By Siddhartha Shrestha
WESTERN EQUATORIA, South Sudan, 17 January 2012 – Education is a key priority for the government of the world’s newest nation, South Sudan.
Sixty-four per cent of children aged 6 to 11 are out of school, and the primary school completion rate is only 10 per cent, among the lowest in the world.
Gender equality is also a huge challenge, with only 37 per cent of girls aged 6 to 13 attending school. Still, thanks to the efforts of dedicated teachers, accelerated learning programmes and children’s clubs, there have been encouraging developments in girls’ education over the past year.
Bringing girls back to school
Baya Primary School in Western Equatoria has become the envy of other schools in the state. The school is successfully using children’s clubs to increase girls’ enrolment and to encourage drop-outs to continue their educations through the Accelerated Learning Programme (ALP).
“When you encourage your girls to join school, they will help you more than boys,” said Esther Monica, 28, a mother of four. “I didn’t get the opportunity, but would not like this to be missed by my daughters.”
Headmistress Alice Erestomido proudly announced that 60 new girls joined regular classes and over 150 enrolled for ALP classes in 2011 – a jump of almost 20 per cent over the previous year. She stressed that girls’ education is importation for the new country’s development.
“That’s why we are encouraging girls to go to school and not leave them behind,” Ms. Erestomido said. “Together with the efforts of teachers and the child club, we have managed to welcome these new girls in school. Now, we have to ensure that they complete at least their primary schooling.”
UNICEF and the Ministry of General Education and Instruction are providing supplies, such as book bags, notebooks, and teaching and learning materials, to support the initiative in South Sudan.
Girls’ Education Movement
In 2007, UNICEF initiated the Girls’ Education Movement (GEM) throughout the area. The Baya Primary School GEM club now has 50 members who organize various activities to encouraging girls’ education. They use an ‘edutainment’ approach, conveying their messages through skits, dramas, rallies, dancing and visits to the community.
“Our biggest achievement has been this year, where we managed over 200 girls to join my school,” said 13-year-old Tabitha Morris, the GEM club chair. “We need to continue this momentum to motivate more girls to join school next year.”
“We also convinced the community by talking about the benefits of education and the female role models in South Sudan, like our ministers, Norma Fadoul and Jemma Nunu Kumba,” added Ms. Erestomido.
Tabitha is also inspired by these examples. After completing her education, she hopes to become a member of parliament to help the girls and women of South Sudan.
“Though the girls’ education component has been challenging, it is always motivating to see positive examples in schools like Baya,” said UNICEF Education Specialist Mboriidie Francis Babodo.
‘The key to development’
With support from UNICEF and partners, the Ministry of General Education and Instruction is also developing and strengthening various programmes to accelerate enrolment and ensure quality education.
Consultations with children and adolescents in South Sudan have overwhelmingly identified education as the most important priority for young people.
“Education is the key to development,” said Tabitha. “It is important because when you are staying at home, you are not aware of anything. But good education will lead to a good future and help the nation’s development.”