New school gives hope for the future
AWEIL EAST COUNTY, NORTHERN BAHRL-EL-GHAZAL, South Sudan, 6 July 2012 – Against the backdrop of a dirt yard surrounded by green fields, hundreds of blue uniforms seems to burst with colour in the morning sun. A chorus of children’s voices echoes off the walls of surrounding buildings as the students march in time with their singing.
These children are practicing for the official opening of their new school, which was completed in May 2012. Until recently, children in the area took classes under mango trees. Others, like LinoKualual, had to walk for hours to get to the closest school.
“Sometimes I did not go to school because that school was very far,” saysKualual, who is 19 years old and attends grade eight. “In a week I used to go to school twice.”
Many people in South Sudan have not had access to education at all. Only 27 percent of South Sudanese are literate, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
As the newly independent nation emerges from decades of war and underdevelopment, providing access to education is a key priority for the government as well as donors. With almost three quarters of the population under age 30, there is an added sense of urgency. If South Sudan is to develop, it will need to quickly muster the resources to educate the next generation so they can work to build their country.
Barriers to education
Less than 10 percent of all children who do go to school have access to safe and child-friendly classrooms, where they are protected from the extreme elements of weather, with many simply taking brief lessons under trees.
Fifteen-year-old Elizabeth NyalutDuksays she wants to be a doctor. She’s happy she can now attend grade 7 inside where classes won’t be cancelled due to rains. But her future will depend greatly on further development in the education sector – students here still lack books and other materials, and there is no secondary school in the area.
She says students also face social challenges, as many parents don’t see the value in education. They often complain that children go to school rather than helping them cultivate produce on small subsistence farms.
“But if I study now I can get a job and help my parents”, says Duk.
“I’m hoping that if my kids are educated then they will get jobs and life will be better, both for them and for me,” she says.
Concerns for the future
South Sudan’s school-age population is also growing as hundreds of thousands of southerners return from Sudan to their newly independent homeland. The International Office for Migration says almost 400,000 have returned since October 2010 and as many as 700,000 remain in the north facing an uncertain future.
NyanTuch returned in January, 2011, just in time to cast her vote in the referendum that led to South Sudan’s secession. She came back with four of her five children. One daughter remains with her husband in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, awaiting transport south.
Tuch lives alongside other returnees inApada, a temporary camp on the outskirts of Aweil, which is the capital of Northern Bahr El Ghazal state. The government is supposed to provide land for returnees, but members of this community haven’t received their plots yet. So they remain camped in shelters made of sticks and thatch.
Tuch says she is concerned about the future of her country. She says she understands the huge challenges her country is facing, but adds that the government needs to focus on education.
“I am worried that without proper schools we will produce children who become criminals, because their minds will not develop,” she says. “So I am looking to the government to improve the quality of education so that we have children that can become leaders in the country.”
New school, new hope
Students at the newly-constructed Amajal Primary School in Aweil East County are some of the lucky ones. The school is one of 34 schools built with funds from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development provided through UNICEF which works with a range of partners to improve education in the country.
UNICEF has also worked withthe United Nations Office for Procurement Services (UNOPS) who are providing technical support to the construction aspects of this project and other partners that work on teacher training and community mobilization to ensure participation and increase girl’s enrolment.
Sitting outside the new school, under a mango tree where she used to attend classes, 10-year-old AjokWol also says the government needs to build more schools and train more teachers. In fact, she says she wants to contribute to education in South Sudan.
“I want to be a teacher,” she says.
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