UNICEF and UNESCO Joint Statement on the Commemoration of the International Day of Education

24 January 2023
A teacher pointing at the blackboard next to a student
UNICEF South Sudan / Naftalin

Today marks the International Day of Education - a day to celebrate education and reflect on the importance of learning for development and peace. This year the day will be commemorated under the theme "Investing in People, Making Education a Priority".

In South Sudan, significant progress has been made to get children into school. Over the past decade, the number of children in school has increased by 20 percent and more girls are enrolling and staying in school. However, inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all remain elusive. More than half of the school age population - over 2.8 million children, are out of school and 53 percent of these are girls. Net enrollment is low at all levels, with only 3.3 percent at pre-primary, 37.6 percent for primary, and 5.2 percent at secondary level. Adult literacy rates remain very low, with only 34.52% reflecting an increase of 7.52 percent from 2008.

Poverty, conflict, insecurity, and natural disasters such as floods are key barriers for access to education for many children in South Sudan. In 2021 alone, 1,397 schools (18 percent of all schools) were not operational, more than half of these were because of conflict and natural disasters. More than half of the current teachers in schools are unqualified and untrained, they are poorly paid, and salaries are irregular, and attrition is high. Many of the teachers have not completed primary and secondary education school themselves and have limited proficiency in English – the current main language of instruction. 

On top of this, schools lack facilities for children with disabilities and many girls dropout due to lack of menstrual hygiene facilities in schools (63% of schools are without latrines, and 52% have limited or no access to safe drinking water). More than 50 percent of girls in South Sudan are married before the age of 18 which further hinders schooling.

2023 marks the mid-point of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. South Sudan is off track on many of the goals and is off track on all the education targets under SDG number 4. Unless action is taken and taken fast, another entire generation is at risk of not reaching their potential and this will affect communities and the entire country.

At the United Nations Transforming Education Summit (TES) in September 2022, the Government of South Sudan committed to transform education and accelerate the achievement of quality and inclusive education for all South Sudanese particularly the most marginalized. The Government committed to address systemic challenges that persistently present barriers for many children to access education.

Increasing domestic financing, reducing the number of out-of-school children, strengthening the focus on foundational literacy and numeracy, increasing the number of qualified and trained teachers (and investing in their welfare), investing in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and implementing the Higher Education Policy Framework - 2021-2030 featured highly in the national commitments presented at the TES. There was also strong commitment to find long-term solutions to address and mitigate against the adverse effects of climate change and build a more resilient education system.

UNICEF and UNESCO call upon Government of South Sudan and all partners to take necessary action to implement these commitments and prioritise education to secure the future of the young generation and realize the potential demographic advantage associated with having a young population (over 70% under the age of 30).

“We call upon the Government to continue to prioritise education and increase budgetary allocation to the sector. Increasing financing for education and strengthening accountability in the sector is fundamental in addressing the persistent challenges that keep children away from school,” said UNICEF Acting Representative, Jesper Moller.

By investing in education, South Sudan will secure not only the development of the country but contribute significantly to sustainable peace, particularly at these fragile moments when conflicts continue to escalate around the country.

“Education fosters peace. By educating children, youth and women, South Sudan will create peaceful and sustainable societies,” said UNESCO Representative, Julius Banda.

UNICEF and UNESCO are committed to continue supporting the Government of South Sudan to fast track action in education. There is now more clarity on what needs to be done based on evidence of what works and does not work in South Sudan and other similar contexts but there is need for urgency to take action to mitigate against another lost generation.  

Media contacts

James Maiden
Chief of Communication
Tel: +211912162888


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work in South Sudan visit: www.unicef.org/southsudan

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