Students are missing their teachers

While students are engaged in remote learning, they miss classroom teaching

Helene Sandbu Ryeng
A girl sitting with a pen in her hand
UNICEFSouthSudan/Ryeng
04 June 2020

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN “They are talking about twins, how you sometimes get two babies instead of one,” Jar Maduk Aleer says while biting at the end of her pink pen. The fourteen-year-old girl is listening to a science class on Radio Miraya. She doesn’t have a radio, so she is using her older brother’s phone which has built-in FM Radio.

In March 2020, all education facilities were closed due to COVID-19, including Venus Star Academy where Jar is a student. To keep learners engaged while schools are closed, The Ministry of General Education and Instruction together with UNICEF and education partners have rolled out lessons on radio for students ranging from Primary 1 to Senior 4.

The shade under a tree in the backyard is Jar’s current classroom and the wooden desks that can fit three students are replaced by a plastic chair and table. The garden is rather lonely and quiet compared to the packed classrooms. While the lessons are helpful for Jar, she misses being at school and especially her teachers.

“We can call the toll-free number to ask questions to the teacher in the studio, but very often the line is busy. That is never an issue in class, you just raise your hand.”

A girl studying outside
UNICEFSouthSudan/Ryeng

It can also be challenging to follow some of the radio classes when you don’t feel you master the subject. “I struggle with math, so I’d like to have the teacher close by so I can ask questions,” Jar says.

“Well, struggling I’m not sure of,” Head teacher David Livingstone chuckles. He has taken us to what is one of the top three students in Primary 8. “You are finding math more challenging than the other subjects, but you are one of the best students we have in P8,” he says. Jar gives a wrinkled smile while blushing.

When Jar is not studying, you often find her with a book in her hand. “I like reading, drama and thrillers are my favourites.” “I like stories a lot, that is why I’m missing CRE classes the most. You get to hear nice stories from the bible.”

“Maybe you can become a writer when you grow up?”

“I don’t know yet, I haven’t decided. Maybe something with science?”

A boy listening to radio on a cell phone
UNICEFSouthSudan/Ryeng
17-year-old George Latjor

One who has already set the course is George Latjor. The seventeen-year-old is one of Jar’s classmates and has already decided what he wants to become.

“I want to be a doctor, a surgeon.  I want to be able to help and it is also very interesting. I have a doctor friend in Uganda. When we talk, he tells me what he has done in the hospital during the day and that really inspire me,” George says.

Since March, he has spent most of his days at home. He listens to the radio lessons suitable for him. The radio lessons are aired on Radio Miraya and South Sudan Broadcasting (SSBC) every morning between 10 and 11am and every afternoon between 2 and 3pm. Sometimes George is missing out on lessons.

“We don’t have a radio, so I’m using my phone. Sometimes the phone doesn’t have battery or is in the charging kiosk,” George explains. He is happy that some education is provided while the schools are closed but is concerned about some of the weaker students.

“It is not always easy to get what the teachers are saying on the radio and you might need multiple explanations. I worry for the slow learners, and for those in rural areas where the radio waves don’t reach.”

A boy holding a mobile phone
UNICEFSouthSudan/Ryeng

“What do you miss the most about being in school?”

“My friends, my teachers and CRE.” The latter he says with stars in his eyes. When George talks about something he is passionate about, the pace is higher, his posture is straighter, and his eyes are twinkling “You can’t live without God, you have to put God first, so, I miss having CRE and learn about God. Also, churches are closed, so all we do now is praying at home.”

“I also miss social studies,” he says hastily. “I spent four years in Uganda and social studies are not the same in the two countries. Now that I’m back in South Sudan I need to learn everything I can about my country.”

Both George and Jar are in their final year and have to do their final exams in order to move to the senior level. Yet, no one can say if and when exams will be held, as the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve. George is worried what this will mean for him.

“Passing your exams is impossible if you don’t have the knowledge in your head, we are not ready for exams if they will be held, we need our teachers.”

Jar is not as worried.

“Exams? Easy, I have confidence. I read my exercise books from last year, and my reading helps me with exam composition, but we really need our teachers.”

“If you could decide when schools would reopen, when would that be?”

“Monday!”

 

The Ministry of General Education and Instruction and UNICEF would like to thank the EU, the Global Partnership for Education, the Government of Norway, UK AID (DfID) and USAID for their generous contribution making this happening. We would also like to acknowledge the contributions from the Norwegian National Committee for UNICEF. A big thank you to MTN for arranging the toll-free numbers and we would also like to express our appreciation to Save the Children International, UNMISS and UNESCO for their contributions to children’s learning during these unprecedented and trying moments.