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Poverty in South Sudan
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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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
Photo: Flickr

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

How the Media Misrepresents South Sudan
South Sudan has spent the last five years locked in brutal civil war. A quick Google search regarding South Sudanese current affairs indicates how the media misrepresents South Sudan. It’s clear that the global news cycle focuses heavily on the darkest moments of this conflict. Al Jazeera’s South Sudanese frontpage is plastered with the following soundbites: “South Sudan: Aid Agencies Struggle to Reach those in Need,” “‘Sick and Hungry’: The Human Cost of South Sudans Civil War,” and “Maternal Death Rates in South Sudan One of World’s Highest.” Similarly, the New York Times starkly reminds its audience that in South Sudan “A Never-Ending Hunger Season Puts Millions in Danger.”

Clearly, the South Sudanese civil war has caused a great deal of suffering. Generally, though, large news agencies provide less airtime to cover the good and instances of perseverance that exist in the face of this struggle. Without paying close scrutiny to such hope-filled details, it’s not difficult to see how the media misrepresents South Sudan. It’s difficult to realize that amongst the seemingly endless stories of pain there are moments of hope. Here are a few examples.

South Sudanese Youth Soccer

In the winter of 2018, the South Sudan Football Association (SSFA) held a youth tournament in Juba, a major South Sudanese city. The event took place over the course of series of days, one of which was national Unity Day — a South Sudanese holiday dedicated to the promotion of togetherness in the country.

Maria Dudi, the minister of sport in South Sudan, had high hopes for the event, saying “The main objective of National Unity Day is to promote the integration of diverse populations through sports of fair play and sportsmanship.” The event was supported by Japanese International Cooperation Agency, a branch of the Japanese government dedicated to developmental assistance in struggling countries.

On May 18, the Facebook page for the SSFA posted regarding intensified efforts to train a new cadre of young referees so that they are capable of operating on the world stage. These efforts, alongside youth tournaments, indicate a renewed hopefulness that South Sudan’s passion for soccer can be used as a vehicle for cooperation and global recognition.

Natural Resources

South Sudan currently faces tremendous economic challenges that are only compounded by the presence of guerrilla warfare throughout the country. Despite this, South Sudan possesses significant potential for economic development due to its abundance of natural resources.

South Sudan houses large oil reserves and vast resource-rich forests. This abundance of resources further highlights how the media misrepresents South Sudan — it’s uncommon for large-scale news agencies to remind their audiences of the economic potential of a nation supposedly destitute and wartorn.

At present, foreign involvement in South Sudan primarily focuses on humanitarian aid rather than investment, as immediate civilian welfare is the highest priority. With the help of the U.N., and the stability provided by eventual peace conferences, South Sudan has the resources to garner the attention of foreign investment, which in turn could slowly bolster its economy.

Promise of Peace Talks

A variety of major players in the African world have stepped in to contribute to South Sudanese peace efforts. Kenyan politician Raila Odinga has offered to mediate and broker peace talks between South Sudan’s rival constituents, with the aid of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Odinga has plans to meet separately with each constituent prior to any official peace conference. South Sudanese president Salva Kiir has been openly receptive to the notion of a peace conference with his rebel rival, Dr. Riek Machar.

Additionally, the U.N. has entered the fray and imposed a June 30th deadline for the talks. Another deadline looms ahead on July 1, which is the African Union Summit slated to be held in Mauritania. While the past few years have housed a number of recent failed South Sudanese peace talks, these recent events hold a renewed sense of positive momentum and hope for the future.

– Ian Greenwood
Photo: Flickr

South Sudan
Child soldiers were brought to the attention of the American public in 2012 when the “KONY2012” campaign, aimed at dismantling a Ugandan warlord, soared in publicity. However, children being used in combat is not new to various regions of Africa, including South Sudan.

Children in Combat

In 1983, civil war broke out among the Sudanese people, eventually creating in 2011 the countries known today as Sudan and South Sudan. This war led to the separation of families, murders, poverty, lack of educational resources and most notably, South Sudan child soldiers.

According to the International Rescue Committee, the number of children fleeing South Sudan in 1985 to escape recruitment as soldiers in the civil war was as high as 20,000. This number is shockingly high with a 1985 population of only five million in South Sudan. Children fled to neighboring Ethiopia only to die from hunger, dehydration, crossfires and wild animals along the way.

Draws of South Sudan’s Military

Due to outcomes associated with the war, South Sudan has been unable to properly maintain nutrition among its citizens in recent years. Often, children are only guaranteed meals and housing if they enlist in the South Sudanese military, leaving them with the choice between staying unarmed, educated and hungry, or armed, fed and uneducated. Children may choose to join the military simply as a means of survival.

South Sudan child soldiers are known to be used in every way that an adult soldier would be used. Children are given and taught how to use assault rifles, engage in direct combat (as spies), and serve as cooks for troops among other activities.

The prevalence of South Sudan child soldiers seemed to dissolve throughout the early 2000s; however, over the last several years, the numbers have begun to creep up again. In 2013, South Sudan ended a several-year-long ceasefire when tensions between different ethnic groups rose.

Hope for South Sudan

When the war resumed, the children of South Sudan were again recruited for combat. This sparks a series of issues for the South Sudanese people over the next years, such as infrastructure instability, economic poverty, food shortages, violence and poor education.

Although the situation in South Sudan may seem bleak, there is very real hope. South Sudan is rich in diversity with many different religious practices and ethnic cultures. While the tensions between different ethnic groups have instigated a large amount of violent tension, the different groups each bring something unique to the cultural brand of South Sudan.

A history of aid workers present in the country assists the country’s development and recovery from its civil wars. The next few years will be a pivotal time in shaping the future of the Republic of South Sudan and its children, so time will tell if child treatment improves.

– Alexandra Ferrigno
Photo: Flickr