Improving learning environments for children in Sudan
© Text and photo by Jeanette Olsen
July 2012: Isra is a 6th grade student in Ali-Al Amin school in Kassala, East Sudan. Her favourite subject is English, because she believes it will help her to continue her studies to become a doctor one day.
In school, she enjoys participating in role-play and drama where the children convey important health and nutrition messages. This was how she learned – among other things -- that AIDS is a very dangerous disease.
If she could change anything in the school, she would repaint the walls in fresh yellow and green, and bring more plants into the schoolyard.
Ali-Al Amin school is secure and well-equipped. Students have access to latrines and safe drinking water as well as water for hand washing. The school has its own theatre, classrooms are not overcrowded and a perimeter fence helps keep staff and children safe. Trees in the schoolyard offer shade for students as they chat and play between classes.
Isra and her classmates are fortunate. In Kassala state, 65 per cent of school-aged children do not even attend school. Of the minority who are in education, many find themselves crammed into a classroom with more than 100 other pupils. School buildings are frequently built of straw or other makeshift materials, offering little or no light and ventilation.
Not all schools have access to water and sanitation, and at those that do, it is not uncommon for a single latrine to be shared between 200 or more children. The health implications for pupils and staff working in such conditions are serious.
But change may be at hand. Working alongside the Government, UNICEF is helping improve both the quality and access to education by training managers and teachers. Schools like Ali-Al Amin are being supplied with books and other essential equipment as well as water and sanitation facilities.
Thanks to funding partners Japan, Italy and Norway, UNICEF has constructed and rehabilitated a number of schools, mainly in Blue Nile, Kassala, Red Sea and the Darfur states. However, plans to extend education opportunities to children in the conflict-affected North and South Kordofan states continue to be constrained by a gap in funding.
UNICEF and the government of Sudan also work in partnership to improve the safety and standards of existing and new school buildings. A workshop on school construction and the school environment was held in Khartoum in January 2012 where stakeholders discussed the setting of a common school design and standards to provide the best possible learning environments based on local needs and conditions, in accordance with the Child-Friendly School model promoted by UNICEF in Sudan and elsewhere.
“We need good school buildings with ventilation, seating, medical kits, and playgrounds in order to build attractive educational environments”,“We need good school buildings with ventilation, seating, medical kits, and playgrounds in order to build attractive educational environments”, said Dr. Eltahir Hassan Eltahir, Planning Director in the Federal Ministry of General Education. The government has adopted the Child-Friendly School model as a key strategy to give all children access to safe, healthy and inclusive learning environments.
The principles of inclusiveness, participation and putting the child at the centre of education will help schools ensure that children enjoy their right to quality education. The training of teachers and the encouragement of local communities to participate in key decisions is also prioritized by UNICEF, the government and partners.
“Its tremendous to see that Sudan is joining the movement to promote Child-Friendly Education which has produced such success in other parts of the world,” said Anupama Rao Singh, UNICEF Sudan Representative a.i. “Using this model, all children should have access to a place of learning that is safe and healthy, free of disease and the risk of harm, wherever and however they are living in the country.”