Exam results show impact of education programme for Sudanese nomad children
By Abdel Rahman El Dood, UNICEF Sudan
Um Sarayeh, White Nile State, Sudan May 2011: 15 year old Zahra Mohamed Ahmed has every reason to feel pleased with herself. She’s just received her results from the grade 8 exams she took in March 2011 showing that she got 239 marks out of 280.
What makes Zahra’s achievement so special is that she comes from one of Sudan’s nomadic communities – a group with a very high illiteracy rate, and who have traditionally resisted the notion of sending their children, especially girls, to school.
It was in the 1990s that things began to change. A partnership was set up between the government, the nomadic communities themselves, and UNICEF. Its aim was to ensure that nomad children received the same education opportunities as other Sudanese children.
The outcome was a number of mobile schools established in Darfur and in Kordofan state. Zahra was one of the first students to be enrolled.
“I remember that when I was six years old, my parents told me that there was going to be a school in our community and that I was going to be one of the students,” Zahra recalls. “I was so excited!”
Nine years on, Zahra and 109 other nomadic children from six schools are the first batch to finish their primary schooling since the programme began. The whole group passed their exams with impressive scores.
To mark their success, a special event was organized in Um Sarayeh (White Nile State), a seasonal settlement area of the Al Ahamda nomadic group. Those attending included the Directors of Education in White Nile and Sennar States, and other senior government officials.
“We are very proud of the excellent results achieved by our children,” said Elomda Elhaj Mohamed Ageid, the community leader. He went on to express the community’s appreciation for the support given to the programme by donors, the Ministry of Education and UNICEF.
Nomads represent 8% of Sudan’s 38 million population. They roam across one third of the country’s vast land area.Nomads represent 8% of Sudan’s 38 million population. They roam across one third of the country’s vast land area.
The first mobile schools were set up in Darfur and Kordofan regions, in tents, or temporary buildings made of straw and bamboo. Some simply used the shade of large trees. Besides receiving educational and teaching materials, solar lamps were provided to facilitate evening classes for both children and adults.
Today, there are more than 200,000 nomadic children enrolled in 1,593 government nomadic schools in almost every state in the country. It’s a measure of how things have changed.
“Nomadic people used to say: Once a child gets a taste of school and the town, that child won’t want to come back and be with his family or move with the animals,” said Rea Ahmed Hassan, Director of Nomadic Education. She says that mindset is changing, but points out that there are still about 24,000 school age nomadic children out of school in White Nile state.
The presence of more than 3,000 nomadic people at the celebration -- including community leaders, teachers and school children – underlined how nomadic communities’ support for education has grown over timeThe presence of more than 3,000 nomadic people at the celebration -- including community leaders, teachers and school children – underlined how nomadic communities’ support for education has grown over time. Held in a large tent decorated with colorful flags, the gathering was an opportunity to obtain further commitment for the education programme, not least from teachers. The message to the children themselves was just as encouraging.
“My older three sisters never had the chance to go to school,” says Zahra. “But my younger sister is now in grade 4 and my brother has been registered for grade 1 in the same school.”
“From time to time I tell other children who are not in school about how important it is for them to go to school. But "we need to work hard to prove education is important for nomadic girls and useful in life.” says Zahrawe need to work hard to prove education is important for nomadic girls and useful in life.”