Desire enjoys her new school
African Development Bank through UNICEF is supporting South Sudan's Education System
Behind the fence of Paluonganyi Primary School, in Magwi County, South Sudan, a group of children play while further away, in front of a brand-new classroom, three girls are sitting and discussing the recent exams. It’s a typical day at school, yet only a few months ago was not a reality for these learners.
Grade 7 student, Desire Night Alfred, wearing her beige and orange uniform previously lived and went to school in Nimule on the border with Uganda. She left her school last year due to crowded classrooms and family issues: “My father could not send us to school there anymore, so we had to leave that place. It was not the first time I had to change school” Desire recalled life before she moved to the renovated Paluonganyi school.
Like Desire, having a disrupted school curriculum is a common reality and experience for children in South Sudan. More than 2.8 million children are out of school across the country. Many drop out of school due to poverty, child marriage, and climate-related impacts such as flooding.
Providing quality education is a major challenge in South Sudan, particularly in rural and hard-to-reach areas. Education, like other sectors, has been severely affected by years of conflict, which saw school infrastructure damaged or destroyed and teachers hindered to provide quality learning for their students.
Many educational institutions were vandalized or occupied by armed groups and/or internally displaced persons seeking refuge from violence. The remaining functioning schools have underpaid and underqualified teachers, a limited number of permanent and semi-permanent classrooms, and a lack of the essential services such as water and sanitation, with toilets being shared sometimes between boys, girls, and teachers.
The primary school enrollment rate in South Sudan is estimated at 36 percent and the primary school completion rate is estimated at only 14 percent. To make matters worse, only 13 percent of elementary schools offer full elementary education from 1st to 8th grade. Children from rural communities are the most disadvantaged, with irregular school attendance due to economic conditions and cultural practices that hinder education priorities.
In Magwi County, Eastern Equatoria State, the heavy rains and strong winds often damage semipermanent classrooms disturbing children’s learning.
I have been at Paluonganyi School since 2016 when we only had 2 classes: the 7th and 8th grades. Before the renovation and construction of the new blocks, school life was really hard; during rains and strong winds, classes would be disrupted, and we would send children back home.
Ochora Samuel, Desire’s teacher, teaches math, religion, and the small ones in kindergarten.
Prolonged school closures in addition to high levels of poverty, complex socio-cultural dimensions, and a lack of access to quality learning during the COVID-19 pandemic exposed and exacerbated a pre-existing learning crisis that has left millions of schoolchildren without foundational numeracy and literacy skills. It has never been more important for children to get back to school.
Building schools for children to learn
With funding from the African Development Bank (AfDB), UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of General Education and Instruction to rehabilitate and construct primary schools in Eastern Equatoria State as well as in Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Unity States. The objective of the project is to increase access to quality basic education through improved infrastructure that will ultimately lead to improved learning outcomes. This is in line with the Sustainable Development Goal on Education (SDG 4) which aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning”.
Paluonganyi Primary School is one of 5 primary schools in Eastern Equatoria, Magwi county where two blocks of 4 permanent classrooms have been constructed. The two blocks now replace the TLS (Transitional Learning Spaces) makeshift shades that have been in use since 2016, thereby creating a conducive learning environment for children, especially girls. In addition to the classroom blocks, elevated and disability-friendly latrines, and handwashing facilities are built up to ensure resilience to flooding. The schools were completed this year and the enrolment at Paluonganyi Primary School has increased from around 250 to 600 hundred learners since the beginning of the construction.
Before the construction of the new blocks, we only had 2 classes, now we have the nursery for little ones, primary level 1 to 8, and an ALP (Accelerated Learning Programme) for adults. We have the space now to accommodate different learners. It is giving me hope and energy to perform my duty as a teacher every day for the children’s future and the development of my country.
Even if the school is a bit far away from my home, I wake up early and I do not miss classes. The school is nice and clean, we have good lessons, food, water, and toilets.
Desire loves her new school.
On the 23rd of November 2022, the 5 new schools were officially handed over to the communities. Teachers, community leaders, and children were present.
Speaking during the handover ceremony, UNICEF South Sudan Chief of Education Wongani Grace expressed her appreciation for the collaboration from the Ministry at the national and State levels. “Construction in South Sudan is not an easy task when you take into account the conditions of the roads and the cost of operations. To get to a point where the schools are completed and being handed over to the communities is a big milestone,” she said.
She also pointed out the importance of teachers and the continued support of UNICEF to ensure more children are able to go to school.
Our message has been the same in every place, yes, the schools are there, with good infrastructures but children need qualified teachers.
The road to quality education for all children remains a long one for South Sudan. But the situation is starting to change for the better. The Ministry of General Education and Instruction, Director General, Esther Acting extended her gratitude to the African Development Bank and UNICEF for their support and made pledges to stand for teachers and students’ rights. “You need to get your salaries,” she said. “This is one of the major things I am here for, to make sure you have your rights, and you are able to teach in good conditions”.
Paluonganyi Primary School is one of 24 newly constructed or renovated classrooms. UNICEF, in partnership with the Ministry of General Education and Instruction, with the support of the African Development Bank, is proud to be part of South Sudan’s journey towards sustainable peace and continuous expansion of education to all children in the country.
Through the support of AfDB and other donors such as the German Corporation through the KFW Bank, and Global Partnership for Education, UNICEF is constructing and renovating 64 schools across South Sudan. This infrastructure work is complimented with integrated teacher trainings, school supplies, learner welfare and safety trainings for teachers, and WASH facilities and hygiene promotion in schools.