The government of the oil-producing region of South Sudan on Wednesday called on the international community to provide more financial support to education in the region, as the region approaches statehood on 9 July.
South Sudan's education minister Michael Milli Hussein told reporters on Wednesday that resources were overstretched and it was challenging time for the government. “We have a lot competing priorities, ranging from Security to building of physical infrastructure and enrolment of school children”, the minister said.
“Education is one of the important service sectors in any country. It is a vital sector for it plays a greater role in building a better future. This was why our late leader, Dr. John Garang De Mabior, used to constantly emphasise on the significance of education”, explained Minister Hussein. He quoted Garang as saying, “it is through education people and countries build the skills needed to strengthen self reliance, expand choices and create shared prosperity”.
The senior government figure appealed for financial support following a similar call made by the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization upon the international community to act with a greater sense of urgency and resolve in supporting the development of a national education system in South Sudan.
In a policy paper entitled 'Building a better future: Education for an independent South Sudan' launched on 21 June, UNSCO, said in a press statement, in the regional capital of Juba, it documented the scale of educational deprivation across much of the region, saying 'Over one million primary school-age children are out of school' – around half of the total.
The new country has the world's lowest recorded of enrolment rate in secondary education. Deep gender disparities mean that fewer than 400 girls make it to the last grade of secondary school, while just 8% of women are literate', the policy paper said. It noted that with a national population slightly larger than cities like New York, Paris and London, all of South Sudan's secondary school students could be accommodated in around five schools in one of those cities – and the girls in the last grade of secondary school in half-a-dozen classrooms.
“It is hard to overstate the scale of the challenge,” commented UNESCO's Director-General, Irina Bokova, “but independence brings with it an unprecedented opportunity to build a good quality education system. The people of South Sudan cannot afford to see that opportunity squandered – and neither can the international community.”
Since the peace settlement in 2005, South Sudan has witnessed some extraordinary gains in education. The number of children in school has tripled. Hundreds of new classrooms have been built. And more teachers are being recruited and trained. Yet the reconstruction effort in South Sudan falls far short of the standards set in other post-conflict countries, including Rwanda and Sierra Leone.
The policy paper is particularly critical of the slow rate of aid disbursement through a pooled donor fund. “The overall aid effort suffers from under-financing, fragmentation, weak coordination and a failure to put in place long-term financing commitments” said Kevin Watkins, Director of the EFA Global Monitoring Report.
The paper also called on the government of South Sudan to step up its own efforts. More robust financial management systems and a strengthened commitment to overcoming inequalities between different regions and groups, a major source of conflict, are highlighted as priorities, along with action to tackle gender disparities.
“South Sudan cannot afford to waste the talents, creativity and energy of its young girls,” commented Bokova. While recognizing the daunting scale of the challenge, the UNESCO report describes independence as a unique opportunity to set South Sudan on a new trajectory towards more dynamic growth, shared prosperity and common security.
“Education is one of the most vital foundations for a human development take-off in South Sudan – and the time to put those foundations in place is right now,” the survey said. The paper calls for the creation of a new multilateral fund to back national reconstruction. It also urges the United Nations and the wider international community to act more decisively in protecting the peace settlement.