Students walk 100 kilometers to take exams

The Plight of Primary 8 students in Malakal

Lisa Lynn Hill and Drabua Silivia Modi Simon
Children sitting in class taking their exams
17 March 2021

Too early in the morning on 18 February, Cheery and her fellow Primary 8 classmates met at the assembly point to start their 7-10 kilometre walk to the centre where they will take their final examinations in order to be able to continue to Senior level 1. At 6:30 a.m., UNICEF Education Officer Drabua Simon arrives at the Malakal Protection of Civilian Camp (PoC) to find Cheery already there, having a lively conversation with friends as the assembly of 325 students starts a trek to the examination centres in Malakal town.   

“We now have the energy to walk to the centre,” the rowdy students say after receiving their snacks and refreshments from UNICEF. Science shows that breakfast can increase energy and help the mind become active. This is important for the children as they head to town to sit for their Certificate of Primary Examinations. This process continues for five days. Get up early, get snacks from UNICEF, walk to town, take exams for three hours, walk back to the PoC, study then repeat. 

A girl writing her exam
Cheery Both Shamkuach (in the black blouse) waited a long time for this opportunity

Cheery Both Shamkuach, a mother of three children, is getting her second chance at education after seven years without the opportunity to do so. The 2013 civil war forced her to flee back to her remote village for safety and then circumstances forced her into young marriage as a way of survival.

 “I am happy to be back to school and wish to transit to the next level of education and then to university so that I can support my children in the future,” said Cheery. “It has not been easy studying at home during COVID-19 and particularly when married with children.”

Her three boys are aged 4 years, 1 year and 6 months. She sometimes misses class when her children are sick and she often arrives at the school late because she must cook and care for them first thing in the morning. She compensates for lost time by spending her evenings reading assignments and copying the notes from her classmates, while her children are sleeping.

“I was happy to receive the snacks and refreshments from UNICEF because it gave me energy in the morning and to walk back to the PoC [after the exam] and straight away to the kitchen to prepare food for my children. Then I review for tomorrows exam. My message to fellow girls is that, let them first concentrate on education and get a job before married. There are a lot of challenges one can go through in married life, especially when one is still below 18 years old with a premature mind,” said Cheery.  

A girl writing her exam
Julia Peter Koul (right) gave birth just three days ago and is now taking her Primary 8 exam.

At the exam centre, Julia Peter Koul, a Primary 8 student from the Malakal PoC Accelerated Learning Program, starts on her Religion examination. This is the first day of five days of exams. Amazingly, she gave birth to a baby just three days ago. Students in the PoC’s were given short notice when and where their final exams were going to take place. When she received the information, she was worried about how she was going to be able to participate. she had to find help as she did not want to repeat the same class again. 

“I was prepared to write my examinations but psychologically disturbed on how I will move with my baby to the exam centres.” She knew that she could turn to UNICEF and the Danish Refugee Council, who quickly found a way to support her. She was able to continue with her examinations with a transport stipend and baby kits. She can now take care of her baby with fresh nappies, soap, gloves and cotton. “I thank UNICEF for the good coordination. This is the sign that they work for children.” With a smile, she says, “If my results will be good, I will join the secondary school and continue to the next level of education.” 

Students wait in anticipation, wondering if walking up to a total of 100 kilometres in one week will work out in their favour. Cheery crosses her fingers and smiles when she thinks about passing the exam to move on to Senior One.

UNICEF is thankful for the generous contributions from our education donors, including the EU and ECHO, the Global Partnership for Education, the Government of Norway, The Government of Sweden, the South Sudan Humanitarian Fund and USAID.