This blog is part of a series focused on USAID’s innovative approach to reaching Millennium Development Goal #2: Achieve universal primary education. The theme “Room to Learn” highlights programs and priority countries where access to education is now a reality.
After emerging from decades of conflict, South Sudan faces significant challenges in its education sector. Only 27 percent of South Sudanese adults today are literate, one of the lowest rates in the world. Other challenges include inadequate schools; teachers who have had insufficient training; a shortage of teachers, particularly women; lack of a standard curriculum; and a legislative and policy framework on education that is still in development.
Despite these many roadblocks, impressive gains in education have been achieved since 2005. With USAID assistance, primary school enrollment in South Sudan has increased from approximately 300,000 students in 2000 to 1.4 million in 2012. USAID has supported the construction or rehabilitation of 140 primary schools and five secondary schools. To improve teachers’ skills, the Agency helped to rehabilitate four regional teacher training institutes and is encouraging women to become teachers. To address lower literacy and school attendance among girls, USAID has awarded over 9,000 scholarships in the past five years to girls and disadvantaged boys who are unable to pay school fees to complete secondary school.
Sylvain Sumurye of Kajo-Keji County in Central Equatoria State received one of these scholarships. She had dropped out of school due to an early pregnancy and then was abandoned by her husband. With the USAID-funded scholarship Sylvain completed secondary school and attended Kajo-Keji Teacher Training College. After graduation she was hired as a fifth grade teacher and with the money she earns can support her family and pay her daughter’s school fees. More importantly, Sylvain is now one of the few qualified teachers in South Sudan. Only about 4,000 teachers out of a total of 26,000 teachers are qualified, a shortage that USAID’s South Sudan Teacher Education Program is helping to address through in-service training and development of core teacher professional development frameworks including a curriculum, teacher professional standards, an accreditation system and an affirmative action policy. It expected that this foundational work will support future teacher training activities to improve the quality of teaching in the country. Quality teaching is an important prerequisite for improved learning.
In early 2012, USAID embarked on efforts to further solidify improvements in education in South Sudan. The Agency provided technical assistance to the Government of the Republic of South Sudan to help with the drafting and passage of a General Education Bill that will establish a national framework for education. This assistance included the organization of expert panels and public hearings that have enabled citizens and specialists in the field of education to provide input to the drafts. Involving local citizens in the development of this legislation has proven invaluable. Public input has helped provide flexibility in the school calendar so that areas of South Sudan that face challenges remaining open during the rainy season can meet the requirement of being open nine months per year without having to adhere to fixed dates. Other issues discussed in the public hearings included community and parental involvement, the role of women in educational leadership, inclusion of all students, standardized exams, a teachers’ code of conduct, compulsory attendance, and the need to eliminate corporal punishment. USAID’s oversight in ensuring that international norms were being observed in the analysis was crucial to the attainment of a sound legislative framework. The bill was passed by the National Legislative Assembly in July and has become a frequent basis for progressive reform. In the words of Samson Ezekiel Ndukpo, a National Legislative Assembly member who is Chair of the Assembly’s Specialized Committee of Education, Research, Science and Technology, “The bill is very important – it concerns everybody. The bill provides for compulsory and free education for all citizens of the country through primary level, according to the constitution.”