Fear of bombings affects school attendance in Unity State
By Bonifacio Taban Kuich
May 18, 2012 (BENTIU) - Recent fighting along the South Sudan-Sudan border has disrupted the education of many children in Unity State, which was bombed by the Sudan Armed Forces during the clashes in April.
Khartoum denies bombing its neighbour, despite the bombardment being reported by the United Nations, international and local media, as well as the South Sudanese authorities.
South Sudan says over 80 bombs have been dropped by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) in recent months. On 23 April bombs landed on the Bentiu town and a market in nearby Rubkotna.
Although no new bombings have been reported in Bentiu for nearly two weeks the fear of further attacks is preventing many pupils from returning to school.
The April bombings in Bentiu, which occurred during a border conflict over the disputed oil-rich Heglig region, forced more than 100 schools across the state to close, as head teachers feared for the safety of their students.
All of the schools have since reopened, but many seats remain empty. At the Good Hope Basic Primary School in Bentiu town, only 20 percent of students have resumed their studies.
Gatluak Mut Both, head Teacher at Good Hope Basic Primary School, says the majority of his students have refused to return, fearing a return of Sudan’s Antenov and MiG jet fighters.
Both said that 940 pupils had still not returned to school as they had fled the town or remained at home.
Wicgoal Bol Joak, an 18-year-old student at Bentiu Good Hope Primary School, which is located close to the towns market, is one of the few students still attending classes. Joak says many of his friends are still staying away because their parents fear more attacks from the Sudan Armed Forces.
“On the way [to school] maybe it will come and bomb us, this is one problem”, said Joak.
However, since the border area has been calm for the past few weeks, Both said that he hopes the Parent Teachers Association can convince students to go back to school.
The fear of further conflict between Sudan and South Sudan adds to the existing challenges in Unity State’s schools. Many school’s lack qualified teachers and were overcrowded even before the recent conflict.
South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan in July last year, has yet to develop its own standard curriculum. In Bentiu, students rely on a combination of the Sudanese and East African curricula.
Despite all the challenges students like Wicgoal Bol Joak say they are eager to be at school and learning again.