What about the right to education?
2.8 million children remain out of school
For more than 14 months, schools have been closed in South Sudan as a preventive measure to contain the spread of COVID-19. When schools finally reopened on 3 May, it was as a big relief for children and their parents. Going back to school was celebrated.
Throughout the country, children, their teachers and their friends found their way back to their school- also, in Pibor. But the learning condition remain harsh.
Children in Condaco primary school are filling every inch of their classrooms. Yet, the children are happy to be back in school. Many of their peers throughout the country have not yet resumed their education, as their schools remain closed; teachers have not returned and some have not been able to pay for the requested school fees, although schools are supposed to be free. In other places, schools are occupied by displaced people who have fled violence and floods and in search of food- like in the girls’ primary school in Pibor. In South Sudan, an estimated 2.8 million children are out of school.
The head teacher of Condaco primary school in Pibor is trying to keep the large group of children in primary 1 focused on mathematics. This is no easy feat. There are no learning materials and only a few benches. There is no proper blackboard, only a black rectangular is painted on the wall. Even though the conditions are harsh, the children are happy to be in school.
When the bell rings at 8:30 in the morning, children rush into their classrooms. More than 100 children are packed in one classroom. Primary 1 is the largest class of the school. A lot of children come from neighboring villages to get education in Pibor, but retention in an issue. Most children drop out before they reach the higher grades of primary school. As they grow older, they are requested to take up responsibilities in the household or to take care of the cattle.
In the back of the classroom, some older children are seated on the few available in the class. They are trying to catch up with their education. It needs a lot of courage and determination to start learning in grade one when you are ten years older than the average student and the younger ones are catching the curriculum more easily..
Lagocho Loyogo is 18 years-old and is clearly one of the most focused students in the classroom. This is his first time learning at school. He comes from a village neighboring Pibor. There is no school in his village. Education is not felt important or useful by the adults. Up until now, Lagocho has been taken care of the cattle together with his older brothers. Recently, he decided he wanted to go to school. First, his parents hesitated, but finally accepted. Lagocho is eager to learn because he wants to ‘become somebody important’.
In the girls’ primary school of Pibor there havn't been classes for weeks. Tents have been set up in the school yard. A recent peak in intercommunal violence has displaced thousands of people from their home villages and they have found shelter in Pibor and in the school. The living condition are harsh. There is barely any water or food. As soon as security has returned in their villages, people will return home. But for now, this is their home.
A classroom at the girls’ primary school of Pibor has become the living, sleeping and eating room for several families. School benches are turned into tables for cooking and eating. Intercommunal violence is common in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area (GPAA) and Jonglei State. Finding shelter is hard and schools are often used.
While the displaced children are trying to survive, education seems like a luxury. The closest they get to education is sleeping in a classroom. Their fundamental right to education is neglected, and that also goes for the students of girls' primary school in Pibor who can't use their classrooms.
It was a rough patch when Joy Maren (left) had to flee her village: “The enemy came to attack us. They took the cows and the children. They killed children and women and the old people were beaten. We were afraid; we were running away without food.” She wants to leave the school: “There is no food here. We need to go back to home.”
UNICEF South Sudan is grateful for the generous contributions from the Global Partnership for Education to reopen schools. We also thank our long-standing education supporters: the EU, the Government of Norway, USAID and UK Aid.