In a 26-minute audio recording aired by Radio Andalus, al-Shabab's mouthpiece in Somalia, group spokesman Ali Dhere said Western-style schools serve the interests of what he called "infidels" and aim to pull children away from Islam.
“There are secular and non-Islamic schools and universities in our country, which serve to provide our youth with education that leads them to simply fall into the trap of their enemy and convert to their religions,” Ali Dhere said. “They make you love their behaviors, religion and history and hide the history of Islam.”
He warned that anyone involved in such schools, including teachers and parents, will face repercussions.
“We warn those involved in teaching our children and youth the non-Islamic education to avoid [it], otherwise face the consequence,” said Ali Dhere.
Somalia's government quickly denounced the statement.
“We condemn the statement and it only depicts the most ugly face and cruelty of al-Shabab against Somali people,” said Somalia’s information minister, Abdurahman Omar Osman.
School administrators contacted by VOA's Somali service declined to comment on the statement, fearing reprisals.
FILE - Students read the Koran during class at a primary school in Hargeisa, Somaliland, Sept. 25, 2006.
Over its 11-year existence, al-Shabab has often moved to shut down non-Islamic schools and replace them with schools that teach a strongly religious curriculum.
The group, which wants to impose a strict version of Sharia in Somalia, has also banned watching movies and soccer.
Years of war and lawlessness have cost nearly two generations of Somali children access to consistent education. According to a Somali government report last year, the country has some of the world's lowest student enrollment rates.
FILE - Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai addresses students at the Nasib Secondary School in Ifo2 area of Dadaab refugee camp during celebrations to mark her 19th birthday near the Kenya-Somalia border, July 12, 2016.
The report said only 30 percent of Somalia’s children attend primary schools, and only 26 percent receive a secondary education.
A report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said 3 million Somali children between the ages of six and 18 were not in school, mostly in central and southern Somalia.
In 2013, the government launched a program called Go-2-School (G2S) to break the cycle of illiteracy and poverty in Somalia by sending one million children to free public schools. But the program failed a year later due to insecurity and lack of funding.