A new lease of life for school girls in South Sudan

Creating an environment conducive to learning especially for girls – even in the middle of conflict

By Pavithra S. Rangan
Maysoon Adut Malek (extreme right) sits with her friends
UNICEF South Sudan/2018/Rangan
03 September 2018

AWEIL, South Sudan – The 16-year-old shouts out that there’s no better teacher than ‘Mr. James Mawel’, who teaches English and Mathematics lessons at the Udaba Primary School. Both subjects she has now taken a keen interest in, with scores well above 80 per cent.

Two years ago, Maysoon Adut Malek moved from a private school close to her house in Getway, Aweil Central, Northern Bahr-E-Ghazal, to this government school over an hour’s walk from her house. Yet, she insists: “It was the best decision my grandfather ever made for me. My previous school had few teachers. There were no benches, water, food or toilets. I didn’t like it at all,” she says.

“Here I realize how much there is to study and I love coming to school.” 

Maysoon is among hundreds of children in the area to have moved to Udaba primary school after UNICEF and partners provided support. Teachers were trained, text books and note books provided, and toilets and hand washing facilities refurbished and repaired. Sanitary kits were also provided to girls. Colourful artwork covers the walls carrying messages such as ‘menstruation cannot stop me from going to school.

School-aged children make up about 48 per cent of South Sudan’s population. Yet, conflict, economic collapse and worsening food insecurity have fractured the country’s education system. In 2017, over 1.8 million children (42 per cent girls) were in need of education. Even where limited services were available, a lack of qualified teachers and irregular or non-payment of teacher salaries has severely affected learning.

Despite these challenges, UNICEF and partners provided 319,962 new out-of-school children access to education in 2017. Building the skills of more than 13,000 education personnel and community members was also undertaken.

“Previously, there were not more than 250 children. In the last two years, this number has tripled to 750 students,” says the head teacher at Udaba Primary School, Albino Ujieth. “In fact, we now have so many students that even the newly built classrooms are not sufficient. We have had to split some classes because of their size and these are now being taken under the tree outside.”

Teachers at the school say that the provision of quality infrastructure and teacher training has made all the difference. “Before the training, I would simply carry the text book and go to class,” says Albino. “I didn't know anything about pedagogy, the method of teaching or even making a work plan. Now all 14 teachers in the school prepare before class and plan different exercises in advance to engage students.”

Last year, the school recorded a pass percentage of at least 75 per cent across the classes. In the seventh grade, for instance, 15 of the 20 students enrolled passed the final exam. The various clubs in the school such as the hygiene and sanitation club, gender-based violence club, peace club and others, are also a major attractions for parents and children in the community. Street plays and dramas are performed by school children to raise awareness on issues such as prevention of early marriages, and the importance of education.

“If I am lucky, I might go to senior school next year. I’m worried my grandfather can’t afford the fee.”

– Maysoon, now in her 8th grade.

“Last year, he bought me a lamp so I could study at night for my exams after completing the housework. He says that if he had a cow he could sell it to make me study,” says Maysoon.

Girls in class
UNICEF South Sudan/2018/Rangan
Girls in class at the only girl’s school in Aweil Central, the Salaam Girls Primary School. The school is focusing on enrolling girls that would never have normally enrolled or who would have dropped out easily.

UNICEF and partners are supporting five primary schools across Northern Bahr-E-Ghazal, with nearly 5,000 students, 60 per cent of them girls.

Besides having access to quality education and sanitation, all students in all the schools UNICEF is supporting are also provided lunch every day.

“Since all schools have toilets, storage facilities, a kitchen and a water source, they are eligible for provision of food by the World Food Programme,” says Benjamin Lokaya, UNICEF’s Education Specialist for the Northern Bahr-E-Ghazal state. “This is a huge support to the community and has significantly reduced dropouts. Earlier, children would have to go home or find food from somewhere and they wouldn’t return after the break.”

Girls in the school say that are extremely comfortable and eager to come to school now because of the quality of education and, especially, the facilities for sanitation.

“Earlier, I would be ashamed to go to school during my period because I would use a cloth during my period and it would stain my clothes. The boys would laugh at me,” says 15-year-old Agol Nyang, studying in grade six. “Here we are given sanitary napkins and it makes me feel so confident. I don’t have to worry and I can be confident like the boys.”

(Funding for education in emergencies is generously provided by the USAID, the Government of Norway and the Norwegian National Committee.)