Iftiin highlights educational issues facing Somali youth in Bristol

Ugbaad AididBlog post by Ugbaad Aidid and Robin Shields, School of Education, University of Bristol.

The brutal killing of George Floyd drew the world’s attention to the ways in which structural racist violence operates on a daily basis, but the tragic death of Shukri Abdi has gained comparatively little attention.

Twelve-year old Shukri, a Somali refugee who moved to the UK in 2017, drowned after she was forced to enter river waters by other students, who threatened to kill her if she did not. Her case highlights the social exclusion and racism faced by many Somali students across the United Kingdom.

Iftiin, an ongoing research project at the School of Education, seeks to better understand the educational experiences and aspirations of youth in Bristol’s Somali community. Meaning “light” in Somali, Iftiin is found in the well-known proverb “Aqoon la’aan waa Iftiin la’aan” which translates as “The absence of knowledge is the absence of light.” Led by Ugbaad Aidid and supported by The School of Education’s Professor Robin Shields, the project uses a participatory approach that places Somali students at the centre of project findings.

This approach involves youth in both the generation and analysis of data, ensuring their voice in project findings. This contrasts with other research on communities of colour, in which data are collected from the community but analysed and interpreted by researchers who are not part of the community. The participatory approach aims to increase engagement by ensuring the voice of participants in all stages of the project.

Emerging findings show that Somali students are excluded from educational opportunity or marginalized in multiple ways. For example, they report that teachers are more likely to assume their actions are disruptive or behavioural misconduct, noting that several Somali students will be described as a “gang” while other students are described as a “group.” They have not been advised of opportunities for studies in higher education, and instead are generally presented with information on careers available in retail and vocational fields.

However, in focus groups discussions students have identified ways they can take agency through a theoretical model known as transformational resistance. Parents have also emphasized many positive qualities of Somali youth that are not recognized by schools, for instance their awareness of and engagement with global issues.

Iftiin was funded by the University’s Temple Quarter Engagement fund in February, and has thus experienced considerable challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the team has been able to adapt the project plan and move many activities online. Highlights of  the project to date include an online meeting with members of local charities and the education sector, an online meeting with Bristol’s Mayor Marvin Rees, and an initial online focus group with youth in the Somali community. Ugbaad Aidid recently participated in a panel discussion on education for Somali youth during the COVID-19 pandemic through Wada Xaajood, an organization that promotes discussion on critical social and economic issues facing Somalis around the world.

Events that were planned in the autumn to disseminate findings in the community will likely need to be moved either online or possibly to very small in-person meetings. The team will also explore ways to use social media, images and video to communicate findings and engage the community in discussion.