South Sudan literacy rate was reported at around 34.5% in 2018, placing the youngest nation among the least literate countries in Africa as well as in the world. The low rate is a result of 21 years of civil war between Sudan government and southern Sudan rebels or SPLA. After the independence, the country went to war with herself in 2013 and again in 2016 forcing nearly 4 million people to seek refuge and asylum in neighboring countries such as Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.
There is no doubt that the high illiteracy rate in the country is prolonging the crisis as masses of illiterate men and women are mobilized to fight the war. You see the effect of illiteracy? It keeps you in the darkness. You are chained down by your own mind. Things that need logic to solve are taken in spiritual contexts. Despite 2013 conflict, South Sudan Ministry of General Education and Instructions continued to improve education system in the country. The Ministry launched the first post-independence national curriculum on September 8th, 2015 and new textbooks for the new curriculum on March 7th, 2019.
With the new curriculum and textbooks, there is no doubt that children and young people in South Sudan will gain knowledge, skills and even restore South Sudanese values and morals that were lost during the war with northern Sudan. South Sudan has the world’s highest fraction of out of school children with over 70% of school-aged children out of school (UNESCO, 2018). If you visit any cattle camp in the country, you will find that majority of people rearing cattle are children and women. Early this year, the Ministry of Education and Instructions (MoGEI) celebrated the International Literacy Day (ILD) under the theme “Literacy Teaching and Learning in COVID-19 Crisis and beyond”.
During the celebration, the Minister of Education Hon. Awut Deng Acuil emphasized the importance of education as a right of every child in the country. On January 29th, 2021, the Office of the Minister of Education issued a press statement informing the candidates, parents and stakeholders that the process of the 2020 examinations have been put in place in accordance with resolutions of the 2nd extra-ordinary meeting of the Council of Ministers dated September 22nd 2020. As candidates and parents were celebrating and applauding the Ministry of Education for following the timeframe that was set in September by the Council of Ministers, another press statement was issued on February 4th cancelling all the Primary Eight (P.8) examinations in SPLA-IO controlled areas, citing lack of protection from South Sudan National Police Services and Security.
This is very unfortunate for the parents and particularly children who have been preparing for nearly 1 year to sit for Certificate of Primary Education (CPE). On the other hand, the future of Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU) hangs on unbalanced beam. According to South Sudan’s Constitution of 2011 with amendments in 2013, under the bill of rights, it states that “Every child shall have access to education without discrimination”. Now, where is the inclusive education if other kids are not allowed to sit for national examinations? Do you know the trauma you have subjected these children to? They will grow up hating the system. Don’t be surprised to see some of these kids growing up in rural towns or even in the cities in South Sudan as hooligans.
We already have thousands of kids in the streets in the country. As a result of this decision, some of them will join the rest of the street children due to frustration and fear of future. Denying children examination means promotion of tribal bigotry – intolerance towards people from other tribes or social group. Honorable Minister, take a deep breath, close your eyes for some few seconds, and put yourself into shoes of a 13 years old young girl in Nyirol or other SPLA-IO controlled areas. What do you see? Again, put yourself in shoes of child who has been preparing for several months to sit for CPE and finally told not to sit for national examinations.
What do you see? Children know only South Sudan as a country and many cannot even differentiate between SPLA-IO and government controlled areas. Dear Honorable Minister, if you knew these children will not sit for Certificate of Primary Education, why did you allow candidate classes in those areas to reopen? Why? You made them waste their times and resources. Don’t you think these kids have all rights to sue you? Even in the Ministry of Education, I am sure there are people who are not happy with your decision. You don’t need guns or heavy artilleries to protect examination papers. Professional teachers marking examination scripts can detect whether the examinations were leaked or not.
If such irregularities are spotted during the marking of scripts, then that particular school can be banned by withdrawing examination centre number for some years. In conclusion, I humbly request the Ministry of General Education and Instructions (MoGEI) to give children in SPLA-IO controlled areas an alternative examination papers since they will miss the first scheduled examination on February 8th 2021. Such examinations can be facilitated by neutral body such as United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and other UN agencies operating in SPLA-IO controlled areas. I believe the MoGEI is preparing children for bright future and prosperous South Sudan irrespective of their religion, ethnicity, or geographical area.
The author is a concerned South Sudanese citizen and can be reached at email@example.com.