Education is highly prized throughout Africa. However, due to multiple factors including poverty and conflict, educational structures in many countries face significant challenges. This is no less the case in South Sudan, where the education system faces high demand but suffers from low investment and low capacity.
State and peace-building initiatives that followed independence in 2011 led to high demand for the education system to expand rapidly and to reduce inequity. Yet, public expenditure on education is one of the lowest in the world. Administration and Management structures are rudimentary and have been further weakened by conflict.
There are more than two million children in South Sudan, but only 8000 primary schools, 120 secondary schools, one University, and only one Teacher Training College to meet the growing demand for training teachers. No wonder that 70% of South Sudan's children are out of school and 63% of teachers are without formal training.[i] Most children in South Sudan follow a pastoral existence in rural areas, whilst the largest numbers of out-of-school children are girls. Education is hindered by poverty, child marriage and cultural and religious views that also hinder girls' education. It is acknowledged that these factors put the children's future -- and the future of the country -- at risk.
South Sudan faces major challenges. These challenges include a concentration of students in the early grades, a high proportion of over-age students, repetition of years and dropout levels and low overall quality of educational provision. In recent years, the country has seen a significant increase in the number of out-of-school children, from 2.2 million in 2018 to 2.8 million in 2020.[ii] This does not include the 2 million children out of school due to Covid closures. The return of refugees from neighbouring countries adds to this demand. Meanwhile, children not at school face increased risk of violence and sexual abuse and the closure of schools risks the non-return of an already limited supply of qualified teachers. Additionally, on-going conflict which has damaged or destroyed a third of all schools, floods and general insecurity have further affected accessibility to education, the provision of educational supplies, and the ability of staff to teach.
Despite this, the Government of South Sudan have been making a concerted effort to catch up by rapidly increasing student enrolment. There is a growing demand for secondary and higher education and a recognition that standards need to improve. In addition to this, South Sudan has implemented an Alternative Education System (AES), which is currently offering accelerated learning programs to more than 200,000 youth and adults and holds significant promise.[iii] Such measures are essential if South Sudan is to build a solid state and society.
At the request of our partner, the Diocese of Abyei, HART has supported several initiatives at Agok School since 2020. During our visit to Abyei in January 2020, we heard of the region's desperate need for education for the next generation. With over 2,000 students, Agok School has only 9 classrooms and even fewer toilets. We saw the latrines that had been destroyed in the floods and learnt that children were resorting to public urination. We witnessed a severe lack of books, classroom benches and windows. After learning that the teachers receive on average a £15 monthly salary, we were inspired to hear that it is the community's deep desire for education that keeps valued teachers returning to work despite their personal financial difficulties.
Following our return, we secured crucial funds from Global Care to rebuild the latrines and make a designated toilet block for the female students. In June 2021, we were delighted to secure funding from the Guernsey Overseas Aid Development Commission to construct four new classrooms at Agok School.