© UNICEF South Sudan/2017
David Sawat Manyang, 16, sits at a desk in his new classroom. David was out of school for over two years after his old school shut down due to violence in the area.
In South Sudan, an estimated 2 million children of primary school age are out of school due to the ongoing violence across the country. The conflict has also forced one fourth of schools to shut down.
UNICEF is working with partners to improve access to education in the country. Learn how one newly constructed school in the town of Rumbek is offering children a second chance.
By Nina deVries
RUMBEK, South Sudan/HONG KONG, 3 October 2017 – David Sawat Manyang sits at his desk in his new classroom, looking intently at his notebook as his forehead crinkles into a frown. He’s in his mathematics class – his favourite subject – and he wants to do well.
“Before the new school was constructed I was working at a cattle camp with my father. I didn’t mind it, but I wanted to be at school,” says David.
For two years, the 16-year-old was not able to attend classes after clashes between rival youth gangs in the region forced his school to close in 2014. It reopened last year after a peace agreement was signed between the groups, though like many schools in South Sudan, it was in an extremely dilapidated condition.
Florence Okayo, an Education Officer with UNICEF in Rumbek, says the poor state of the classrooms in the school forced most students to sit under trees outside to do their lessons.
Creating a better learning environment
Recently, UNICEF and partners worked together to build a new school for the children of Rumbek – one that would be more conducive to teaching and learning. The facility includes a fence, two blocks of classrooms with four classrooms each, an administration block, staff room, a headmaster’s room, a kitchen, and separate boys’ and girls’ water and sanitation facilities equipped with a hand pump and borehole.
UNICEF supported the construction of the school with funding from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Through its partners, UNICEF is also training teachers while providing school supplies such as textbooks, teacher’s kits, recreational kits and school kits for the students.
A six-month mentorship training programme has been put in place through a partnership with the Africa Education Trust to ensure teachers are able to effectively create lesson plans and properly manage their work and students.
Improving access to education for girls
Okayo says school attendance has increased from 823 students in 2014 to 1,307 this year, but concedes there is still a lot to do. Boys continue to outnumber girls in the classroom. Across the country, only 40 per cent of those accessing education are girls, an issue that UNICEF is working to address.
“Many of the challenges we face, such as conflict or child marriages, are caused by a lack of education, and many of the youth are idle,” says Okayo. “There’s a real need to make education available to all children and to educate communities about why education, for boys as well as girls, is so important.”
Building schools with proper facilities, such as separate toilets for boys and girls, encourages more children to attend, she adds.
A new start for children in Rumbek
An education census carried out last year showed that 36 per cent of primary school students in South Sudan did not have access to latrines, while 85 per cent of schools had no fencing.
Thankfully, the improved classroom and latrine facilities at the school in Rumbek represent a new start for children in the area.
“Before we had to walk far and could be bitten by snakes, and if the weather was bad we had nowhere else to go. The rain and wind could come and destroy everything,” says David. “Things have changed, the latrines are close, it’s safer for us all.”
For Rebecca Yar Choi, 17 years old, the school is also opening up a new future.
“I want to learn English so I can speak in places around the world,” she says.
Through its Back to Learning initiative, UNICEF and partners have provided more than 250,000 children – 38 per cent of them girls – with access to education, while training more than 8,000 teachers and members of parent teacher associations and school management committees.