The outbreak of violence in South Sudan in December 2013 was the latest incident in a long history of conflict. South Sudan only gained statehood in 2011 after being engaged in almost constant conflict from 1956 when Sudan became independent from colonial rule. During this period, an estimated 2.5 million people, mainly civilians, lost their lives because of fighting between Southern rebel groups and the Sudanese government, as well as in-fighting between rebel factions.
The re-emergence of conflict within the first three years of nationhood demonstrates that while independence has provided autonomy, it has not stopped the violence. Since December 2013, more than 10,000 people have lost their lives and over one million have been displaced. The ongoing fragile situation in South Sudan has left over 80% of the population living below the poverty line, unable to meet their most basic needs.
After the outbreak of conflict, the most requested service by displaced people in South Sudan was education.
Decades of neglect, and years of civil war, have left South Sudan with very limited educational opportunities, a shattered school infrastructure and a lack of qualified teachers and basic learning materials. Generations of South Sudanese people have gone without access to education and the country’s literacy rate is the world’s lowest at only 27%.
The number of people who have been excluded from education is enormous. The school age population includes thousands of returnees and internally displaced children. Many more young people have never acquired basic literacy, numeracy or life skills. Girls and women are among those who fare the worst in accessing education. Parents with very limited means will often prioritise boys’ education, and girls are often kept at home to ensure their bride price. A girl in South Sudan is three times more likely to die in childbirth than she is to finish primary school.
The lack of adult literacy and education greatly impedes people’s ability to engage in economic activities and hinders the growth and peaceful development of the country. There is a need for recognised, non-formal alternative education options to help provide people with the essential literacy, numeracy and skills they need to support themselves.
The challenges of the formal school system also need to be addressed to bring an end to a cycle that leaves people without any access to education. Investment needs to be made in all aspects of public education. Fewer than 50% of schools have a permanent building. Most communities have no learning materials, resources or training centres. The low number of educated adults means there are very few educated and qualified teachers.
AET is one of the longest standing education organisations in South Sudan and one of the few which remained operational throughout the war. We have been able to work through periods of conflict and find opportunities to continue to provide and improve education.
Between 1998 and 2003 we were one of the major partners in establishing the first ever School Baseline Assessment. This assessment remains an essential planning tool for both the Ministry of Education and International Aid organisations. We also trained head teachers and senior education and government officials to help establish local education offices throughout the country. In 2005, we established four Resource and Open Learning (ROLE) centres to help coordinate AET programmes throughout the country.
AET local offices have operated successfully throughout times of insecurity, supporting both formal and alternative education. Since 2003, we have continued to work and find innovative ways to build education systems and provide education despite the conflict.
The four ROLE centres help coordinate AET programmes in different regions of the country. Each centre oversees the operations in their area and is able to respond to the specific needs of the region where they work. ROLE centres also serve as learning and training centres for severely under-served and under-resourced communities.
Rebuilding the State Education System
Establishing an education system requires having qualified staff at school and government level. Many adults in South Sudan are themselves a product of the country’s fragmented education programmes but are eager for opportunities to expand their skills.
To date, AET has provided over 350 school administrators and government officials with skills and leadership training through distance learning education programmes. We also support the regular collection of school data to be used for education planning and support to international aid interventions.
Community Support for Education
Communities are keen to build up their education systems, starting with their local schools. AET partners with local government officials, teachers and parents in 100 particularly deprived schools to provide training, discussion fora and teaching materials which put relevant social issues at the centre of education. These programmes promote schools as centres for inclusion, peace and democracy.
Education for Girls and Women
Women and girls have been systematically denied the chance of education in South Sudan. Our initiatives increase girls’ access to formal education while also providing alternative pathways to education for women and girls who are not able to access the formal system.
Examples of this work include operating a women’s learning centre, providing accelerated secondary school diplomas, and the School Mothers mentorship programme.
Alternative Education for Returnees and the Internally Displaced
Despite the risks, AET has continued its work in troubled states, and is working with partners on opportunities to provide emergency education. We provide technical and vocational opportunities as well as literacy and numeracy training for displaced people.
We are also improving integration, English language and IT training for over 3,500 returnees, many of whom have experience in teaching, nursing and other essential areas, which will be vital for rebuilding the country.
Community Lending Library
In August 2013, the Yambio Community Library in Western Equatoria became the first community library in the state. It provides over 5,000 books to community members, school pupils, teachers and staff of the local ministries. On a daily basis the library is visited by at least 75 people and lending records show that over 4,500 people have taken books home for further study.
With low rates of literacy, there are few educated and qualified teachers in South Sudan. AET’s teaching training programmes combine long-distance education with local mentorship so that teachers can upgrade their qualifications without having to relinquish their current teaching position. Currently, there are 60 secondary school teachers enrolled in this programme.