UNESCO calls on international community to deliver an education peace premium in South Sudan
On the eve of South Sudan’s independence, UNESCO has called on the international community to act with a greater sense of urgency and resolve in supporting the development of a national education system.
In a Policy Paper launched today in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, the UN agency documents the scale of educational deprivation across much of the country. Over 1 million primary school age children are out of school – around half of the total. The new country has the world’s lowest recorded enrolment rate in secondary education. Deep gender disparities mean that fewer than 400 girls make it to the last grade of secondary school, while just 8% of women are literate.
The paper, entitled Building a better future: Education for an independent South Sudan, was produced by UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report team, an independent team hosted by UNESCO. It notes that with a national population slightly larger than cities like New York, Paris and London, all of South Sudan’s secondary school students could be accommodated in around five schools in one of those cities – and the girls in the last grade of secondary school in half-a-dozen classrooms.
“It is hard to overstate the scale of the challenge,” commented UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, “but independence brings with it an unprecedented opportunity to build a good quality education system. The people of South Sudan cannot afford to see that opportunity squandered – and neither can the international community.”
Since the peace settlement in 2005, South Sudan has witnessed some extraordinary gains in education. The number of children in school has tripled. Hundreds of new classrooms have been built. And more teachers are being recruited and trained. Yet the reconstruction effort in South Sudan falls far short of the standards set in other post-conflict countries, including Rwanda and Sierra Leone.
The Policy Paper is particularly critical of the slow rate of aid disbursement through a pooled donor fund. “The overall aid effort suffers from under-financing, fragmentation, weak coordination and a failure to put in place long-term financing commitments” said Kevin Watkins, Director of the EFA Global Monitoring Report.
The Paper also calls on the Government of South Sudan to step up its own efforts. More robust financial management systems and a strengthened commitment to overcoming inequalities between different regions and groups, a major source of conflict, are highlighted as priorities, along with action to tackle gender disparities. “South Sudan cannot afford to waste the talents, creativity and energy of its young girls,” commented Ms Bokova.
While recognizing the daunting scale of the challenge, the UNESCO report describes independence as unique opportunity to set South Sudan on a new trajectory towards more dynamic growth, shared prosperity and common security. “Education is one of the most vital foundations for a human development take-off in South Sudan – and the time to put those foundations in place is right now.”
The Paper calls for the creation of a new multilateral fund to back national reconstruction. It also urges the United Nations and the wider international community to act more decisively in protecting the peace settlement.
The Policy Paper will be discussed today during a presentation of UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report in Juba, South Sudan, co-organized by UNESCO and the South Sudanese Ministry of Education, in partnership with the Education for All convening agencies, DfID and Save the Children.