Pupils can now study Somali

SOMALI will become a GCSE subject in Camden schools after a decade-long campaign by the local community

Katie Davies

SOMALI will become a GCSE subject in Camden schools after a decade-long campaign by the local community.

Students in every secondary will be able to sit an exam equivalent to GCSE grades D to G later this year, and grades A* to C available by 2009.

The move follows a campaign by Camden's Somali community, who say it will help solve problems among its teenagers.

Asha-Kin Duale, a campaigner from Camden Town, said: "We are talking about boys in the Somali community getting involved in crime and now girls are the new problem for us.

"One of the reasons is they don't feel either British or Somali, they are between cultures.

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"They learn English fast to integrate but they haven't got a clear identity, which makes them feel like outsiders.

"Culture comes primarily with language because it is a way of sharing customs and traditions, and if they learn Somali it will make them closer to their parents.

"Often they have no understanding of their parents' way of life or what they mean when they talk about their culture.

"Also, parents have difficulties understanding the education system. If they see that their own language and customs are reflected in the curriculum, then they won't feel excluded."

The campaign was supported by local Labour councillors Heather Johnson, Geethika Jayatilaka and Theo Blackwell, who put a motion to Camden Council last September calling for the language's accreditation in local schools.

Education boss Andrew Mennear wrote to the Secretary of State who referred him to Asset Languages - a body responsible for foreign language exams. They have now revealed the timescale for introducing Somali as a fully fledged GCSE subject.

Many are hopeful that as well as helping to stop Somali youths from turning to crime, it will help them go on to further education.

Somali poet Abdullah Botan does volunteer work for Camden youth facilities, teaching others about the language.

He said: "This is great news. We have campaigned for it many times to the council. It is good because pupils need GCSEs to carry on in education and this will help teenagers in the Somali community to do that.

"Also, it is important to teach them about their culture and language. Younger people feel lost if they don't know about their background. If you don't know where you came from, you don't know who you are."

GCSEs are already available in Bengali, Turkish and Arabic in the borough.

William Ellis, Hampstead, Parliament Hill and South Camden Community Schools already provide some courses under Asset Languages.

Camden Council is now encouraging more schools to take up the courses in order to help those students hoping to sit GCSEs in Somali.