Increasing Access to Education - despite the war

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 – though Unity state has been especially badly affected with persistent conflict, large scale displacement and different authorities controlling different parts of what was once a single state.

Despite a profoundly negative context – one characterised by widespread fear and violence; forced displacement and famine – we have made extraordinary progress in increasing enrolment in both primary and secondary schools.  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 60,000 pupils between 2015 -2017. That is an increase of 33% over the 2015 baseline figure.

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

The sustained growth in enrolment is encouraging – but what is perhaps even more impressive is the way in which enrolment has increased in the historical Unity State, an area where access to education had been limited for decades.  In the past, education provision was better in the equatorian states that bordered Uganda and Kenya whilst the northern states were neglected. These differences were reflected in markedly different enrolment rates. Despite similar total population numbers, nearly 100,000 children were enrolled in primary schools in W Equatoria in 2015, while in Unity state enrolment was one third of this number, approximately 34,000.

In the last three years, enrolment in W Equatoria has increased by 10,000 in absolute numbers, representing a 10% increase.  This is a big step forward, but it is dwarfed by the expansion of enrolment in Unity State where the number has increased from 34,000 to well over 75,000. That’s an increase of well over 100% - all the more remarkable when we recall that in the last 2-3 years hundreds of thousands of people have fled to neighbouring countries or have been forced to abandon their homes and villages.