This article shares key insights from Imatong state in South Sudan ahead of a meeting at Lambeth Palace for educationalists, church leaders, aid workers and government officials to discuss the future of education in the country. Speakers will describe the situation in South Sudanese schools today and discuss the financing of education and the associated role of international donors. They will also lead a discussion on how fragile educational achievements can be maintained.
Widening access to education had been an important achievement of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) government since it took power in South Sudan in 2005, following a peace deal with the Sudanese government in Khartoum. In 2003-4, only 400,000 children, about a quarter of the school age population, were estimated to be in education, and successive EMIS reports showed growth, to over 1.3m in primary and secondary education in 2013.+‘Towards a baseline: best estimates of social indicators for Southern Sudan,’ New Sudan Centre for Statistics and Evaluations/UNICEF, 2004, page 59, available at http://reliefweb.int/report/sudan/towards-baseline-best-estimates-social-indicators-southern-sudan; ‘Education statistics for the Republic of South Sudan,’ Juba: Ministry of General Education, 2013 By 2016, enrolment had bounced back from the 2013 crisis, though with a different geographical distribution, and 1.318m primary and secondary pupils were recorded by name on the South Sudan Schools Attendance Monitoring System (www.sssams.org), a system supported by the UK Aid Girls’ Education South Sudan project.+www.sssams.org, accessed 5th December 2016 While these figures are gathered on different bases, and data about those in alternative education systems is least sure, it is hard to dispute the evidence of growing access. This growth happened because South Sudan’s new government financed the staffing, and led the rehabilitation and construction, of schools across the country.
When independence came in 2011, South Sudan’s government was comparatively wealthy: it had the region’s highest level of public spending per capita. But only five percent of the budget was allocated to education, far less than most African countries – and disbursement rates were even lower.+‘Historic budgets and budget outturns,’ Juba: Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, 2016, available at http://grss-mof.org/docs/historic-budgets-and-budget-outturns-2005-2015/, accessed 23 Oct 2016 +Financing Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: Meeting the Challenges of Expansion, Equity and Quality,’ Montreal: UNESCO Institute of Statistics, 2011, pages 28ff. Nonetheless, an activist Ministry of Education used the opportunity of peace to develop an education system that could meet the country’s huge challenges. Realising the importance of professional recognition, one of their priorities was paying teachers regular salaries, in contrast to the situation during Sudan’s twentieth century wars, when most were unpaid.
The outbreak of conflict across Greater Upper Nile in 2013 put these achievements at risk. The conflict gradually spread to Equatoria and Bahr al-Ghazal before a peace agreement between the government and the SPLM-in-Opposition was signed in August 2015. But its implementation was delayed, allowing the conflict to intensify, particularly in Equatoria. Implementation of the peace deal began hesitantly when the opposition leadership returned to Juba in April 2016. But a political crisis in July 2016 led to renewed violence; many opposition leaders and their soldiers fled the capital and the future of the peace deal is now in severe doubt.
Since 2014, a currency and inflation crisis has dramatically reduced the real value of government funding for schools and teachers’ wages with classroom teachers’ wages, worth $100 a month at independence, now worth less than $5 a month.
Do more violence and less funding affect enrolment?
But did conflict and shrinking funding lead to a drop in school attendance? In May 2015, UNICEF reported that 70% of schools in the conflict-affected states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile were not functioning and about 400,000 children who had been in school no longer were.+‘Exploring the Linkages between Education Sector Governance, Inequity, Conflict, and Peacebuilding in South Sudan: Research Report Prepared for UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office (ESARO),’ UNICEF/Learning for Peace, 2016, page 18 +Lee Crawfurd, ‘Cash Grants for Schools and Pupils Can Increase Enrolment and Attendance Despite Ongoing Conflict: Findings from South Sudan,’ Center for Global Development & University of Sussex, forthcoming.
South Sudan Schools Attendance Monitoring System data, compiled from school enrolment lists, showed enrolment falling to 1m in 2014 (from 1.3m in 2013). It then bounced back in 2015 and 2016 – but with a different pattern. As many as 500 schools in Greater Upper Nile remained closed, but schools in Greater Bahr-el-Ghazal and Greater Equatoria grew with the displaced and with locally generated growth.
