JUBA, South Sudan — South Sudan is seeking to make education accessible to all girls by 2040. While internal turmoil complicates this goal, leaders still strive to prioritize access to an equal, quality education.
The right to free and compulsory education in South Sudan is mandated by both the 2008 Child Act and the country’s transitional constitution. However, the outbreak of conflict in December 2013 has hindered the government’s progress in educational development. Although the constitution orders 10 percent of the national budget to be allocated for education, only three percent of the 2015-16 budget was granted.
South Sudan has one of the world’s lowest literacy rates, at 27 percent. A September 2016 UNICEF report concludes that South Sudan has the second-highest number of children out of school, with nearly 1.8 million children missing out on an education. Through practices like forced marriage, girls are disproportionately removed from school. In South Sudan, an adolescent girl is three times more likely to die in childbirth than she is to finish her primary education.
Only 33 percent of all girls in the country attend school. Ongoing internal conflict further hampers girls’ access to education in South Sudan, as 47 percent of the 2.3 million displaced persons are school-aged. Nearly one in three schools has been destroyed, closed or turned into barracks, and only 13 percent of remaining schools offer the full primary cycle, from grades one through eight.
Despite these setbacks, the Ministry of Education is working to ensure proper attention and resources are devoted to education. In 2013, the government identified education as a priority in its national development plan. The Ministry of Education is pushing for the implementation of a national strategy to allocate more of the budget to education, train more teachers and enrich programs that empower female students.
Government and aid-funded education programs assist these efforts by trying to keep girls in school. An example is the Girls’ Education South Sudan (GESS) initiative, funded by U.K. aid and implemented by the South Sudanese Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. GESS gives families cash transfers to keep their daughters in school. This program focuses on girls in their final years of primary school, when the most dropouts occur.
GESS targets a major problem in education in South Sudan: low secondary school enrollment. While 1.4 million children are enrolled in primary school, only 44,000 are enrolled in secondary school. One in ten girls completes primary education, and girls comprise only one third of secondary school students. GESS has succeeded in helping 170,000 girls remain in school. By breaking down barriers to education, programs like GESS promote an equal status for women and girls in South Sudan.
This year, South Sudan’s School Monitoring Program reported its highest enrollment yet, with 1.3 million children, including 560,000 girls, enrolled in school. The number of teachers also increased from 19,000 in 2006 to 37,000 in 2015, a promising sign for improving the quality of education. Programs like GESS are tackling gender discrimination and paving a more hopeful future for South Sudan.
Communities across the country have expressed a belief that education in South Sudan is the key to peace and a prosperous future. Continued support to the government’s efforts in promoting education is necessary to break the cycle of poverty and lift a new generation into economic prosperity.
– McKenna Lux