South Sudan: An education system in crisis

10 June, 2014
February 2014, Lakes State, South Sudan: Mingkaman in South Sudan's Lakes State is home to one of the largest groups of internally displaced people in South Sudan. An estimated 92,000 are living there, most having fled violence in neighbouring Jonglei State. Credit: UNICEF/Knowles-Coursin
February 2014, Lakes State, South Sudan: Mingkaman in South Sudan's Lakes State is home to one of the largest groups of internally displaced people in South Sudan. An estimated 92,000 are living there, most having fled violence in neighbouring Jonglei State. Credit: UNICEF/Knowles-Coursin

More than half a million children have fled their homes in South Sudan since conflict first broke out in December 2013. Most have stopped going to school and aid groups have warned of the long-term consequences of a continued disruption to education.

In Mingkaman, Awerial County, in Lakes State for example, many displaced children are out of school. They are among about 92,000 people who have settled in Mingkaman – the largest concentration of internally displaced people in South Sudan. Most fled here following fighting in neighbouring Jonglei State.

Humanitarian organizations are running emergency education programmes comprising life, psychosocial, literacy and numeracy skills.

Crowded classrooms, few teachers

In Awerial County, the international NGO Plan International has set up seven temporary learning spaces in four primary schools.

“While each [learning] space is designed to support 50 children in each session, they are crowded with over 200 children per session,” said Gyan Adhikari, Plan International’s South Sudan Country Director.

“Overcrowding and a lack of learning materials and teachers are big challenges in Awerial and in most parts of the country.”

Volunteer teachers are playing a key role in these emergency education centres.

Parach Mach is a volunteer who teaches English at the Mingkaman 1 Primary School. “The classes are congested. Even writing on the blackboard is a problem,” he said. “Some of the children are traumatised and they do not concentrate in class. Some are aggressive too.”

This is an increasingly common observation. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), many children have been separated from their parents and families. Many more have witnessed atrocities. An estimated 9,000 children have been recruited into armed groups.

Funding constraints

Asked why he volunteers his teaching services Parach speaks of his hope for his country. “I do it to help the people. I may one day teach someone who will become important in South Sudan,” he said.

So far, about 110,000 children have been reached with emergency education. Aid groups are looking to tackle the teacher shortage, including by providing incentives to volunteer teachers. But these efforts are hampered by a lack of funding.  

Education is the second poorest funded cluster in South Sudan’s 2014 Crisis Response Plan. As of 31 May, the cluster was 33 per cent funded.

“If education is not reprioritized immediately there is an ample chance of a generation of children missing out on education,” warned Plan’s Adhikari. “This will be a loss for the new country’s plans for development and peace.”