WE CANNOT SAY ‘LET US FIGHT FIRST AND THEN GET EDUCATION LATER’
By Aida Orgocka
“If I was not educated, I would be one of the people that would cause problems for South Sudan now,” says Victor Dut Chol, the Director of Research Policy Development and Sustainable Development Goals/Peace Education Focal Point in the Ministry of Education of South Sudan.
I met Victor in Juba during my last field mission to South Sudan where Education Cannot Wait is supporting the development of a multi-year programme aiming to provide education to the country’s most vulnerable children and youth.
Victor is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Like many of the boys who fled the violence of the civil war in the ’80s and trekked enormous distances to find safety in Ethiopia, the capital and other places, Victor doesn’t actually know how old he is. Birth registration is very low in South Sudan, and only about half of children are registered at birth.
But Victor never gave up. He pursued education with tenacity throughout his journey as a person uprooted by violence, from Ethiopia, to Kenya and then to the United States of America. Having graduated with a Master’s in Public Administration, he is now back in South Sudan because he believes it is his time to give back. He is part of the Task Team that will put together the Multi-Year Resilience Programme led by the Government of South Sudan.
South Sudan is one of the six countries where the Fund will invest in such programmes in 2019 – bringing ongoing Multi-Year Resilience Programmes supported by Education Cannot Wait to a total of 11 countries by the end of the year. Designed to strengthen linkages between emergency response and longer-term strengthening of education systems, these programmes bring together a wide range of international, national and local stakeholders to deliver quality education to the most marginalized girls and boys.
UNDERSTANDING THE CHALLENGE
More than 2.2 million school-aged children in South Sudan have been dropped out of school due to the continuous conflict. This is one of the highest rates in the world. In some areas, girls make up to 75 per cent of the children outside the education system. The gender gap widens with age, according to the Global Initiative On Out Of School Children report (May 2018). While 10.6 per cent of boys were in secondary school at age 16, this was the case for only 1.3 per cent of 16-year-old girls.
Victor fears that if education is not provided for these children, they will grow up thinking like he did when he was out of school, that people of tribes other than the Dinka were out there to harm him. Without the opportunity an education provides, Victor believes these children would choose taking up arms instead of making windows, chairs and benches for classrooms, or pursuing other productive activities to build the social and economic fabric of the young nation.
We need to prepare the next generation of workers in South Sudan – and across the globe in countries affected by disaster, emergency and protracted crisis. As outlined in Education Cannot Wait’s Case for Investment, for each dollar invested in education, more than US$5 is returned in additional gross earnings in low-income countries and US$2.50 in lower middle-income countries.
Education is the key.
South Sudan cannot be self-sufficient if it does not have its own educated workforce. It all starts with having an opportunity to go to school and stay in school. For girls, meeting the education challenge means lifting socio-cultural barriers including eliminating child marriage and sexual violence, and building the confidence, knowledge and power needed to take their place in economic and social life. For boys, the alternative would be a future of joining armed groups or being victimized during cattle raids. For the nation, realizing the education imperative means the hope of peace, the hope of security, and the hope of reducing poverty and hunger South Sudan signed up for, along with 193 countries, when it committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
PUTTING EDUCATION FIRST
How difficult can it be to keep children in school? Parents in South Sudan are selling cows to bring children to school because they are realizing the importance of an educated child.
Anyone who knows the country would say this is a huge investment. Cows symbolize income generation, status and the promise of a family life in a context where communities exhausted by conflict are saying: “This is enough.”
But even when the desire is there, there are no schools, and when there are schools, they lack trained teachers.
At a Protection of Civilians site outside of Juba, one teacher told us that while “back to school campaigns” try to increase enrollment numbers of girls and boys in school, what’s also really needed is a “back to teach campaign.”
Above all, women teachers should be recruited and trained. These women educators will serve as role models for girls like Vicky in Hossana Primary School who told me she wants to be a pilot.
Having worked in the field of education in emergencies for some time now, I sometimes get impatient with ideas that evolve around building more schools and training more teachers.
Haven’t we done enough? No, we haven’t.
In South Sudan when you see a poster that reads “You should never try to hit your friends with a metal or big stick,” you wonder why in the first place you would hit a friend.
As one of the countries that endorsed the Safe School Declaration, South Sudan places a lot of faith in schools and teachers to be the entryway to peace. As Victor puts it “we cannot afford to fight now and get educated later.”
Aida Orgocka is the Gender Specialist at Education Cannot Wait. She visited South Sudan March 24-31, 2019 with Michael Corlin, Education Cannot Wait Senior Advisor as part of the Fund’s support to the development of a Multi-Year Resilience Programme to be launched this year.