For generations, Sudan has been plagued with the violence of war, the rampant spread of disease, and the violation of human rights. At the heart of this conflict lie the children of Sudan who suffer the consequences in profound ways. The continual outbreak of disease, poverty, famine, war, and genocide has increased the number of refugees fleeing to the United States. As the number of Sudanese students in our schools grows, it is imperative to understand the events that have led these students to our classrooms.
Since 2006 the violence in Sudan has intensified. Violations of human rights, including human trafficking and slavery, have led to what is being called the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world.” With genocide, war, disease, and malnutrition running rampant in the large country, the number of orphans in southern Sudan has reached a staggering one million, according to UNAID. Outbreaks of disease like yellow fever, AIDS, cholera, and dengue cause numerous deaths in inaccessible areas and surpass the capacity of many medical infrastructures. One in every four children in southern Sudan die before the age of five.
Education in southern Sudan has been inadequate for many generations. Because most Sudanese citizens are educated by missionaries, educational opportunities have become diminished. Girls and women in southern Sudan are affected most by the lack of formal education, and only one percent ever receive an education beyond eighth grade. Furthermore, excessive school fees make women susceptible to exploitation as a means to pay for schooling.
Literacy rates have been on a continual downfall for many years. South Sudan has a literacy rate of 27 percent, making it the second lowest in the world. The civil war has kept these rates low for several generations.
Education facilities are substantially inadequate. Forty-three percent of classes are conducted outside. Less than a fourth of enrolled students are taught in a permanent structure. Many outdoor classrooms consist of a small chalkboard nailed to a tree. Students sit on the dirt ground. Because classrooms are outside, teaching only takes place when it’s not the rainy season and when the afternoon heat is not beating down.
Since World War II, the demand for education has exceeded the resources of Sudan. Education accounts for less than 15 percent of the nation’s budget, and most of these resources are spent in the major city of Khartoum. According to UNICEF, nearly half of school-aged children do not have access to schools or instructional materials.
The majority of teachers in southern Sudan lack the education and training needed to provide an enriched learning environment for students. Almost all teachers work on a volunteer basis, because governmental funding is virtually nonexistent in certain regions of the country.
The trauma experienced by Sudanese children creates emotional problems as well. With key years of education lost, many life skills are also lost to the current conflict, leaving an already fragile society even more limited. But children are now turning towards education for an escape from past events and hope for the future.
But, there may be a bright spot on the horizon. In January 2011 the people of southern Sudan voted for independence from their northern counterpart. With this liberation comes renewed hope. Democracy is founded on the premise that the people have control over their government. But for this to work, citizens must be educated. Without an educated population, southern Sudan will again be susceptible to the infiltration of dominant groups looking to control the people.
Education is ultimately the biggest advantage each Sudanese child will have - not only to survive, but to thrive as their war-torn society rebuilds a nation.
Stephanie Pearson is pursuing a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction at Kansas State University. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary and Early Childhood Education and a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Reading and Language Arts.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.