Back to Learning Campaign

Windle Trust International (WTI) has received funding from UNICEF to join the government and other partners to mobilize communities and school children to go back to school after 14 months of school closure due to the covid-19 pandemic. During the General Education Annual Review (GEAR) conference in Juba in mid-April 2021, the 13 State Ministers of education including Abyei, Pibor and Ruweng Administrative Areas in attendance led by Hon. Deng Awut Achuil, the Republic of South Sudan Minister Education, decided that all schools in South Sudan should re-open on 3rd May 2021.  The main reason for the decision was the devastating impact of schools closure on school children especially girls and the potential loss of gains made in the sector over the years. The UNICEF Country Representative in South Sudan, Dr. Hamida Lasseko, reiterated UNICEF’s commitment to supporting the education sector in particular the Ministry of General Education and Instruction (MoGEI) in its effort to provide education to the children of South Sudan.

Warm up session before going to primary school in Thoanom, South Sudan

With the announcement to re-open schools, UNICEF has partnered with WTI to implement a “Community Education Resilience” programme in urban areas of three States of Central Equatoria, Eastern Equatoria and Western Equatoria in South Sudan. The support includes Back To Learning Campaign to mobilise the community and children to return to school, training of teachers, training of Parent Teachers Associations (PTA), provision of in-kind school supplies and support for peacebuilding, child-protection and life skills through peace clubs in schools. These efforts are geared towards increasing access and bringing back those learners, boys and girls who had dropped out of school due to the covid-19 related challenges and to enrol those who had never stepped in school before.

Back to Learning campaign strategies

With schools closed for over a year, working with UNICEF and the Ministry of Education, WTI designed various strategies that are being used in the communities as campaign tools to encourage parents and children to return to school. These include:

Use of influential leaders especially women as champions of education

Windle Trust International selected local radios stations in the three States and selected influential leaders to disseminate messages on back to learning. To date radios remain one of the best communication tools for the rural areas as they are affordable and the broadcasts reach a wide audience. Working with MoGEI Director General for Gender and Inclusive Education, Mrs. Esther Okuma as an influential educator and leader to participate in a radio talk on Radio Emmanuel in Torit, Eastern Equatoria State. She appealed directly to parents and the community to send all their children back to school. As the Director General for Gender and Inclusive Education, Madam Esther emphasised the importance of girls’ education, safe school re-opening and the use of the school re-opening guidelines produced by MoGEI. According to the radio manager, Radio Emmanuel has an estimated audience of 450,000 listeners in the State. In Yambio, Western Equatoria State, WTI held a press conference and interviews with community leaders given to various media houses such Miraya FM and Yambio FM which were listened to in the State and across the country.

Community leaders/elders and education officials

Across Africa, elders are respected and trusted as mediators, facilitators and repositories of knowledge and wisdom. Indeed elders are considered to be vast reservoirs of the collective wisdom that has been accumulated over time. When an elder speaks or commands parents to send children back to school, they will listen. As part of the Back to Learning Campaign WTI worked closely with community leaders/elders to convey messages that encourage parents to send their children Back to Learning.  In our many years of work in South Sudan, we know that when schools, parents, families, and communities and their leaders work together to support learning, students numbers increase in schools and attend school more regularly, stay in school longer, and enrol in higher level programmes. With this experience, we organised Back to Learning Campaigns events in all the three State capitals of Juba, Torit and Yambio and invited community leaders and elders to address the gathering. Below is a photo of a community leader speaking at Back to Learning Campaign held at Ngulere Primary School in Liria Payam, Juba County. The elders give their support to education programmes and encourages parents to send their children to school.

Use of traditional dances/music and with school messaging

Dance and music is part of South Sudan culture and history for centuries. In a typical South Sudan community event, feelings and emotions are expressed in songs and dances, conveying message to their audience; these attracts big audience. In Juba, with the UNICEF supported Back to Learning campaign on 17th of May 2021 at Ngulere Primary School the community were mobilised for music and dances as part of the Back to Learning in Lokiliri and Lirya Payams. Although the plan was for 150 participants over 400 people turned up for the colourful event. Among those who attended were school head teachers and PTA chairpersons of 8 schools. Dignitaries such as the County Education Director, Lirya Payam Education Supervisor, Lokiliri Payam Education Supervisor, chiefs, women representative and school children.

The event was characterized with speeches and punctuated with cultural dances, drama and singing of songs which conveyed messages that encourage parents to send their children to school. The emotional songs, the dances and the clear messages attracted the audience and the dignitaries to join in the dance. The keynote speakers echoed the same messages and appreciated UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and Windle Trust International for organizing the important function.

Community mobilisation

Community mobilisation which is a capacity building process through which we are able to work with the community to identify and plan education activities and discuss challenges affecting the education of their children. Our experience is that the greatest benefits of community mobilisation are to build community capacity and to help the community identify and address its own needs. With the UNICEF funding, WTI has recruited community mobilisers who move door to door in communities to discuss education related issues and encouraging parents to send their children to school.

Conclusion

The UNICEF funded Back to Learning Campaign has been a success and we can clearly see the results in the number of children who have reported back to school after the long period of closure. The next action starting after mobilisation of children to schools as they resume lessons is distribution of UNICEF provided schools supplies. UNICEF has prepositioned school supplies in the States. WTI is working with UNICEF to receive the supplies in the respective field offices and transport them directly to schools for distribution. Given that good number of children may not afford scholastic materials, the school supplies will enable all children inclusively in the target classes to attend classes regularly. We will continue with this campaign to work towards retention of children in schools and supporting teachers and community leaders to provide necessary support to improve the quality of schooling and learning outcome