Source: The Guardian
The Birth of a Nation
On July 9th, 2011 a nation was born. South Sudan, the 196th country of the world, finally gained its independence after decades of conflict and civil war. Sudan’s history of conflict has severely damaged the education system, but this new beginning (despite the challenges it poses) is perhaps the start of a brighter future, especially for school-aged children.
Recovering from the Past
The road to peace and prosperity will not be easy now that South Sudan has its independence. A long and bumpy road lies ahead, but with hard work there is the potential for great progress. South Sudan, however, is starting from a rough spot. Currently, 1.3 million primary school-aged children are not attending school in the new country (UNESCO 1). Children born in South Sudan have a greater chance at dying before turning five years old than successfully completing four years of school (UNESCO 7). This is partly the result from the decades of civil war which caused massive population displacements as well as recruitment of child soldiers. Instead of going to school, many school-aged children put down their pencils and picked up guns – turning from students to soldiers. During the wars, education took the back seat as families and children were either fleeing or fighting. Education was a very low priority.
In addition to the large numbers that are not enrolled in school, there are several other issues in the South Sudanese education system such as weak infrastructure (many schools were damaged during the wars and have yet to be rebuilt) as well as gender disparities. According to the recently released UNESCO document, Building a Better Future: Education for an Independent South Sudan, a young Sudanese girl is three times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than to reach eighth grade. The gap between male students and female students is enormous.
Another problem the new country is facing is a shortage of teachers. The current ratio of teachers to students is 100:1 which poses obvious issues. Students are not getting the individualized attention they need (especially in a new school system). The scarcity of educators is not just a problem in the new South Sudan, but also globally; to reach the Millennium
Development Goals, it’s estimated that 1.9 million teachers would be needed by 2015 (UNESCO 2).
Growing Pains: Recommendations for the new Nation
The UNESCO report gives several recommendations for the new Government of South Sudan so that the education system in South Sudan will no longer be a distant dream for school-aged children, these include:
· Developing a strong education sector strategy
· Using schools as a vehicle for peace-building
· Managing reintegration of returning Sudanese
· Tackling gender inequality
· Ensuring that children acquire sound early reading and numeracy skills in the early grades.
· Enhancing education quality
· Prioritizing the recruitment and training of female teachers
· Linking health and education (combatting malnutrition)
The Start of Something Great?
South Sudan has a fresh start. The opportunities are endless. The future is bright. The country and its people have waited decades and fought hard for this moment, but now that independence has finally come they need to work hard to ensure that their people are receiving the public services they deserve – education being high atop that list. There is a strong correlation between peace and education and one of South Sudan’s founding fathers, John Garang, knew this. He consistently stated that “it is through education that people and countries build the skills needed to strengthen self-reliance, expand choices, and create shared prosperity” (UNESCO 1). As South Sudan embarks on its first month of independence, it will be vital for it to begin to address the education problem. If the new Government of South Sudan tackles this issue (and soon!), then millions of school-aged children who’ve been deprived of an education for so long might have the opportunity to read, write, and learn. Who knows, one of those kids given this new opportunity might just be the future president of South Sudan.