Sudan – The books don’t get rained on

By LWI correspondent Fredrick Nzwili, during a recent visit to Southern Sudan

Pongborong Primary School Pupil Abraham David Bull in front of new classrooms constructed by the LWF, by Fredrick Nzwili

LWF-Built Schools Boost Enrolment in Southern Sudan

PANYAGOR, Southern Sudan, 31 January 2011 (LWI) – A new block of classrooms built by The Lutheran World Federation Department for World Service (LWF/DWS) in Southern Sudan is boosting school enrolment, where a long civil war had reduced formal schooling.

Parents and teachers at the Pongborong Primary School in Twiic county in Jonglei State no longer see their children winding up classes at the slightest hint of rain. Three years ago, rain or dusty wind often disrupted learning, held under trees in the compound, according to Mobil Bul, the Pongborong head teacher.

“The books got rained on. The children feared getting wet. When it was dry, the wind blew dust on the books, sometimes taking some with it. The books also looked old, dirty and dusty within a few days of issuing. These discomforts discouraged many children from staying at the school,” said Bul.

The LWF/DWS Sudan Program completed the construction of the four classrooms and a block of toilets in 2009. LWF officials say the school is drawing children away from the plains, where they often join cattle camps. Becoming a “cattle camp boy” is a common lifestyle for many children especially boys in pastoralist communities who accompany family herds in the search for grazing grounds. Girls are not entirely excluded, as they assume chores such as fetching water and cooking.

In 2004, Abraham David Bul, a 14-year-old pupil abandoned the cattle camp for Pongborong school. “I now like my school more because I have a place to sit and a roof to cover us.” he says.

According to the head teacher, the children are happy to learn in a clean environment, which is one of the reasons for the rising enrolment in this school. Still, he explains, some classes will be held under trees because there is not enough space.

New Demand for Schooling

The school was started in 1996 as part of the Episcopal (Anglican) Church with only 150 pupils. It was later taken over by the community, which built a church and two “tukuls” (traditional huts) as offices. Some of the first classes were held in the church, while others were convened under trees in the compound.

The LWF started supporting the school in 2007 when it had 300 pupils. Now there are more than 700 students, 400 boys and 300 girls, according to Bul.

George Taban, DWS Sudan education officer in Panyagor says the increased enrolment reflects a new demand for primary school education in Southern Sudan, prompted by the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The pact ended the 21-year-long civil war fought between the Khartoum government and the former rebels, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army ( SPLM/A).

In the last five years the agreement has been created space for rehabilitation and reconstruction. School enrolment is expected to rise further after the recent referendum, whose results affirmed separation from Northern Sudan, with declaration of independence for the south expected in July.

Primary school education is free in Southern Sudan but parents have to provide their children with stationary and uniform including shoes. Statistics from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology of the Government of Southern Sudan show that from 2007 to 2009 primary school enrolment increased from 1.12 million to 1.38 million. The number of teachers rose from 25,934 to 26,575, with the teacher-pupil ratio increasing from 1: 43 to 1:52. The number of classrooms went up from 6,587 to 10,663.

Poverty and Cultural Challenges

Still, Taban said educators in Jonglei face considerable challenges, including high poverty levels among the herders, a shortage of teachers, a lack of adequate teacher training, and cultural attitudes that lead to early school drop out, especially for young girls.

“Girl children have a high work load at home, which they are given by their parents. Some take care of their siblings, while they go to fetch water. Many others are also married off between the ages of 15 and 16. They are seen as a source of wealth for their brothers, who also want to marry,” says Taban.

DWS is helping tackle some of the challenges by encouraging the formation of parent-teacher associations (PTAs) and school management committees. Between 2007 and 2009 PTAs and committees had been established in 13 schools in Duk and Twiic counties. The LWF helped to build new classrooms, which were furnished with desks and tables. The schools received learning materials, such as writing and text books, pencils and uniforms for disadvantaged children.

Taban says the PTAs help to mobilize resources and ensure sustained enrolment while the management committees support the running of schools. Committees at village level reach out to parents who are not willing to send their children to school.

Benefits of Girl Education

Tabitha Amam Dut, a PTA member at Pongborong, says many women in the community are starting to see the benefits of educating girls.

“We have seen women holding offices here in this county. We are telling our young girls that they are free to attend school, because this is the time for gender equality. We are encouraging them to stay in school,” she says.

Amam Dut points out that there is a growing understanding among the Dinka that educating girls brings many benefits, including helping decrease poverty, prevent disease, eradicate violence and deter political instability.

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