Following nearly 50 years of civil war, the newly divided countries of Sudan and South Sudan remain in ongoing economic recovery. Although conflict sets the stage for poverty in South Sudan, the young country’s lack of educational opportunities perpetuates the problem. As of 2017, a jarring 72% of primary school-aged children in South Sudan do not attend school. Of these 2 million children, 400,000 are out of school due to displacement and chronic insecurity. Here are seven facts about education and poverty in South Sudan.
7 Facts About Education and Poverty in South Sudan
- More educational funding would reduce youth crime involvement. It is no secret that a quality education prevents crime activity among any youth population. However, extreme poverty in South Sudan compromises the quality of most of the country’s schools. The absence of extracurricular club offerings contributes to an ongoing cycle of violence in South Sudan. On the other hand, schools that UNICEF funded benefitted from student governments, peace clubs and organized volunteer activities. UNICEF also funded the South Sudan Youth Development Policy, which the government of South Sudan later developed. These programs effectively build peace and reduce youth crime in strained communities. More widespread funding for such programs would further prevent youth violence and armed conflict.
- Sudan’s distinct educational tracks limit the number of qualified teachers. To account for the poverty most school-aged children experience, South Sudan implemented an alternative education system. In an effort to reduce the long-term cost of education, this system condenses an eight-year curriculum into a four-year program. This program instructs students in English, which excludes many qualified teachers who received training to teach in Arabic. Although this program is more accessible, this exclusion compromises the quality of education students can gain.
- Children cannot physically attend one-third of schools in South Sudan. Long-standing political conflicts in South Sudan have damaged and destroyed over one-third of schools. These schools rely on the assistance of foreign aid organizations, such as USAID, in order to redevelop into functional institutions. USAID alone has provided over 514,800 conflict-affected children with makeshift learning spaces since 2014.
- Poverty-ridden families rely on agricultural work. Many school-aged children in rural South Sudan raise cattle in pastoral communities rather than attending school. A 2013 study found that parents in cattle-keeping communities valued practical skills (such as cattle treatment and milk production) over formal education. Since agricultural income accounts for a child’s immediate needs, many families do not see formal education as a practical option. Because funding for schools often relies on attendance and retention rates, funding falls particularly low in pastoral, non-urban areas. While the education sector itself does not prioritize this problem, donors like USAID and FAO fund more flexible education options for pastoral communities.
- Girls have to overcome more obstacles to obtain an education. Young women living in poverty often drop out of school to pursue arranged marriages because of financial, cultural and religious obligations. As a result, only one-sixth of women are literate in comparison to two-fifths of men. However, children born to educated mothers have a 50% higher chance of survival. In turn, prioritizing young women’s education and literacy is vital. Though more work is necessary to enroll more girls in school, donor initiatives such as the DFID’s Girls’ Education South Sudan (GESS) have brought more attention to the issue.
- Socioeconomic disparities impact access to education and future employment. In a study by Learning for Peace, representatives expressed that nepotism and tribalism often determine access to education, training opportunities and jobs. This results in unequal opportunities across states, which increases tension within the youth population. One youth representative said that “Youth who have their relatives in those places, they have those opportunities [and] it creates a gap […]. This brings conflict […], especially as a young country which has come out of war, where people have many expectations to get money to sustain themselves.” The concentration of opportunities in particular states, such as Juba, affects the cycle of poverty in South Sudan.
- Inclusive learning requires more funding. The government of South Sudan invests minimally in the development of education. This lack of resources prevents the implementation of an inclusive education curriculum based on the language of instruction (Arabic or English) and curriculum content (Christian or secular). Curriculum development at the state level is slowly establishing a more inclusive national identity for students in South Sudan, though more work is necessary at the county level. Such work will further increase the inclusion of different religions, cultures and histories in South Sudan’s schools.
Ultimately, funding education in South Sudan could revive the country’s economy and, more importantly, ensure that more children survive. It is imperative to support the 2 million children who cannot afford an education or who lack access to well-funded schools. In order to help break the cycle of poverty in South Sudan, foreign aid and other investments must provide much-needed educational resources.
– Stella Grimaldi