The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is establishing a special task force before the new year to keep Somali students in school.
Trustees Maria Rodrigues (Ward 9 Davenport) and Chris Bolton (Ward 10 Trinity-Spadina) urged for a quick solution at the board’s November meeting, after obtaining a recent research report showing that 25 per cent of students of Somali decent drop out of school. It was 11 per cent higher than the board average, according to the board.
The task force will consist of leaders and role models within the Somali community. A detailed plan will be laid out to the public by the end of March 2013.
Yusef Dualeh is a successful example from Scarborough’s Somali community. He went to Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute in Agincourt, and is now in his final year at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC).
“[The drop out rate] is high. It’s pretty crazy,” Dualeh said.
He explained that Somali teens drop out for multiple reasons. A large immigrant population is one of the significant factors, he said.
About 23,000 Somali immigrants live in Toronto, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Toronto in Colour program. The program wrote that Somali immigrants and refugees often experience high unemployment due to language barriers and lack of Canadian education credentials.
“A lot of time, they come to Canada and start from bottom up. Unfortunately, teens have to help supporting their family. Having a job and not being able to focus much on school, especially secondary school, [factor in]” Dualeh said.
Dualeh said that reducing the drop-out rate can also begin at home.
“The task forces and committees won’t be helpful unless their parents feel connected to their children,” Dualeh said.
Dualeh’s mother helped him most when it came to academic life. He explained that her job at an elementary school cafeteria kept her closer to her son’s school life, which also kept her interested in his academics.
But telling the children to do homework isn’t enough, he said. That’s where many Somali parents make a mistake, he said.
“My mom was caught on a little bit and said, ‘no, no, bring your books. Let’s do your homework together.’ It helped,” he laughed.