Literacy Rates in South Sudan
The Republic of South Sudan, more commonly known as South Sudan, has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. It is a very young nation, having only declared independence from the Republic of Sudan in July 2011. However, recent data shows that only 26.8 percent of South Sudanese people aged 15 or older are literate. Additionally, while 35 percent of men can read and write only 19.2 percent of women possess these important skills. The government has created several initiatives over the past few years to improve literacy rates in South Sudan.

Factors Affecting Literacy

One reason literacy rates in South Sudan are so high is the fact that approximately 2 million, or about 70 percent of children in South Sudan are out of school, mostly young girls. Instead of attending primary school, children often work alongside their families for survival.

Implementing quality literacy programs for children is also costly, and South Sudan has been struggling to fund equal opportunities for all students. For the many who are unable to communicate via writing or consume written media, radio is often a popular alternative for getting the news.

Efforts to Improve Literacy

In recent years, the government has worked to improve literacy rates for both children and adults in South Sudan. For school-aged children, The General Education Strategic Plan, 2017-2022 has been proposed. Also referred to as the Strategic Plan, it has three primary goals: “to improve the quality of general education; to enhance the management capacity of senior staff of the Ministry, State Ministries, the County Education Department and affiliated institutions; and to promote Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) to improve the employability of youth and adults in the next five years.”

According to the Strategic Plan, the government’s alternative education system (AES) has three programs working to improve literacy rates and overall educational quality in South Sudan:

  • The Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) is designed for children ages 13 to 17, but people up to age 25 are allowed to attend.
  • The Community Girls’ School (CGS) is intended for primarily young girls who have not yet reached grade 5; and
  • The Pastoralist Education Program (PEP) is designated for both children and adults in pastoral areas of the country.

As gender disparities are significant, specific efforts have been created that focus on providing education for Sudanese girls. In addition to the Community Girls’ School, funding from an organization called Girls’ Education in South Sudan (GESS) will help more women and girls be able to attend school, thus improving the literacy rate among South Sudanese girls and women.

There are also two programs that have been specifically created for adults who cannot read or write: the Basic Adult Literacy Programme (BALP) and the Functional Adult Literacy Program (FALP). Intensive English courses (IECs) are included in these programs, giving participants the opportunity to improve their skills with the English language.

Moving Forward

Addressing low literacy rates in countries such as South Sudan is crucial to reducing global poverty. Without the ability to read or write, communication skills are weakened and employment opportunities are limited. Therefore, giving people the chance to access to an improved education such as literacy skills lowers the chance of one being in poverty and gets them on the path to an overall higher quality of life.

A. O’Shea
Photo: United Nations