|Children attend an outdoor classroom in Lakes State, Southern Sudan, photographed by a Rapid Assessment of Learning Spaces team.|
By Skye Wheeler and Rachel Beck
JUBA, Southern Sudan, 10 November 2006 – For the first time in the history of this war-torn region, a major survey has made it possible to identify the location and conditions of thousands of learning spaces – many of them ‘bush schools’ consisting of little more than a few benches under a tree.
The recently completed Rapid Assessment of Learning Spaces (RALS) found that 758,207 students are enrolled in 2,922 schools across the vast expanse of Southern Sudan, which is struggling to recover from two decades of armed conflict.
According to the survey, almost a third of these children still attend classes in the open air. A mere 31 per cent of learning spaces have access to adequate sanitation facilities, and one in five schools does not even have a chalkboard.
A unique collaboration between the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and UNICEF, the RALS report is the culmination of an unprecedented data collection effort.
Over the course of nine months, teams of RALS assessors fanned out across a territory of more than 600,000 square kilometres – sometimes walking for up to three days, using bicycles to navigate areas without roads and forging across swamps and impossibly hilly terrain to reach remote communities. Landmines and outbreaks of armed conflict occasionally brought the project to a complete halt.
Despite the challenges, the teams managed to reach nearly every school in Southern Sudan. Aided by global-positioning equipment, they recorded the precise location of each site and conducted a detailed assessment of the learning environment.
|A ‘bush school’ setting in Southern Sudan, where almost a third of schoolchildren still attend classes in the open air.|
Now each school has been added to a comprehensive database that provides enrolment figures by gender and grade as well as information on the availability of water and sanitation facilities, subjects taught, school materials and the inclusion of vulnerable students – including demobilized child soldiers and displaced children.
Unlike previous studies, RALS also investigated the underlying factors that keep children out of school, such as disease, fear of abduction and nomadic migration.
The findings are often grim. Girls comprise just 34 per cent of primary school enrolment, and only 14 per cent of teachers are women. Almost all instructors lack formal training or adequate educational preparation.
With the RALS data in hand, policymakers will be able to more effectively distribute education resources. Government officials in several areas are already using the findings to identify learning spaces in need of extra support and target the delivery of school supplies.
Framework for the future
The study is an important foundation for advancing education in post-war Southern Sudan. Since the members of each assessment team were Southern Sudanese, a trained group of local experts is now available to contribute to the ongoing efforts to educate children at risk.
“As Southern Sudan moves rapidly into a period of reconstruction and rebuilding, the data from this assessment will provide vital information for planners and policymakers,” said UNICEF Representative in Sudan Ted Chaiban.
“We are delighted to have been able to work with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to create an important framework that will improve the design and delivery of education services for millions of children across Southern Sudan, long into the future,” he added.
‘Go to School’ series
Peace brings progress for girls in Southern Sudan [with video]
Education outreach in Southern Sudan cattle camps [with video]
Japan helps rebuild schools in Southern Sudan [with video]
School supplies to Southern Sudan [with video]
Getting girls to school in Southern Sudan [with video]
‘Go to School’ campaign launch [with video]
Southern Sudan ‘goes to school’ [with video]