September 8 was International Literacy Day. Below is a story of how USAID is advancing education in South Sudan.
At Ligi Primary School in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria state, the majority of the school’s 11 teachers lack any formal teacher training. Only three have teaching certificates. Overall in South Sudan, only about half of teachers have professional qualifications and a third have only a primary school education. A quarter of those teaching students are volunteers.
The background of teacher Gaga Simon is typical. He completed high school in neighboring Uganda because South Sudan was immersed in war throughout his childhood. After returning to his homeland, he has taught for the past eight years without any formal teacher training.
According to UNESCO’s 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report on South Sudan, “South Sudan has some of the world’s worst indicators for education. Around 1 million children—half of the primary school age population—are out of school. The primary net enrollment rate is second to the bottom in world rankings, with a net enrollment rate for girls at just 37 percent. In a country with a population the size of Sweden, fewer than 400 girls make it to the last grade of secondary school. There are desperate shortages of classrooms and books—and just one qualified teacher for every 117 students.”
USAID supports the Ministry of Education’s efforts to deliver training to teachers like Mr. Simon through the South Sudan Teacher Education Project. The objective is to build and professionalize a South Sudanese teacher corps. The project is improving the quality of education in South Sudan’s schools by training teachers and providing children with a supportive environment in which to learn foundational literacy and numeracy skills.
As a result, Mr. Simon is now able to create a lesson plan and confidently apply a child-centered teaching approach that focuses on his students’ needs, abilities, interests and learning styles. He acts as a facilitator of his students’ learning, frequently requesting their input into classroom activities and even the assessment measures used.
“I intend to make the most of this training opportunity,” says Mr. Simon, who teaches mathematics and English to third and fifth graders.
After the training, Simon shared lessons learned with fellow teachers at his primary school and held mini teaching sessions throughout the school year where he taught teachers new skills he had learned. “I need to grow and support other teachers to grow along with me in the teaching profession,” he said. “I take my time with my fellow teachers and I explain to them what I learned so that we can all progress at the same level.” Together they are now more effective in helping the pupils learn by utilizing participatory teaching methodology, which encourages active learning through student participation instead of the traditional “chalk and talk” approach.
“We are now able to apply the child-centered learning [approach] and use any materials around us to demonstrate a lesson to the pupils … this helps the pupils to learn better,” says Peter Dara, one of the teachers who benefited from Simon’s experience and support. “This has made learning fun and interesting both for the teachers and learners.”
Headmaster Taban Philip Elema has noted a great change in Simon’s teaching style and class management since he completed the in-service training, including using local materials to explain key concepts. For example, Mr. Simon uses sticks and stones to teach basic numeracy concepts and to create fun math games. “It is a learning process,” says Elema, “and I am confident that by the time they complete the training, we will have all teachers in this school qualified and able to teach as professional teachers.”
This program is unique because teachers are receiving an accelerated certification. USAID is helping teachers get high-quality professional training quickly to alleviate the dire shortage of trained teachers in South Sudan. The certification includes an intensive focus on reading instruction, helping primary teachers learn to accomplish what is arguably their most important task in a country seeking to improve one of the world’s lowest rates of literacy.
Learn more about USAID’s education programs.