Access to education is one of the key priorities for the government of the world’s newest nation, South Sudan. Seventy per cent of children aged 6 to 17 have never set foot in a classroom. The completion rate in primary schools is only 21 per cent, one of the lowest in the world.
Gender equality is a huge challenge, with only 33 per cent of girls in school. But not all is negative for girls’ education. There are some encouraging examples, too.
Baya Primary School in Western Equatoria has become the envy of other schools in the state. The school is successfully using its own child clubs, not only to increase girls’ enrolment but also encourage dropouts to join the Accelerated Learning Programme (ALP).
“When you encourage your girls to join school, they will help you more than boys” says Esther Monica, 28, a mother of four. “I didn’t get the opportunity but would not like this to be missed by my daughters,” she added.
Bringing girls back to school
Headmistress Alice Erestomido proudly says 60 new girls have joined regular classes and over 150 enrolled for ALP classes in 2011, a jump of almost 20 per cent over last year. She stresses the importance of girls’ education for the development of South Sudan.
“That’s why we are encouraging girls to go to school and not leave them behind,” says Ms. Erestomido. “Together with the efforts of teachers and the child club, we have managed to welcome these new girls in school. Now, we have to ensure that they complete at least their primary schooling.”
UNICEF and the Ministry of General Education and Instruction have been providing supplies such as school bags, notebooks, training, learning and essential teaching materials to support the initiative in South Sudan.
In 2007, UNICEF initiated the Girls’ Education Movement (GEM) throughout Southern Sudan.
The Baya Primary School GEM club has been since 2008. Chaired by a dynamic 13-year-old, Tabitha Morris, it has 50 members who organize various activities using the ‘edutainment’ approach – with skits, dramas, rallies, dance and visits to the community.
The GEM club members are supported in their efforts by other child clubs, including the school’s HIV/AIDS peer educators and its hygiene-sanitation club.“Our biggest achievement has been this year, where we managed over 200 girls to join my school,” says Tabitha. “We need to continue this momentum to motivate more girls to join school next year.”
Ms. Erestomido, the headmistress, adds: “We also convince the community by talking about the benefits of education and the female role models in South Sudan, like our ministers, Norma Fadoul and Jemma Nunu Kumba.”
Echoing this aspiration, Tabitha says she hopes to become a Member of Parliament after completing her education, in order to help girls and women in their new nation.‘The key to development’
‘The key to development’
Child and youth consultations organized in South Sudan this year have all identified education as the most important priority for young people.
“Education is the key to development,” says Tabitha. “It is important because when you are staying at home, you are not aware of anything. But good education will lead to a good future and help the nation’s development.”
With support from UNICEF and partners, the Ministry of Education is developing and strengthening various structures to accelerate enrolment and ensure quality education.
“Though the girls’ education component has been challenging, it is always motivating to see positive examples in schools like Baya,” says UNICEF Education Specialist Mboriidie Francis Babado.
All children in South Sudan have the right to education. And the child-to-child approach taken by GEM clubs offers one good alternative for helping girls get an education.