Thousands of South Sudanese children are studying under trees, rather than in real classrooms. One of Rumbek County’s big problems in education is the limited space inside schools right across the nation.
There are no spaces conducive to learning for thousands of children in my county,” complains William Koji Kerjok, Education Director of Rumbek County which is in Lakes State, South Sudan.
There are no spaces conducive to learning for thousands of children in my county.” A recent conversion of the Riak-Dor primary school into a secondary school in the area has made the problem even worse, Kerjok says. Younger children have been forced out of classrooms to learn and are studying outdoors, on the grounds of the Rumbek Girl’s Primary School. Here, one can find pupils from the primary school, from the Riak-Dor primary school and the local Sunrise pre-school.
Thousands are now forced to sit under the trees because here there no properly constructed classrooms,” he explains. And because the Rumbek girl’s school is now hosting three schools, the space for learning and even playing there has become very limited.”
Kerjok also noted that more children were being enrolled in schools in the area. The government needs to bear this mind and build more schools, Kerjok notes. The [local] Ministry is also asking for tents so that the children under the trees can be accommodated,” he adds.
The new Minister of Education for the Lakes State, Athian Majak Malou, said his ministry was aware of the situation. With help from UNICEF, the government is planning to put up temporary structures to house the affected children. Malou also said that the European Union has pledged to fund education in South Sudan and Lakes State was getting US$3 million for the construction of schools in the area.
Another educational issue of concern involves what are known as returnee schools in Rumbek County. These are schools attended mainly by those who have returned from Sudan – that is, South Sudanese who suddenly found themselves foreigners in another country after secession.
Watch the documentary movie ‘A school day with Diana’ about primary education in South Sudan.Unfortunately returnee schools don’t come under any government ministry’s jurisdiction and these schools lack support when it comes to learning materials and teacher salaries.
Abubu Primary School is one such institution. It has three classes of around 60 children and two teachers.
I opened the school in April this year,” Mary Abuk Matet, headmistress of Abubu primary school, explains. But the school is not supported by the Ministry of Education. I actually decided to resign from the school but the conditions the children work in, push me to continue. In the morning, some of the young children come and ask me if they have classes that day. And that forces me to continue.”
When it rains, we have to run home,” says one pupil, Julia Bullen Mabor, aged 12. She also recounts how the science teacher quit her school and went to the secondary school where she could be paid. In Khartoum [in Sudan] I was in a higher class but here I’ve been demoted because of my English.”
Which brings up yet another problem plaguing South Sudan’s education system. While the children who have come from Sudan were learning Arabic, here the official language is English. And often returnee children have little of this.