If this reporting from schools reflects reality, it is not unprecedented. Between 1960 and 1965, enrolment increased significantly in what were then Sudan’s three Southern provinces (now South Sudan), even as internal fighting gathered pace. It was not until government-sponsored urban massacres emptied towns and schools that enrolment in formal schools dropped to almost nothing. But ‘bush schools’, run by the Anya-Nya rebel movement, ended up taking increasing numbers of students.
When peace came in 1972, the World Bank estimated that there were almost 60,000 children in formal schools and 25,000 in bush schools.+‘Report of a Special Mission on the Economic Development of Southern Sudan,’ International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Report No. 119a-SU, 1973, page 45, Tables C-1, C-2, C-3 Enrolment continued to increase, reaching 142,598 by 1981+Ben Katoro-Beninyo, ‘Evaluation of The Educational Policies of the Sudan, 1972-1992: Impact and Implications on Educational Development in the Southern Sudan,’ PhD dissertation, Leeds University, 1996, page 100 and appearing to hit over 400,000 by 2005 – trebling in size over two decades.+Marc Sommers, ‘Islands of Education: Schooling, civil war and the Southern Sudanese,’ Paris: UNESCO, page 38
Getting an accurate picture of the interaction between war and education is very difficult and it is beyond our scope to address the many challenges involved. But it may be the case that violence pushes young people towards schools, increasing enrolment in wartime.
Focusing on Imatong State
When South Sudan’s 10 original states were replaced with 28 new states by Presidential Decree in 2015, Imatong was created out of the western parts of Eastern Equatoria State (EES).+Crisis In South Sudan: Explaining Why Kiir’s Decision To Increase States From 10 To 28 Is Such A Hot Political Potato,’ Rogue Chiefs, 12 July 2016, http://www.roguechiefs.com/2016/07/12/crisis-in-south-sudan-explaining-why-kiirs-decision-to-increase-states-from-10-to-28-is-such-a-hot-political-potato/, accessed 2 Dec 2016 Looking at Imatong clearly reveals both the pressures on the educational system and the demand for education in wartime. We focus in particular on three areas of Imatong state where we are in regular contact with schools directly affected by violence: Torit (the capital), Isohe (a village in the mountains to the south-east) and Palotaka (a village near the Ugandan border).
In 2013, before the current conflict started, what was then EES was one of the country’s better-performing states when it came to education. Primary enrolment rates were just under the national rate of about 60% for boys and just over the national rate of about 40% for girls.+Education statistics for the Republic of South Sudan,’ Juba: Ministry of General Education, 2013. Just a few years ago, Palotaka’s country town Magwi was thriving, its secondary school always among the top four performing schools in the South Sudan school certificate examinations.
The crisis in Juba in the summer of 2016 led to outbreaks of violence in the newly created state of Imatong. In Torit, murders take place almost daily. Insecurity on the roads – caused by the army, opposition forces and bandits – affected the running of schools. In October 2016, ten people were killed in an attack on a vehicle carrying cash for civil servants’ salaries near Torit.
Dropout fuelled by insecurity
Recent reports suggest that over 1,300 children dropped out of schools in Magwi (the headquarters of the county where Palotaka is located), where violence has led to waves of displacement.+Multi-Sector Rapid Needs Assessment: Imatong State, Phase 3 Report: Magwi County, South Sudan,’ September 2016, available at http://reliefweb.int/report/south-sudan/multi-sector-rapid-needs-assessment-imatong-state-phase-1-report-torit-county, accessed 23 Oct 2016 By contrast, school numbers in some areas have swollen due to the arrival of displaced children. Even daily numbers may fluctuate; in Torit, students stay away when they hear shooting.
Meanwhile, the 2016 rains and harvest in most areas were poor. The World Food Programme (WFP) used to distribute food to schools but insecurity on the roads has prevented the organisation from making distributions in Imatong. This has had a major impact on primary schools.
