Faces of the first day

First day of school at Venus Star Academy in Juba

Helene Sandbu Ryeng
Girls writing in their notebook
10 February 2020


The first day at school after a break is always special, with that fluttery feeling of butterflies in your stomach, but even more so if it is your first day ever.

A girl walking to school
Nyanthon Joseph is on her way to school and her first day in primary one.


Nyanthon Joseph is seven years old and ready for her first day in primary one. She has already completed nursery school and is confident when counting to ten or reciting the alphabet


a boy is comforted by two adults in the schoolyard.
A boy having his first day in primary one is comforted by one of the teachers and the headmaster at Venus Star Academy


Even though it is exciting to start school, it can also be quite frightening. New buildings, new teachers, new classmates and new expectations. Some tears were shed as older siblings or parents were saying goodbye to their first graders.

It can be quite comforting to have older arms holding you as you pass the gate, or bringing your teddybear.


A boy holding his arms around two younger boys
An older boy holding his arms around two first graders as they are passing through the gate


Other first graders are more confident and are spending the time before the first class making sure their brand new pencils are sharp, with some help from an older student.


A boy sharpening pencils, while two boys are watching
An older boy is sharpening two of the first graders' pencils before class


The classrooms are overcrowded, leaving no room for more students, yet the school is expecting more students to register in the coming week. 


A student writing in his notebook
A boy taking notes in primary 4


Only in primary one, 250 students are registered, which is much higher than last year. There are not enough seats for everyone in the classroom, some students have to sit on the floor while the seating arrangements will be sorted out in the coming days.


A boy taking notes while sitting on the floor


UNICEF is looking into how to assist with temporary learning spaces while more permanent ones are built on the other side of the road.

Even though the classrooms are crowded and starting school can be a bit scary, there is only one place that is worse; outside the school looking in and wishing you were one of the students.


A boy sitting outside the school gate


2.2 million children in South Sudan are currently out of school. UNICEF is aiming at enrolling over 700,000 children this year.

UNICEF's education programmes are generously supported by the Norwegian Government, SIDA and USAID