Cash Incentives Provide a Lifeline for Teachers in South Sudan

Incentives encourage teachers to return to classrooms and to create a productive environment for children

Tamana Zamir
teacher and students
09 November 2021

Kumboti Frederic James is a teacher at Pazuo Primary School in Yambio County, Western Equatoria State. In South Sudan, teachers are referred to as ‘Ustaz’ which means teacher in Arabic, as a sign of respect. Ustaz Kumboti teaches mathematics, English, social studies and religion to primary 4, 5, 6 and 8th-grade students. He has a wife and two children that he has been supporting on his teacher’s salary for the past twenty years.

However, with the onset of COVID-19, the Government of South Sudan closed all educational institutions in March 2020 and teachers like Ustaz Kumboti were not able to practice their profession for 15 months. The closure of the schools also meant the loss of salaries for thousands of teachers like him.

“I had to resort to selling the maize and cassava that grows on my farm to support my family with basic necessities such as cooking oil, soap, salt and sugar,” says Ustaz Kumboti. Teaching is one of the least paid jobs in South Sudan and due to inflation, salaries have become unstable. The impacts of COVID-19 have worsened the challenges for teachers, as the majority of teachers have not received their salaries for some time. Without teachers in the classrooms, further learning losses are experienced, with more school dropouts in 2021.

The school closures also disproportionately impacted the most marginalized children in South Sudan and restricted their access to already limited services such as school feeding, psycho-social support and water, sanitation and hygiene services. In October 2020, the government mandated the reopening of classes for primary 8 and secondary 4 exam candidates. The classes for other grades only resumed in May 2021. However, without regular salaries, many teachers were hesitant to return to school.

To help get teachers back in class, the Ministry of General Education and Instruction and UNICEF developed the OUTREACH programme, supported by the European Union. Beginning in May 2021, the programme initiated the disbursement of a one-time cash incentive of 21,400 South Sudanese Pounds (SSP) (approximately 54 USD) to 33,000 primary school teachers, covering a period of three months salary.

The OUTREACH programme is being implemented in two phases. The first was the 'Return to School Initiative' where approximately 33,000 teachers will be paid a one-time cash incentive to support their return to school and regular teaching activities. Teachers selected for the Return to School Initiative were identified through a national verification of teachers’ identity and attendance records, as well as student attendance records.

Ustaz Kumboti was one of these recipients. In October 2021, he received 21,400 SSP. The purpose of the cash incentive is to support teachers’ school attendance and return after a year and a half of closure, by encouraging them to continue teaching and ultimately to create a conducive learning environment for children to return to school.

“I have been battling a medical condition, this money will help me to cover the medicine and support my wife and two children,” he says, sounding relieved. The second phase of the OUTREACH programme will commence later this year where approximately 7,450 (1,950 qualified and 5,500 volunteers) teachers in hard-to-reach areas will be paid monthly cash incentives to support regular teaching activities in those locations.

When asked if the incentive motivated him to return to his profession, Ustaz Kumboti responded proudly, “I returned to the classroom the day schools reopened in May 2021. I love teaching.”

Ustaz Kumboti is happy to be back in the classroom with his students.
Ustaz Kumboti is happy to be back in the classroom with his students.

UNICEF is thankful to our trusted Education partners including Canada, European Union (EU), European Union Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), the Global Partnership for Education, Norway, Sweden, UKAID and USAID.