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Teaching amid ruins of 'the Eton of Sudan'


An abandoned Sudanese army tank sits in the grounds at the back of Rumbek secondary school - a reminder of its recent violent past.

Once the "Eton of southern Sudan", and finishing school for the region's elite, government troops used it as a barracks when they took Rumbek from southern rebels and held it from 1986 to 1997. They destroyed much of the sprawling campus built by the British in 1948.

Education at the school ceased, as it did in much of southern Sudan, during the civil war that began in 1983 and has yet to officially end.

But today Rumbek secondary is open again with 610 students, a symbol of hope for a people desperate to rebuild.

There is no electricity and headteacher Dut Makoi must deal with classes as big as 70, parents who wish to pay their fees in cows and the fact that only five of his 27 teachers are trained.

Nevertheless, unlike most southern Sudanese teachers, they are paid and work in sturdy stone buildings. In fact Rumbek secondary represents the best education in rebel-held southern Sudan. One of only 20 secondaries in an area twice as big as France, its pupils come from 200 miles away Eight miles down the often barely passable main road at Pachong primary, the "classrooms" have no walls and consist of thatched roofs resting on poles. There were four for the 436 pupils, until one was destroyed by ants, forcing one class to shelter under a tree.

Head, Gabriel Malith, explains his village cannot afford proper buildings and laughs at the notion that he and his staff should be paid. "These are our children and our future. How can we ask the community to pay us to educate them?"

Five miles away, is Adol-Manyiel primary where, like 38 per cent of schools in southern Sudan, all classes are held under trees. John Makur, the 25-year-old headteacher, was put in charge because his year of secondary schooling made him the most educated man in the village. He estimates some 50 days of school are lost every year because of rain.

Southern Sudan's education statistics make depressing reading: less than 22 per cent of primary-age children attend school, and of those only 27 per cent are girls. Just 6 per cent of teachers have had a year more pre-service training, and in half the schools children have no access to safe water.

Tony Blair promised earlier this month to put Africa at the top of the key industrial nations' agenda. Last year his government gave pound;28 million in aid to Sudan, and the Department for International Development has said this will increase "considerably" when peace is achieved. But Rebecca Lewis, from the Consortium for Education and Training for South Sudan, said more money is needed to start training teachers and administrators now.

"Without this preparation for peace local people will not be able to have the stake they need in their education system and valuable aid will be spent bringing in outside expertise."

Nevertheless, Kosti Manibe, education commissioner for the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement, has ambitious targets to more than double enrolment and triple the number of teachers.

"The lower the education rate, the higher the mortality rate," he said.

"And because there is only a small number of educated people it is extremely difficult to run the basic machinery of state."

His goals rely on aid, which in turn depends on the peace talks that resumed this month reaching a successful conclusion. With conflict still raging in Darfur in the North-west that is still far from certain.

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