A little over a year ago, a comprehensive peace agreement ended 22 years of war between northern and southern Sudan. The conflict drove more than four million people from their homes. The international community has pledged nearly five billion dollars over six years to rebuild the south ? including the region?s agriculture, health and education sectors.
Today, The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is working with CARE and other partners to rehabilitate schools, establish non-formal education programs, and train teachers.
From Washington, reporter William Eagle has the story, as we wrap up our week-long series on southern Sudan.
Years of war have stalled the development of southern Sudan?s educational system: By the end of the conflict, only a couple dozen schools existed throughout the region ? which is as large as France and Germany combined.
According to UNICEF, about 20 percent of the area?s eight million people are school aged children. Only a fraction of those are able to attend school, but only seven percent of the teachers in the south are minimally trained? and close to 90 percent of all women in the south are illiterate.
USAID?s Sudan Basic Education program is working to turn things around. The five-year, 25 million dollar effort is helping build 150 primary and three secondary schools in the 10 states of the south.
Inez Andrews is the team leader for the effort. She says the primary schools aim to reach about 60 thousand students with a traditional eight-year curriculum that includes English, math, science and Sudanese history.
?[They are ] traditional primary schools and the (southern) Sudanese themselves have written their own primary school curriculum?.it?s in English. They teach in English..there are so many languages in south Sudan, it would be cost prohibitive to produce text books in every local language.?
Out-of-school youth and adult learners can take advantage of non-formal learning programs ? including an accelerated learning program that reduces eight years of primary school into four. They can also benefit from radio-based courses for literacy and English language studies. Over 10 thousand students are enrolled in accelerated learning courses, with half of the students being women.
?Girls and women make up a special part of USAID-support education programs. In Sudan, and much of Africa, girls, for cultural and economic reasons, often lack the opportunity to go to school.?
In southern Sudan, USAID has provided over 2,600 scholarships for girls and women in 34 institutions. The US government agency notes that?s a 14 percent increase in girls? enrollment, and a reduction in the drop out rate from 11 percent to four percent where USAID scholarships are provided. The US government also funds 26 community girls? schools with over 1,100 students. USAID also supports the distribution of ?comfort kits? for women and girl students that include information on HIV/AIDS and sanitary pads that help prevent them from leaving school during menstruation.
The USAID effort has faced many challenges, Andrews says.
?Before we started, the only educational activities that were going on in south Sudan were implemented by NGOs, and they were doing their own programs. There was nothing unified.. They used curriculum from Kenya or Uganda, and they answered more to the donors than to officials since there was no government. There was no quality assurance or standards. Missionaries might be in there in different dioceses, but closer to the border ? like along the upper Nile, there was little education if any going on.?
She says years of war also meant that few in the south had the skills to build schools, roads or other infrastructure.
The availability of qualified teachers has also been a challenge.
Ms. Andrews says there are only about seven thousand teachers, most of whom have only a second grade education. Thirty thousand teachers are needed:
?If you had a teacher who has finished high school, it would take two years, but we don?t have many people who have finished high school. So, we?re training them at the sixth, seventh and eighth grades to be teachers. We can get them in the classroom from the eighth grade, and then we can build their capacity and train them while they are in the classroom.?
So far, 600 students are enrolled in three teacher training institutes using curriculum and tutors developed and trained by USAID. Ms. Andrews says CD?s, tapes, and even satellite and computer technology will be used in the future to hasten teacher training. She says the effort aims to provide at least four thousand new teachers within two years.
USAID is also asking Sudanese in the diaspora to take part in strengthening the south?s education system:
?We have a data base that we?ve been working on in North America. It?s like a volunteer program to come back and teach for three months if they know some English ? health workers and teachers are a big issue for us. This is new?we?re just piloting it with 150 health and education workers this year.?
Andrews says because of southern Sudan?s limited infrastructure and capacity, the volunteers may have to live in a tent. Despite the hardship, she says Sudanese living abroad are expressing their desire to return home and help out.
Southern Sudan?s own Ministry of Education and various NGO?s are working to quickly train new teachers. The government is also considering hiring instructors from Uganda and Kenya.
Andrews says at this point, the regional and local governments consider the USAID-backed programs as their own. In fact, the government of South Sudan is matching two dollars to every donor dollar contributed to the Multi Donor Trust Fund; in 2006, that amounts to approximately $150,000,000 toward building its educational system. The money comes from the region?s oil revenues.
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