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Returning students crowd schools in Southern Sudan

©UNICEF Sudan/2006/ Beck
A student receives new textbooks during a distribution of learning supplies at Buluk A school in Juba, Southern Sudan.

JUBA, Southern Sudan, 31 July 2006 – As the afternoon winds down and most classes let out for the day, students at Buluk A, the only government school in this town offering instruction in English, are just beginning to open their books.

Since 2005, when a landmark peace agreement ended two decades of civil war, an estimated 80,000 refugees and internally displaced persons have returned to their homes in Southern Sudan. The massive influx is severely straining the capacity of an educational system already ravaged by poverty and conflict.

At Buluk A, where enrolment figures have more than doubled in a single year, the explosion in numbers left administrators no choice but to divide the school into morning and evening sessions.

Even with the new schedule, over 200 students are wedged into classrooms that were designed to accommodate a maximum of fifty. The school lacks basic furniture for all but the oldest students, so children crowd together on the dusty floors.

“Teachers find it difficult to manage pupils in class,” says the school’s head teacher, Rejoice William Jada, who registered fewer than 1,300 students in 2005. “Almost 5,000 children wanted to come to the school this year. We could only take 2,895. It is still too many.”

Partnerships for education

Thanks to a unique partnership between UNICEF and United Nations peacekeepers, relief is in sight for the congested school.

As part of the UNICEF-supported ‘Go to School’ initiative, which aims to enrol 1.6 million out-of-school children in school by the end of 2007, eight classroom-sized tents are being assembled at Buluk A by a Bangladeshi contingent of the United Nations Mission in Sudan.

“We intend that these tents will be run as a separate primary school,” says Isidoro Asuk, Director of Basic Education at the Central Equatoria State Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. “With the help from UNICEF, and with the help from the Bangladeshi soldiers, we will be able to accommodate the children who are returning after the signing of the peace.”

© UNICEF Sudan/2006/ Beck
Students at Buluk A examine their new textbooks, delivered as part of a massive campaign to empower every child in Southern Sudan with learning materials.

UNICEF has provided over 200 classroom tents to schools across Southern Sudan. Once permanent learning spaces are constructed, the tents can be used for other purposes or moved to other areas in need.

The project is one element of a major campaign to rebuild the education system from top to bottom. Surveyors are mapping the location and conditions of schools in all ten states; new teachers are being recruited and trained; and learning materials are being provided for every primary-aged child in Southern Sudan. Since the launch of the ‘Go to School’ initiative in April, 126,720 textbooks have been delivered in Juba alone.

Challenges for returnees

For children like 16-year-old Adong Jacqueline, who travelled here from Uganda three months ago, the adjustment has also meant developing new relationships, new friends, and even a new language.

“My parents are dead,” she says. “When I came to Juba, I had no-one to talk to. I was just alone. The only people I could speak to in English were the teachers. So I just kept quiet in the class.”

Like Adong, many of the recent arrivals fled to English-speaking countries in East Africa during the war. But most schools in Southern Sudan still operate in Arabic – leaving the returnees with few opportunities to pursue an education.

While Buluk A is currently the only public English-language school in Juba, more options will soon be available. The Government of Southern Sudan is gradually phasing in an English-only curriculum, and UNICEF is prioritizing crash courses in English language skills for Arabic-speaking teachers.
In the meantime, the classrooms of Buluk A are helping the returnees settle into their new environment.

“I used to have nobody to play with, nobody to talk with,” says Adong’s classmate Emmanuel Yata, 13. “Then I got my books and came to school. The next day, I did the same. And every day, I found more friends.”


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31 July, 2006:
UNICEF’s Karim Bin-Humam reports on Southern Sudan’s overcrowded schools.

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