South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, faces a bevy of challenges. A long civil war within the previously integrated Sudan and an onslaught of recent conflicts in the newly independent country of South Sudan have resulted in years of instability, undermining education there. Geographical and gender-based issues also pose threats to learning, but the government and NGOs are working hard to create a better system. Here are eight facts about education in South Sudan.
8 Facts about Education in South Sudan
- In South Sudan, 51 percent of children are out of school. There are 400,000 children out of school due to chronic insecurity and displacement, while another 13,000 are absorbed in the country’s protracted conflicts. This high rate fits within a broader pattern: children in conflict-affected countries are much more likely to miss out on educational opportunities than their peers in other countries. With homes destroyed and families lost, the long-term endeavor of schooling becomes an impractical afterthought.
- Many school buildings have been decimated. In 2013, tensions between two major politicians spurred fighting between the Dinka and Nuer ethnic tribes. Thousands were killed and more than two million were displaced during the two-year civil war that followed. In the midst of this, 800 school buildings were destroyed. While 6,000 remained usable, almost all of them were stripped of vital educational resources and infrastructure. “[A]nywhere else, they wouldn’t be called schools. It’s basically a tree and a blackboard,” UNICEF’s chief of education in South Sudan told NPR in 2016.
- With a five percent net enrollment rate, very few school-aged children attain a secondary education in South Sudan. Part of the problem lies in the limited number of schools: only 120 secondary buildings remain standing in the entire country, according to the Global Partnership for Education.
- Educational inequalities persist along rural and urban lines. For one, all 120 secondary schools are in South Sudan’s towns. Students from rural regions who want to obtain a secondary education must take on high transportation costs, which prevent some students from even trying. This challenge compounds upon others. Many rural South Sudanese families engage in cattle-keeping, for example, which forces school-aged children to migrate according to seasonal variations and economic pressures.
- Girls’ education is on the rise but requires more work. While more boys obtain an education in South Sudan than girls, this gap narrowed slightly since 2013. One organization making headways in this area is Project Education South Sudan (PESS), which has sponsored many scholarships that help South Sudanese girls attend better-resourced schools. PESS has also established grinding mills in villages close to schools, which frees girls from the manual task of grinding grain.
- In 2012, South Sudan’s government, in partnership with several NGOs, established the General Education Strategic Plan (GESP). The GESP increased the number of alternative education systems in the country, targeting problem areas like adult illiteracy. However, the plan fell short in many respects: on-the-ground implementation efforts were limited and money transfers to local governments were not well-coordinated.
- The Ministry of General Education and Instruction in South Sudan developed a new GESP for the years 2017-2022. This plan takes into account some of the shortcomings of the previous one. For example, it establishes a school inspection framework and specifies personnel roles at the local level to ensure the effective implementation of funding. Moreover, the plan provides money to reopen conflict-affected schools and create temporary school structures while permanent buildings are built.
- The opposing political groups who sparked the 2013 conflict signed a peace deal in September of 2018. Among other things, this deal allowed UNICEF to provide educational resources in previously blocked-off parts of the country. As a result, the organization is likely to pass its goal of enrolling 729,000 new children during 2019.
Conflict and complex political geography combine to undermine education in South Sudan, but the weight of both pressures is gradually lifting. This spells a promising future for South Sudan. Besides being instrumental for healthy living and economic prosperity, education is also a key to future peace. As the South Sudan government and NGOs continue to strengthen the education system, stability will hopefully follow.
– James Delegal