Bonkir Benjamin has just begun school at JCC Model Preschool in the southern Sudanese capital of Juba. However, despite his high aspirations, he knows he will probably have to leave the war-torn region if he is to fulfill his dreams.
"I want to go to school, so I can be a pilot," said six-year-old Bonkir, adding that he would like to join his brother who is studying in neighbouring Uganda at "the best school".
Like many schools in southern Sudan, Bonkir's school lacks a lot of basic needs. "We have many challenges," said his teacher Martin Mambo. "We have stopped enrolment because we don't have space. We lack toys and teaching aids, as well as basic materials. Only two of our teachers have received training."
The schools may lack the basics, but like Bonkir's, many have been swamped by the large number of children coming to class this year. Officials marking the first anniversary of the "Go to School" initiative on Sunday, said the numbers had jumped from 343,000 last year, to 850,000 pupils this year.
"We are both encouraged and threatened by the increase in enrolment," Michael Milli Hussein, southern Sudan's minister for education, science and technology said at the celebrations. "We are in great need of learning spaces."
The initiative, which is supported by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), has taken advantage of the relative peace in the region following the signing of a north-south peace agreement (CPA) in January 2005. That accord ended 21 years of civil conflict that virtually wrecked the education system in southern Sudan.
"Education is the single most important investment for southern Sudan. We need to do everything in our power to keep the classroom doors open for the children in southern Sudan," Simon Strachan, head of UNICEF southern Sudan, said. "The increased enrolment is a fantastic achievement."
|We need to do everything in our power to keep the classroom doors open for the children in southern Sudan|
But, according to UNICEF, the sharp increase in enrolment has created 'a positive Emergency' - the urgent need to find space in which to educate new pupils.
Lack of classrooms
A 2006 Rapid Assessment of Learning Spaces (RALS) conducted by UNICEF and
the government, indicated that of the 2,922 learning facilities assessed across the South, only 461 had permanent structures.
"Even in Juba, the capital, we have children sitting on stones or on the floor," Lokulenge Lole, the minister for education for Central Equatoria State, said. All of the state's schools were 'congested'.
"If we cannot get more support from the ministry of education in Juba this year, then we're going to have a big problem," he added. "Schools are few and they all need to be renovated. Since the signing of the CPA, we have not built a new secondary school or primary school."
According to Lole, aid agencies working in education in the south had been 'disappointing' and had not committed themselves to constructing permanent school buildings.
The new students come from Juba, or are returnees, former refugees or the internally displaced.
"They [the NGOs] prefer to talk about capacity building and workshops," complained Lole, adding that the tents provided to house the students were 'inadequate and inappropriate', and are now showing signs of wear after just one year.
"We are now telling our communities that they have to build schools themselves," said Lole.
Strachan emphasised that despite the lack of adequate space for pupils, now was not the time to halt the flow of children into schools.
|Motivating teachers is the key for succesful education|
Following many years of postponed education opportunities for children, Strachan added that few would now have to tell their children, 'No, not this year'.
The 'Go to School' initiative, he said, is aiming to get 1.6 million children in school by the end of 2007. So far UNICEF has distributed 400 'emergency' tents to accommodate the children. It also plans to build 200 new classrooms and renovate 300 existing rooms.
Training and salaries
UNICEF’s RALS found that there are 17,920 teachers in southern Sudan, but many have not had proper training.
Local officials also worry that the funds they have received from the southern Sudan government are not enough to pay teachers’ salaries, despite a commitment made last year by President Salva Kiir Mayardit during the 1 April 'Education Day for the South'.
"Last year we received US $1 million; this year we received half of that," said Lole. As a result, he added, his state may not be able to pay all the teachers.
"No agencies, like NGOs, are prepared to pay teachers salaries, even during the war years," said Lole, adding that while children could be taught beneath trees with few materials, the lack of funding for teachers is a greater problem that is "the overnment's responsibility".
However, Hussein blamed the problem on the central government, saying the education budget had been cut to $108 million from $134 million in 2006, while the overall government budget had not been slashed.
Photo: Gabriel Galwak/IRIN
|Enrolment in schools like Rubkona Primary in south Sudan has risen|
"It is the SPLM (Sudan People's Liberation Movement) policy that school is free for all southern Sudanese children, but parents cannot contribute to salaries," he said. "Motivating teachers is the key for successful education; timely and regular payment is needed."
Lole explained that another survey is underway to determine the number of teachers in the south, and ensure that they are all being paid - including those in hard-to-reach rural areas.
Hussein meanwhile insisted that 70 percent of the southern Sudanese education budget was being spent on teachers’ salaries. He said he had taken up the concerns of the teachers with the presidency and cabinet, but that the budget cuts were affecting his plans.
"We will have no capital for development in the states," he added, noting that he will be looking to donor partners for assistance, although their bureaucracy had been 'disheartening'.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions