Increasing Access to Education - despite the war

In the last three years, school enrolment in war-torn Unity State has increased from 55,000 to nearly 130,000.

That's an increase of about 135%; the enrolment of girls has been even more striking, increasing by nearly 160%.

Primary school students during a lesson in Ganyiel, South Sudan.

​​​Windle Trust International has been working with the government of South Sudan and the Department for International Development (DFID) since 2013 on a programme to increase access to primary and secondary schools in South Sudan.  The overall programme covers the whole of the country, and WTI is responsible for managing implementation in three of the historical states – W. Equatoria, Lakes and Unity.  All of these areas have been affected by the conflicts that have been so destructive of peace and development in South Sudan – with communities facing hunger and famine, displacement and destruction of settlements and repeated violence as different authorities seek to control different parts of what was once a single state.

Despite this profoundly negative context, there has been extraordinary progress in increasing school enrolment.  Short-term projects, which tend to be the norm in conflict-affected areas, do not easily capture long term trends.  But the Girls Education South Sudan project is exceptional because of the way it has been sustained for 4 years – and that means we can demonstrate the impact of our work over time.

The evidence is clear and consistent – across all the states where we are working, school enrolments have increased.  Despite the ongoing violence, enrolments have increased by almost 140,000 pupils between 2015 -2017.  That is an increase of more than 50% over the 2015 baseline figure.  There are now more girls and boys attending school in the states where WTI works than at any time.  This would be considered a success story at any time, but given these states have been wracked by civil war this growth in enrolment is a remarkable achievement .

The graphs below show how enrolment patterns have changed in recent years in the three states where WTI is working.

Despite the conflict and displacement, the number of children attending schools in all of the states where Windle Trust International is working has increased.  In 2015, the total number of children enrolled at school in the three states was approximately 265,000; by 2017 the number had jumped to over 400,000.

This expansion in enrolment is happening in societies with only weak traditions of sending girls to school. There is still a very long way to go in terms of achieving a gender balance in school participation, but there are clear signs of a new social norm emerging, one which recognises the benefits of education for both girls and boys.  In the three states, female enrolment increased from approximately 105,000 in 2015 to just over 175,000 in 2017.

If these changes in enrolment, and the emerging social norms that are emerging, are to be nurtured and strengthened, it is imperative that the investment in education in recent years be sustained and used as a platform for further improvements.