Then the group banned Barawe residents from watching television, saying it compromises their faith.
Now, al-Shabaab is trying to convince the citizens of Barawe, one of the towns the militants control in Somalia's Lower Shabelle region, that sending their children to school could also harm their Islamic faith, locals told media.
By one resident's account, al-Shabaab operatives gathered locals at a public square on November 7th to incite them to defy the Somali government's plan to improve education nationwide.
"Al-Shabaab ordered us Barawe residents to attend religious sermons that will address Somali education, which they said would be changed so that Somali people could be taught the Christian religion," said Maryan Borow, a 34-year-old mother of five. "It was a surprise to us and we do not know where they got that idea."
Borow said she did not think that Somalia's citizens would ever allow curricula to be changed in a way that could hurt the religion of Islam.
"I do not believe that an entire population of Muslims can be led by their government down a path that would jeopardise their Islamic faith, but we all know what al-Shabaab wants is to make their ideology into the religion we follow and they have a wrong idea about the religion. They do not know anything about education because they are ignorant," Borow told media.
'Al-Shabaab will be gone soon'
For his part, Abdalla Ahmed, a 52-year-old traditional elder from Barawe, was blunt in saying that al-Shabaab were the ones attacking Somali education.
"There is no one who does not know that the group that is attacking Somali education is al-Shabaab," he told media. "They are trying to convince the public of something that does not exist, which is that Somali education books will be replaced by books [with Christian content] that have been written and funded by infidels."
"Where have they [seen] those books? If they were being straightforward, they would have presented them to us," Ahmed said.
He said even though citizens are forced to listen to al-Shabaab's speeches, they should not believe what the militants say.
"Al-Shabaab does not offer education or a life for the people, their intention is to fight the public from all sides, whether it is by saying [people] are watching unlawful things on television or saying that Somali education is going to be changed to a system will destroy [their] Islamic faith," he said.
"In any case, I suspect al-Shabaab will be gone soon judging by how they are acting."
Another Barawe resident, Shamso Yasin, a 41-year-old mother of nine, said she decided to keep her children out of school due to her hatred of al-Shabaab.
"We do not want al-Shabaab. I do not believe what they are saying about Somali education and the lies they are spreading because [al-Shabaab] is a group that exploits the religion of Islam in its fight against the Somali people," Yasin told media. "Their fight has delved into every sector [of society]. I no longer even send my children to school and I keep them at home because I am afraid they could believe the wrong ideology that al-Shabaab is spreading."
The only way the people of Barawe can get a break from the problems caused by al-Shabaab is for Somali troops to liberate the district from the militant group's rule, she said.
"I am asking the Somali government to help us get our freedom from al-Shabaab. If there is an economic constraint, we are even ready to sell our gold jewellery for our Somali national forces," Yasin said. "Please rescue us. Every day, al-Shabaab is abusing your suffering mothers and children."