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Mobile schools provide primary education in Sudan’s nomadic communities
WHITE NILE STATE, Sudan, 22 July 2011 – Zahra Mohamed Ahmed, 15, has every reason to feel pleased with herself. She just received the results of the eighth-grade exams she took in March, and they show she got 239 marks out of 280.
What makes Zahra’s achievement so special is that she comes from one of Sudan’s nomadic communities – a group with a very high illiteracy rate, who traditionally have resisted the notion of sending their children, especially girls, to school.
Nomads represent 8 per cent of Sudan’s 45 million inhabitants, according to a 2008 census. They roam across one third of the country’s vast land area.
Mobile schools introduced
It was in the 1990s that things began to change. A partnership was set up between the government, UNICEF and the nomadic communities. Its aim was to ensure that nomadic youth received the same educational opportunities as other Sudanese children.
The outcome: Mobile schools were introduced, at first, in Darfur and Kordofan States in the western part of Sudan. Zahra was one of the first students to be enrolled when similar schools were subsequently established in White Nile State.
“I remember that when I was six years old, my parents told me that there was going to be a school in our community and that I was going to be one of the students,” she recalls. “I was so excited!”
Nine years on, according to a report by the Ministry of Education in White Nile State, Zahra and 109 other nomadic children from six schools are the first batch to finish their primary schooling since the programme began. The whole group passed their exams with impressive scores.
To mark their success, a special event was organized in Um Sarayeh, a seasonal settlement area of the Al Ahamda nomadic group. Among those attending were the Directors of Education in White Nile and Sennar States, and other senior government officials.
The first mobile schools in Darfur and Kordofan were set up in tents or temporary structures made of straw and bamboo. Some simply used the shade of large trees. Besides educational and teaching materials, the schools were equipped with solar lamps to facilitate evening classes for both children and adults.
Today, there are more than 200,000 nomadic children enrolled in some 1,500 government nomadic schools in almost every state in Sudan. It’s a measure of how things have changed.
“Nomadic people used to say, ‘Once a child gets a taste of school and the town, that child won’t want to come back and be with his family or move with the animals,’” said Director of Nomadic Education Rea Ahmed Hassan. That mind set is changing, Ms. Hassan added, but she pointed out that there are still about 24,000 school-age nomadic children out of school in White Nile state.
The presence of more than 3,000 nomadic people at the Um Sarayeh celebration – including community leaders, teachers and schoolchildren – underlined how nomadic communities’ support for education has grown.
Education for nomadic girls
Held in a large tent decorated with colourful flags, the gathering was an opportunity to obtain further commitment for the education programme, not least from teachers. The message to children was just as encouraging.
“My older three sisters never had the chance to go to school,” said Zahra. “But my younger sister is now in fourth grade, and my brother has been registered for first grade in the same school.”
She added: “I tell other children who are not in school about how important it is for them to go to school. We need to work hard to prove education is important for nomadic girls and useful in life.”
UNICEF supports nomadic education in White Nile State through generous contributions from the Government of the Netherlands, the non-governmental organization CHF International and UNICEF National Committees.