South Sudan is one of the newest countries in the world, emerging as an independent nation in 2011 when the peoples of South Sudan voted in a referendum to separate from Sudan. Unfortunately, South Sudan’s independence did not bring conflict to an end.
Within two years, war broke out again – this time pitting former allies against each other. Education is one of the casualties of the latest conflict. School buildings have been destroyed, damaged or taken over by armed groups; even worse, teachers have fled and pupils have been press-ganged into fighting. Hundreds of thousands of children who started school with high hopes of a better future have been forced out of school.
Reflecting a history of marginalisation and lack of investment in educational facilities going back to colonial times, the newly independent South Sudan is a country with some of lowest educational indicators in the world. The adult literacy rate stands at less than 30%, and despite increases in enrolment in the last few years, a half of all primary school age children - more than one million children - are not in school. Drop-out rates are so high that the completion rate in primary schools is one of the lowest in the world. By far the greatest barrier to effective learning, however, is a shortage of trained and supported teachers. The consequence is that very few children manage to go to secondary school. Access to education reflects high gender, geographic and wealth disparities, features which pose enormous challenges to the development of South Sudan’s economy and to the nurturing of a sense of nationhood.
By far the greatest barrier to effective learning is a shortage of trained and supported teachers
Windle Trust International opened an office in Khartoum in 1999 and has supported education work in Sudan for nearly 20 years.
Sudan has been beset by conflict for decades. This history of war, rebellion and displacement has had a direct impact on access to school, on the maintenance of the physical infrastructure of educational institutions from village schools to national universities and on the educational experiences of children and students in all parts of Sudan. For too many, education has been limited, subject to interruptions resulting in disappointing educational outcomes. These deficiencies affect not just those who are displaced but also host communities where the displaced have settled.
The scale of the conflict has led to flight and migration on an enormous scale. There are around 3 million internally displaced people (IDPs), mostly in Darfur in the west and in the states such as South Kordofan which border South Sudan. In addition Sudan hosts more than half a million people who are refugees and asylum seekers. These are predominantly from South Sudan but there are also many from Eritrea and Ethiopia.
In circumstances of chronic conflict, education provision is often overlooked, poor in quality and limited in scope. Such deprivation can cause a sense of desperation and frustration. The provision of education – whether at secondary, post-secondary or university level – is one way of inspiring hope in the future despite the anxieties of the present.
The provision of education is one way of inspiring hope in the future despite the anxieties of the present