Education: The Passport for South Sudanese
My Country South Sudan comes from a long history of conflict dating back to 1955. The ongoing civil war negatively affects millions of people, destroys lives and prevents the people of South Sudan from being the best individuals to themselves and their communities. Although our people are deprived of basic human rights and needs including education, they continue to brave up to each challenge they face every second of their lives.
“Education is key to life”
The dawn of South Sudan’s modern history is characterised by the fundamental understanding that education is the key to life, as attested in our constitution. However, the path to providing it has been bumpy and unsuccessful in many regards.
When asked the question, “what did the people of South Sudan want after independence?” For many, including myself, we aspired to see our children go to school, have access to hospitals, travel freely, drive on modern roads to visit grandparents, and of course access to basic needs like clean drinking water, electricity to do homework and make friends from other communities. South Sudan is yet to realise this scenario. The independence we gained did not end the conflict and civil war left us with grave impacts. Back home, my nephews and nieces fall within the large generation and population of South Sudanese children deprived of an education. Most families are displaced from their homes, uprooted from communities and schools as a direct result of ongoing conflict.
The National Education Coalition in South Sudan recently conducted an assessment which highlights conflict and insecurity as a key problem preventing children from attending school. Children can no longer walk freely to school. They no longer receive adequate meals to enhance learning and classroom performance. The inability to cultivate farms, especially in parts of Equatoria and greater upper Nile regions means communities lack financial resources to support education of their children. In areas where children are in schools, the extensive lack of quality education is evident.
I have cousins both in 7th and 8th grades in schools in Bortown, Jonglei State, whose writing and oral skills equal that of my son in 2nd grade in a school in the city Nairobi. This is due to lack of quality trained teachers. In South Sudan, over 60% of primary school teachers are 8th grade levers or did not complete secondary education. With peace on the horizon for war torn South Sudan, I appeal to the government and development partners to empty their pockets and invest in teacher training programmes. If not for the welfare of South Sudan then as a tangible action to commitments indicated in the Country’s Vision 2040.
Malawi: an inspiring example
In June this year, I was privileged to visit Malawi together with a team from the Ministry of General Education and instruction headed by Minister Deng Deng. This proved to be a valuable learning experience for the whole team. I was amazed to learn how a country such as Malawi, with limited resources could invest hugely in education. It is not only a question of financial means, I witnessed a true political will to invest in education. The committee of education for example has a real impact at the government level to influence the policies and appeal to the Ministry of Finance to allocate more funds to education. I was also inspired by the level of coordination between the central government, districts and schools, in particular, how community engagement works hand in hand with the education sector. There are numerous reasons why community engagement must be encouraged at the highest level. For one, the school environment is a sub-set of a community. The immediate beneficiary of knowledge gained is always the individual and through socialisation, valuable knowledge and information disseminates to the community. Now that communities understand the importance of education, its up to us to embolden our efforts first and then, where necessary, seek support from the government. South Sudan can learn and adopt from these shared lessons and experiences.
The visit to Malawi Education Coalition strengthened my position on ways to deal with education sector and wider advocacy debates. The conducive environment the coalition operates in, ensures a successful roll out of programmes. Though we may not have the same operational environment, our Ministry of General Education has acknowledged the important role of the Education Coalition and now works with us as mutual partners vested in free and quality education for all.
As I write this post, I am attending the ‘Safe Schools’ conference in Addis Ababa-Ethiopia. I realize that both government and development partners can work hand in hand for better education opportunities for the children of South Sudan who are the future South Sudan. Each time I am crossing an international recognized border, I always need a passport and formal travel permit. Education is the passport the children of South Sudan need to cross the boundaries as they look for self-realisation.
About the author
Ador Riak Nyiel is the National Coordinator of the South Sudan National Education Coalition. He holds two Masters degrees, a Master of Education (Education in Emergencies) and a Master of Arts (Humanitaran and Conflict Studies). As a former primary, secondary teacher and currently a part-time university teacher, he brings a wealth of experience and insight on education related issues, with a particular focus on girls’ education, teacher training, education in emergencies as well as education policies. He is currently studying PhD in education in emergencies.