginalized to dead-end jobs. Those in school have not been able to bypass the ESL-basic education cycle. Some of them have to be kicked out of school after reaching the magical out-of-school age of 21. Their question to us has been: "What can those of us who want to achieve more do?"
For more information call (612) 874-9667.
UBAH EDUCATIONAL SERVICES
2201 Blaisdell Av S
Minneapolis MN 55404
Waad Mahadsantahiin, Waa Macalimiintii & iyo Maamulkii oo markale Idin leh ku soo dhawaada waxbarasho shuruud la'aan ah.
ALLAHA NAGU ANFACO