YEI, South Sudan— South Sudan is the world’s newest country and also one of the poorest. The country is no stranger to violence, and since gaining independence it has been devastated by a violent civil war that has severely hindered its development efforts.
As a result, the country is facing a major education crisis, one of the worst in the world. Seventy percent of adults are illiterate and 65 percent of teachers have no training. To make matters worse, many schools have closed because of the war and many teachers have quit because of meager pay.
But one school is defying the odds. In the village of Yei, a tiny town in the far south of the country close to the borders of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is the country’s most successful and respected teacher’s training college.
When Yei Teacher Training College first opened in 2001, it was housed in a one-room brick building and taught 45 students. Today it has six classrooms, multi-story men’s and women’s dormitories for students, offices for teachers and administrators, a science lab and a computer lab, a 20,000 book library and several athletic and extra-curricular facilities. One teacher calls it a “small London.”
The school teaches 200-300 students from all 10 provinces of South Sudan as part of an intensive two-year training program. About 100 students graduate per year. It trains students in teaching methods, teaching philosophies, behavioral management, student disabilities and numerous other subjects. It also offers a wide range of sports and extra-curriculars for teachers to learn and share with their students. Many of the students receive full scholarships.
The school was founded almost immediately after South Sudanese rebels liberated the town from the Sudanese government. The school has worked closely with local churches, Western donors and a university in neighboring Uganda. Despite perpetual violence since its opening, the Yei Teacher Training College, or YTTC, has never closed, not even for holidays.
The school considers itself an important part of the country’s rebuilding process and believes that by improving the quality of teachers and education, it can help to lift South Sudan out of poverty and civil strife. Its students get high marks. In addition to having the top test scores in South Sudan, its Primary Teacher Examination scores were higher than any of its 52 counterparts in neighboring Uganda.
Perhaps most importantly, in addition to training its students to be teachers, the school also prepares them to face the world outside. Public education in South Sudan is severely underfunded and teachers are severely underpaid. Teachers earn an average of $50 a month. The government has defunded public education to pay for the war and teachers frequently go several months without getting paid at all. Even worse, schools that lie within conflict zones are frequently threatened and destroyed by militias.
Most schools lack supplies, some lack walls and ceilings and some have no buildings or supplies at all. Teachers at YTTC tell their students that being resourceful and knowing how to improvise is essential to being a successful teacher in South Sudan. Despite its success as an institution, it is clear that Yei Teacher Training College has its work cut out for it. But nonetheless its students and teachers are united by their dedication to the field. The students at Yei Teacher Training College are determined to succeed in a very daunting and difficult profession because they recognize it as an essential one.
– Matt Lesso