YAMBIO, SOUTH SUDAN— Primary school pupils in the South Sudanese state of Western Equatoria no longer have to use textbooks from Sudan in Arabic, which many of them did not understand, after some 400,000 textbooks were delivered in the state Thursday.
The books are the first to be written and published under South Sudan’s new national curriculum, and cover the core subjects of English, science, mathematics, history and religious studies.
Tandu Emmanuel, a teacher at Yambio Primary School, said that up until the new books arrived, he followed the Sudanese curriculum and used Sudanese textbooks in Arabic, along with an assortment of workbooks and textbooks from other East African countries. There were never enough of the latter for all of his students, he said. And there were other problems with the books in Arabic.
"We could not understand Arabic. Writing from right to left was a problem. Now that English is on, we shall use the books properly with the same writing. We know that our children will understand very well," he said.
The new books follow a national curriculum that was rolled out last year. They were printed under a partnership with the British Department for International Development (DFID) and the South Sudanese government.
The first textbooks were distributed elsewhere in South Sudan last year but Elizabeth Carriere, the head of the DFID office in South Sudan, said the books destined for Western Equatoria were delayed because of printing problems.
So far, only half of the books for Western Equatoria have arrived, but Carriere said the remainder should be coming within the next few weeks.
She hailed the fact that, finally, South Sudanese schools will not have a book shortage.
"This is the first time in history that this state and indeed the country of South Sudan will have enough textbooks in its schoosl, for both learners and teachers," Carriere said.
"We are proud through our support to be able to contribute to your vision of building an educated and informed nation by 2040."
The DFID has estimated that 15 percent of students who drop out of school in South Sudan do so because they don't have textbooks.
The DFID is also launching a pilot programin Western Equatoria state to keep girls in school in South Sudan, Carriere said.
Many girls leave school to get married, often against their will. Human Rights Watch called in a report released in March for the South Sudanese government to set the minimum age for marriage at 18 and provide training to public officials to protect girls from forced marriage.
It also called for a stepped-up effort to educate South Sudanese on the impact of child marriage on girls and the country as a whole, and for legislation on marriage, separation and divorce.
According to the most recent government statistics, only nine percent of girls in South Sudan who start primary school complete it.
The DFID-backed program to push for girls to stay in school is due to be launched in two months. It will engage students and teachers in discussions about why girls drop out and identify possible solutions.
Western Equatoria Education Minister Pia Philip Michael noted that the Girls Education Act, which is before the state assembly, would set the minimum marriage age at 18 in order to encourage more girls to finish school.