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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Juba, South Sudan, Nov 10 2021 (IPS) - Ayom Wol sits under a tree in South Sudan in the scorching midday sun. He is a newly-trained teacher, preparing for tomorrow’s lessons. His school principal says he has to prepare while at school because there is no electricity at home.
The 29-year-old Wol teaches English and Science in Mitor Primary School in Gogrial West County of Warrap state. The school is among hundreds benefiting from a Multi-Year Resilience Programme (MYRP) funded by Education Cannot Wait (ECW).
Wol is among the teachers who have received teacher training with ECW funding, and the training has greatly improved his skills and capacity to prepare lesson plans and teaching materials.
Education Cannot Wait is the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises. In January 2020, it launched the MYRP in collaboration with the South Sudan government and local and international aid and development agencies. The MYRP programme focuses on building resilience within education in South Sudan.
“With one of the lowest school enrolment rates in the world, children and adolescents in South Sudan continue to bear the heavy burden of the years of conflict that ravaged their country. Girls are disproportionally affected. They represent three-quarters of the out of school children in primary education, and it is even worse at the secondary level,” says Yasmine Sherif, the Director of Education Cannot Wait.
“Together with our partners in the government, communities, civil society and the UN, Education Cannot Wait’s investment in safe, inclusive quality education for the most marginalised children and adolescents in the country can finally turn the tide for the next generation of South Sudanese to thrive and become positive changemakers for their young nation.
The MYRP provides an opportunity for children to access education in six of South Sudan’s ten states: Jonglei, Upper Nile, Unity, Eastern Equatoria, Lakes and Warrap. ECW allocated US$30 million as seed funding to support the three-year MYRP, which targets children in 355 schools and learning centres across the six states. These learning centres include 69 early childhood development centres, 213 primary schools, 21 secondary schools and 52 alternative education system centres, both for ‘Accelerated Education Programmes’ and ‘Pastoralist Education Programmes’.
Out of 117,256 beneficiaries reached by the MYRP during the first year of implementation, 46,010 are girls, and 1,647 are children with disabilities.
Even though he has taught for nine years, Wol says, he became a better teacher after attending training supported through the MYRP.
“I now know how to prepare a lesson plan and a scheme of work for any subject,” Wol says. “I have also learned from the training how to support children who are living with disabilities.”
Joseph Mogga, the Education Programme Manager for Christian Mission for Development in South Sudan’s Jonglei state, says the MYRP helps train teachers on how to handle inclusion, especially of children with disabilities, amongst other issues.
“We are going to train teachers on how they can teach in an inclusive setting. Here in South Sudan, vulnerability is more pronounced when the child with a disability is a girl,” he says, adding that this project supports an inclusive and safe learning environment for all girls and boys, including those with disabilities.
The Director-General for Gender Equity and Inclusive Education in the Ministry of General Education and Instruction, Esther Akumu Achire, says that some cultures and traditions in South Sudan deprive girls of their right to education, promoting harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage.
“This is very common among our people, and these are among the cultural barriers we are trying to change.”
Long distances to schools and climate-change-induced floods also disrupt education.
“The long distances to get to school scares some parents from sending their children to school because they feel that the schools are too far, and there is conflict and insecurity. Sometimes, you hear about rape which scares the parents for their children.”
Achire says about 2.8 million children remain out of school. She is grateful for the MYRP initiative supporting the education sector in South Sudan.
“The MYRP is doing a good job. We have realised that the girls and the children with disabilities are taken care of. We are now trying to ensure that the girls, even young mothers, are now back to school and that they are learning well.”
Adolescent girls are given dignity kits, and children with disabilities are provided for. “Children with disabilities are given some assistive devices which help them continue learning,” Achire says. “In fact, with awareness-raising on children with disabilities and the importance of girls coming to school, the enrolment is going up.”
A critical aspect of the programme is the teacher training component.
“We could have the girls in schools, but if the teachers are not there or if they do not know how to teach, it becomes a problem. But with the MYRP, teacher training is being conducted,” she says, adding that the training also focuses on reducing gender-based violence.
Ayuen Awien, a primary seven pupil at Keen Primary School in Gogrial West County, Warrap state, attests to the benefits of being involved in the ECW programme.
Early and forced marriages are common in her community, so she is considered vulnerable and eligible for support. Awien says the school environment offers her safety.
“I feel secure here because our teachers are against early and forced marriages,” says Awien. “I would probably have been forced to get married if I was not in school.”
Awien says she has received books, dignity kits, playing and learning materials and is quite comfortable in school. In the future, Awien says, she wants to be a doctor.
“I encourage other girls who are at home to enrol and stay in school. If you study, you will have a better life in future, and you will be able to help your parents as well,” she says.
The MYRP programme has distributed 1.2 million textbooks to all targeted counties to facilitate learning for all children targeted by the programme.
According to Mogga, the MYRP is probably the only programme highlighting the plight of children with disabilities.
“In Duk County, wheelchairs, crutches, hearing aids are distributed. Eyeglasses for children who need them so that they can attend classes and be able to see what’s written on the blackboard easily were also donated,” says Mogga.
The MYRP implementing partners are now looking at school infrastructure to assess whether the facilities are accessible to physically challenged learners.
Mogga explains that disruptions to children’s education include conflict, floods, loss of family members and traditional practices such as early marriage. Boys are also expected to look after the cattle when they are supposed to be at school.
“For boys and girls who have been out of school, there was no glimpse of hope,” Mogga says, adding that the ECW-supported programme is a “timely intervention in favour of promoting access to education for out-of-school children.”
To help ensure that girls enrol and stay in school, the MYRP addresses the challenges that force girls and young mothers to drop out.
Programme implementers say the support protects the girls from sexual abuse and exploitation, including sexual exploitation – trading sex to earn money to pay for school fees and meet other basic needs.
“This support also protects girls from early marriages. If a girl is supported with this scholarship, they are happy, and it prevents the risk of early marriage because once they are out of school, the next option is getting married. But by keeping them in school with a scholarship and money offered to them and providing them with basic items like school uniform it prevents them from getting married early,” says Alberto Maker, an education project manager at UNKEA, one of the agencies implementing the MYRP in Gogrial County of South Sudan’s Warrap state.
Implementers of the MYRP stress that several challenges hamper boys’ and girls’ access to safe, inclusive quality education – including climate-impact disasters like floods.
Jacob Masanso, Education Consortium Manager of the MYRP, says recent unprecedented flooding destroyed classrooms in 340 schools across the country, thus exacerbating the shortage of school infrastructure and resulting in health risks.
“Flooding also makes access to target schools and communities hard. For example, some roads are impassable, causing delays in the implementation of certain interventions,” added Masanso.
The MYRP also supported school reopening in the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the safety of children and teachers.
“We provided handwashing facilities and COVID-19 preventive materials when schools reopened officially on 3 May 2021. The MYRP implementing partners worked closely with the Ministry of General Education and Instruction and other stakeholders focused on supporting safe school reopening, community mobilisation and engagement,” says Grazia Paoleri, the MYRP Secretariat Coordinator.
“We did this to ensure that both children previously out-of-school prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 and closure of schools and those who were in-school before COVID-19 return to school and learn.”
Paoleri said the funding gap for the MYRP in South Sudan is estimated to be nearly US$190 million by 2022. The Ministry of General Education and Instruction, together with education partners, have developed a funding strategy that guides resource mobilisation efforts for closing this gap to ensure continued access to quality learning opportunities for girls and boys in the country.
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