The tumultuous history of the Republic of South Sudan has only stilted efforts to improve the nation’s education infrastructure. Prior to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, very few schools were operating in South Sudan. Schools that were operating were run by missionaries, communities, or Non-Governmental organizations. These organizations helped to fill the gaps in education, however, lack of a unified and uniform education system has affected overall outcomes of education in South Sudan. Without a unified and uniform education system, decisions on curriculum, language of instruction, and even duration of primary and secondary education is left in the hands of the provider (Barnaba, 2015)(“South Sudan,” n.d.)
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement aimed to stabilize the nation and to establish a new education system. After signing the agreement, the South Sudanese government launched a “Go to School” initiative. During this initiative, more than 1.6 million school-aged children were enrolled in primary education, up from an estimated 343,000 before CPA (Barnaba, 2015). However, the CPA ultimately failed in delivering a single unified country and education system. In July of 2011, after enduring two decades with the Khartoum-led government South Sudan became an independent republic. After independence, South Sudan fell into another civil war.
Education contributes to peace and reconciliation as well as to conflict and strife (Elbla, 2011). Frequent Civil wars devastated educational prospects for generations of South Sudanese. With the population of South Sudan exceeding 12 million is 2017, the nation is straining to provide its young population (70% of South Sudanese are under the age of thirty) access to stable education (Barnaba, 2015) (USAID, n.d.). As the history of Sudan and South Sudan shows, improper considerations when developing education policies can lead to sustained conflict. Despite the apparent success of the “Go to School” initiative prior to independence, new conflicts have set back another generation of South Sudanese. In 2015, over 1.2 million primary age children were out of school. As it stands, South Sudan has one of the world’s lowest literacy rates with youth literacy rates hovering at 37%. Primary school completion rates are only at 25.7% (18.1% female, 33.2% males) .
Conflict and insecurity pose a huge problem for the establishment of a functional education system in South Sudan. The government recognizes the impact of history and conflicts on its education policies and attempted to rectify these issues through conscientious planning and reflection. An updated Strategic Education Plan for 2017-2022 developed by the Ministry of General Education and Instruction (MoGEI), places an emphasis on risk-management and strategic partnerships in education policies moving forward. In a country like South Sudan, where civil war has destroyed educational opportunities for generations, the presence of functioning schools, teachers and books has the potential to demonstrate that peace is delivering. Education, more than any other sector, has the “potential to deliver an early, large, and highly visible peace dividend” (Brown, 2011).
Director of the Department of International Relations in MoGEI, Esther Akumu, notes the necessity of reflecting on the “political complications” and “ [South Sudan’s] ideological confusion and educational complexity” in order to develop a working plan to address these issues. Akumu also notes that “building a successful nation begins with a strong education infrastructure to promote peace and stability” and stresses the importance of meaningful access, defining it as “regular attendance rates for both boys and girls, systematic progression, achievement and learning, appropriate transition from primary to secondary education”.
The development of the Education Sector Plan led by the MoGEI has brought together a number of education sector actors at the central and local level, civil society, the Education Cluster, UNESCO, UNICEF and UNHCR. As South Sudan moves forward, it must continue to consider and adjust how education policies are formed and enacted. MoGEI’s Strategic Education Plan, addresses some of the main issues the government has faced when enacting education policies in the past and emphasizes the involvement of humanitarian and development partners [as] essential to ensure that crisis management is aligned with government priorities” and states that “Risk management policy is an integrated process that involves the broadest possible participation of government, partners, NGOs, parents, and students.” (UNESCO, 2018)
Engaging with international partners is especially important as the ‘Khartoum Declaration of Agreement between the parties of the conflict in South Sudan ’ was recently signed between the South Sudan the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM – IO) was recently signed. Both parties have agreed to a “permanent ceasefire; the launch of a pre-transition period of 4 months and a transition period of 36 months; and the revitalization of the oil sector in cooperation with the Government of Sudan”, however expectations are not optimistic. A similar power sharing deal brokered by IGAD in July 2016 not only failed but also triggered the largest-scale South Sudanese refugee outflow to date (UNHCR, 2018).
When governments take the time to properly consider the impact and outcome of education policies, youth can become the force of change a nation needs to thrive. Empowering local communities is the first step towards stabilizing conflict in South Sudan and improving education infrastructure as a whole. South Sudanese parents have identified schooling as major priority alongside food and water and across South Sudan, “parents and young people are striving to overturn a legacy of illiteracy, restricted opportunity, and poor-quality schooling” (Brown, 2011).
The citizens of South Sudan have shown the motivation to improve their communities. They are well-aware of the struggles occurring within their community. In order to build a foundation for their nation, secure peace and stability, promote economic growth and continued prosperity, the government of South Sudan should consider giving its citizens more power over the processes of planning, implementation, evaluation, and formulation of education into the hands of its citizens (Kendall, Kaunda, & Friedson-Rideneur, 2015). Government instability has been the largest factor against the development of education in South Sudan, giving the community control over the processes of education, allows for more stability and continuity.
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