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Teachers go back to school in southern Sudan

Clara Royo, 67, takes her first formal teacher-training course in a programme organized by UNICEF and the Windle Trust in Southern Sudan.

By Rachel Beck

Educators who carry on despite hardships such as war and poverty are being honoured on World Teacher's Day, observed on 5 October. This story highlights a partnership between UNICEF and Windle Trust to train teachers in Southern Sudan.

WAU, Southern Sudan, 5 October 2006 – The day begins early and ends late for Clara Royo, a primary school teacher in this bustling market town. Rising before dawn to prepare her family’s breakfast and retiring long after dark, she has recently added another activity to her hectic schedule. At the age of 67, she is going back to school.

Like nearly every other teacher in Southern Sudan, Ms. Royo has almost no formal training. For decades, she volunteered to work without pay, hoping that a pause in the country’s relentless civil war might someday enable her to take advantage of the opportunities she had heard were provided to teachers in other countries.

“Until then, I waited, teaching all the time,” she says. “The time of the war was very difficult. We had no money. I had seven children, but I lost four of them – one to jaundice, one to meningitis, and two who died when they were small babies. I was just a woman in the house, but the war found me anyway.”

The ‘Go to School’ campaign has increased enrolment rates, made available basic learning materials and created training courses for teachers.

‘Go to School’ campaign

In 2005, a historic peace agreement ended 21 years of conflict in Southern Sudan and opened the window of opportunity that Ms. Royo had been seeking.

Surveys conducted during the war found that less than one child in five completed primary school, and only 7 per cent of teachers had been formally trained. But in the past year, a massive ‘Go to School’ campaign has dramatically increased enrolment rates, enabled basic learning materials to be delivered to hundreds of thousands of children – and, for the first time, made it possible for special teacher training courses to be offered in Ms. Royo’s neighbourhood.

Through a partnership between UNICEF and the Windle Trust, over 900 teachers are being trained in language skills and effective teaching methods. The project focuses on former garrison towns where schools have traditionally operated in Arabic but are now making the transition to English-language instruction.

“These are people who speak Arabic, who learned in Arabic,” says Juma Johnson, one of the training facilitators. “But suddenly they have to teach in a new language. It’s a big challenge. How do we get them ready?”

Before the 2005 peace agreement, fewer than one in five children in Southern Sudan completed primary education.

‘I want to help children’

Although she is one of the oldest students in her class, Ms. Royo is also one of the most advanced. Over the years, using miscellaneous textbooks and newspapers, she taught herself basic English language skills. The training module gives her an opportunity to practice both with adults and children.

“I do the ABCs in the class – and then I do them with the children the next day,” she says. “At first, I didn’t know about the training. But the other teachers in the school told me, ‘go and write your name.’ They said the class was for everyone, even me.”

Ms. Royo’s trainer, Juma Johnson, says that her efforts are paying off: “She has been an experienced teacher for a long time. Because she was not practicing, the English seemed to have gone. But now she is performing in the class very well. It’s very encouraging.”

Other teachers around Wau are anxious to avail themselves of similar opportunities. The course has already enrolled more than the maximum number of teachers, and every day brings more requests to participate.

“I want to help children,” says Ms. Royo. “I want to help them learn the new language. The training is helping me to do that – to live a good life on the earth.”


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3 October 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Jane O’Brien reports on training teachers to meet the demands of more pupils in Southern Sudan.

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