SEATTLE — The struggling education system in South Sudan remains one of the worst in the world, with more than one million primary-school-aged children out of school. The region’s political and social history is one of many factors that led to a lack of quality education for many children. After gaining independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan hoped to become a violence-free country after decades of conflicts. And at the time, South Sudan had the region’s highest level of public spending per capita; unfortunately, education benefited only five percent of the budget.
In 2013, a violent civil war erupted leading to thousands of killings and the displacement of more than 2 million people. It also caused the start of an inflation crisis in the region, which affected government funding for schools and teachers as their wages were reduced to $5 a month their 2011 $100 a month pay. Even after a 2015 peace deal, fights and conflicts persisted and consequently intensified the instability of the education system in South Sudan .
Not only are teachers suffering from low wages, but they also lack teaching qualifications with only 37 percent of them having actual teaching certification. This percentage also represents the number of teachers who’ve never received a full education and only completed the equivalent of an 8th grade education.
The extreme violence within the region led to numerous school closures by the government or the occupation and destruction by armed groups. In total, more than 800 schools were damaged between December 2013 and August 2015, leaving 6,000 remaining operable schools with limited resources. This lack of educational infrastructures and proper resources prevents more than half of the country’s primary and lower secondary school-aged children from going to school.
Gender equality in the classroom is another challenge faced by the education of South Sudan, as only 33 percent of girls are in schools. A study by UNICEF revealed early marriages and pregnancies are the two main factors contributing to high drop-outs for girls; therefore, organizations like UNICEF are working towards improving girls’ access to education by creating gender-sensitive learning spaces.
Another way to reduce girls’ drop-out rates is to separate sanitation facilities for girls and boys since parents perceive schools where there’s a lack of girls’ restrooms as unsafe. Many benefits can come from educating more girls in South Sudan — for instance, the decrease of poverty, prevention of disease, and the end of much violence and political instability.
Rumbek is one of the region’s areas that benefited from UNICEF’s work — a new school facility was built for children by the organization in this area. It includes innovative infrastructures such as two blocks of classrooms, a staff room, an administration room and separate boys’ and girls’ sanitation facilities. In addition to a new school, UNICEF also provided teachers with an educational training program and students with school supplies.
South Sudan is progressively improving its education system for thousands of children, but it still remains a region struggling to keep children in schools. The South Sudan’s government needs to keep working in collaboration with NGOs to widen access to education for their promising youth.
– Sarah Soutoul