For example, WFP has had to stop supplying Isohe-based St Kizito’s Primary School and its 1,360 pupils with 17,500 kg of sorghum, as well as oil, sugar and beans each term. As a large boarding school in a small community hit by drought, St Kizito’s now has an almost impossible food gap to cover. Adding to the scale of problem, 800 pupils chose to stay at school over the holidays due to insecurity and they need to be fed somehow.
To take another example, St Theresa’s Primary School in Torit also lost its WFP food. This means that children who can get lunch at home now take the long trip home after lunch and often do not return. But some students and teachers are not eating at all: one interviewee said that teachers are sometimes unable to stand in class.
It is also possible that parents send their children to school in part because of the economic attraction of the school feeding progamme; if this no longer happens then it may make more economic sense for parents to keep them at home to help with household tasks, like collecting firewood and looking after younger siblings.
Solutions unequal to the scale of the challenges
In 2016, the Ministry of Education, with the support of DFID’s Girls’ Education South Sudan (GESS) programme expanded the Ministry’s existing system of direct operational grants to schools, which provides each school with a ‘capitation grant’ that includes a lump sum and an additional per-student element. These grants were doubled, and schools allowed to use up to 60% of the grant to pay incentives to salaried and volunteer teachers. In 2014 and 2015, GRSS funded primary school grants, and GESS, secondary. In 2016, GESS funded primary schools as well. This is expected to continue in 2017 –but that is the last full academic year for which GESS is currently funded. GESS also funds a national programme of cash transfers to girls in P5-S4.
The GESS 2016 capitation grants funding, which could be used for incentive pay for teachers (at a rate of 200 SSP per month) has reached the teachers in all schools discussed here. Salaries do not provide a living wage, because inflation and currency devaluation have thoroughly eroded their value. Primary school teachers’ salaries averaged 450 SSP (before the incentives), and secondary school teachers’ salaries averaged 700 SSP to 1200 SSP (also before the incentives).
To put those amounts into context, 1500 SSP is needed to buy a 50kg bag of sorghum, which is barely enough to feed a family for a month. This is considerably more than even the highest amount a teacher can currently hope to make before fee income. To make matters worse, salaries are not paid on time, and sometimes not paid at all – especially in outlying areas, where unpaid teachers sometimes have to leave their posts, and/or the profession just to get enough money for food.
The causes and effects of losing teachers
Currency devaluation is also depriving Imatong of its teachers: because of the limited stock of teachers locally, and particularly for secondary, the extensive reliance on Ugandan teachers. For example, a month after the beginning of the current school term, three out of four Ugandan teachers still had not arrived for work at St Augustine’s in Isohe. It is believed that they gave up on coming as the worsening exchange rate made their salaries too low. The SSP traded at about three to the US dollar when it first floated in 2005; in October 2016, the rate was 80 SSP to the dollar.
As staff leave, schools lose capacity to cover various subjects, particularly the sciences. For example, St Theresa’s Primary School in Torit has 1300 students but staff departures mean it now has only 21 teachers, of whom nine are volunteers. As a result, classes have had to double in size and there are teaching gaps in maths, science and English. All three secondary schools in Torit are missing chemistry, biology and physics teachers. In one Imatong state county, teacher shortages reportedly contributed to the closure of twelve schools.+‘12 schools in Imatong State shut down over shortage of teachers,’ Radio Tamazuj, 26 Sep 2016, https://radiotamazuj.org/en/article/12-schools-imatong-state-shut-down-over-shortage-teachers, accessed 23 Oct 2016
Education is a casualty of the broader crisis facing South Sudan
Education in South Sudan has clearly faced serious challenges that have only been made worse by contracting government budgets, as well as the creation of 28 new state administrations, which are difficult to implement budgets through. The pool of institutional donors engaged has narrowed: DFID and the European Union are now the key funding partners for education in South Sudan.
Education has been a key response for the South Sudanese people in successive periods of conflict since 1955. Schools are on the front line of maintaining hope, and social fabric. South Sudan’s education system should not be neglected because if it collapses young people will lose out on their education, inequalities will increase dramatically and future development will be put at risk.
Elizabeth Hodgkin and Edward Thomas have both worked in Sudan and South Sudan as teachers, human rights workers and researchers.