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The desperate need for education in South Sudan

The long civil war in South Sudan disrupted education across the country, with the result that just 2% of the population have completed primary school.

This means that only around 30% of adults in this new nation are able to read and write. Therefore, when it comes to finding teachers for schools, recruitment of staff is extremely difficult and most South Sudanese teachers only have a primary level of knowledge at best.

Talking to the news agency IRIN, an expert in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) explains about the poor quality of teaching available in most areas of South Sudan. The UNESCO education specialist says that many teachers have no knowledge about how to manage “pupils with different needs in the classroom, let alone the content area and the skills you’re supposed to be passing down through education”.

The situation is further complicated by a change in the official language of learning. After independence from the British in 1956, schools were required to teach in Arabic or they were closed down by the government of Khartoum. Now that South Sudan has separated from Sudan, it has decided schools should switch back again to teaching in English. This is a considerable challenge for most teachers and their pupils.

Recent research suggests that young children learn best in their mother tongues. But with over 55 different ethnic groups in the country, providing materials in each local language is impossible with limited resources. Currently, the languages of the six main groups – Dinka, Nuer, Azande, Bari, Latuka and Shilluk/Anwak – are used where possible, as well as English.

The education programme in the country has received support from international donors since the 2005 peace agreement. This has allowed for some reconstruction of school buildings, but there are nowhere near enough. The number of primary school pupils enrolled has risen from around 700,000 in 2006 to 1.6 million in 2010 and the shortage of classrooms often means pupils are taught outside.

Drop-out rates are high, with only one in 10 children completing primary school. This is partly because of the cost of schooling. Since many teachers in South Sudan are not receiving a regular wage from the government, they rely on payments from parents. Even then, their salary can total less than 50 dollars each month, which deters people from entering the profession. The South Sudanese government says that 16% of the national budget is allocated for education, but until funds start to flow again after Sudan and South Sudan came to an agreement on oil payments, the situation in education is unlikely to improve. Even then, it may take many years before schools can offer youngsters the learning they need in this newest of nations.

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