James Linville

Abaarso School, Hargeisa, Somalia


James Linville

James teaches at Abaarso School, an American-style boarding school in Somaliland – a breakaway region of Somalia which has been named the world’s number one failed state for most of the last two decades, and is one of the poorest and most violent regions in the world. Somaliland’s educational system is also largely underdeveloped, with the vast majority of schools having been destroyed during the civil war thirty years ago.

In 2014, James used the several million dollars he had inherited to start a fund supporting educational access for disadvantaged communities, and at the same time decided to devote his professional life to the cause as well. He has led Abaarso since 2015, in its development from a start-up to an institution that is among the most respected and successful secondary schools in Africa. During this time, he has led significant expansions to the student body, staff, campus infrastructure and curriculum, and seen the school’s students being offered scholarships to leading secondary schools across the world – all while keeping school spending under $375,000 per year. This means the school is able to deliver a world-class education for about 10% of the operating budget of comparable international schools.

Abaarso gives an entrance exam across the country to select new students, admitting less than 3% of the 1,400 students who apply to its seventh grade class. Yet even these students, who are the best-educated 7th-graders in the country, enter Abaarso with math and English levels comparable to an American 1st-grader. When Abaarso’s first student received a scholarship to attend university in the United States, it had been over two decades since this last happened in the region. Today, 16 pupils in the 10th grade, all with their own stories and achievements, are headed abroad to continue high school elsewhere – at schools such as Andover, The Berkshire School, Worcester Academy, Miss Hall’s, UWC ISAK, and many others. Pupils with such opportunities often see a responsibility to return to Somaliland later and use their education to help improve the country – even teaching at Abaarso.

In 2017 Abaarso was featured on 60 Minutes, and later that year became the first school in the region to gain accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, making it one of only a handful of schools across Africa to hold NEASC accreditation. The school’s success has also been recognised by major print and television media outlets across the world. If awarded the Global Teacher Prize, James would use the money to fund a host of initiatives aimed at connecting the future leaders of Africa with one another.