Reopening schools – at a high cost
Schools reopen to excited students as school fees concern parents
Parents are moving their children to stay with relatives where school fees are more affordable. It is a hard decision to send their children away from their homes. Since schools reopened in early May, getting children back in class has not been an easy task in South Sudan.
“I am very happy the classes have resumed after school activities had frozen more than fourteen months due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Loyika, a 13-year-old boy. “Most of my classmates traveled to neighboring countries because they expected South Sudan to be in lockdown for a long time. That has created a great sadness in me.” While schools were closed, Loyika meet with children living in the street. "I have realized that those children are good. They can be leaders of South Sudan if only the Government can help them to access education." He knows he was lucky to be able to study at home with the help of his parents.
Going to school is so much more than academic learning. James Magok Ater, South Sudan National Parliament member and father of several school-age children says, “The closure of schools had a big impact on the development of children and their mental health. Learners couldn’t interact with their classmates and teachers. During the lockdown children also missed sports activities. Moreover, they could not go to church, which affected their spiritual development.”
School fees are a huge challenge, among many, to resume education. Loyika and Baraa Steward, an 11-year-old girl, suggest schools should reduce fees, especially for parents with many children. “Our concern is not only about school fees, but it is also about avoiding boredom, ignorance, trauma, early marriage, alcohol abuse and violence by ensuring children can go back to their classes where they are safe and meet with their teachers and peers.”
Parents have had difficulties during the lockdown but they are happy to see their children going to school again, even though school fees remain a burden. “My husband and I taught our children at home. Now schools have reopened, we want our children to go back to their classes. However, school fees are a nightmare as our salary can’t cover them. We are working hard to raise the money needed,” says Loyika's mother, Martha Odolfo.
“The reopening of schools goes with many challenges. I compare it with calculating a mathematical equation that is frustrating to solve but rewarding to complete,” Loyika explains. “In the beginning, I feel angry when I don’t understand the mathematical formula. However, after hours of practice, I find my confidence and start to understand the solution.”
Children in South Sudan are happy school has resumed, but they fear that as the pandemic evolves schools might be closed again. According to Sister Mary Daniel Abut, the headmistress of Usratuna Primary School, schools remaining open is very important “because ignorance will not take us anywhere - the country can’t develop without educated people.”
Persistence is what is needed, just like solving a math problem, according to Loyika.
UNICEF South Sudan is grateful for generous contributions from the Global Partnership for Education to reopen schools. We are also thankful for the generous contributions from our long-standing education supporters: the EU, the Government of Norway, USAID and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.