'There is no money or food. Resources are virtually nil'

6th July 2012 at 01:00
A year after independence, South Sudan's schools are in dire need

"The big problem for this area is money," says Sister Teresa Staunton, an education volunteer working in South Sudan. "Years of neglect and war have left the country devastated. Resources, both human and financial, are in short supply, so the need is great."

Sister Staunton is one of scores of volunteers working in the world's youngest country, which will celebrate its first anniversary of independence on Monday (9 July). Her role is to contribute to the building of a functioning schools system - a major undertaking in a country with some of the least developed infrastructure in the world.

The UK government says South Sudan is among its highest priority areas. The Department for International Development (DFID) points to a "looming" humanitarian crisis, with more than 100,000 people facing food shortages.

Against a backdrop of famine, drought and escalating violence on the border of neighbouring Sudan, volunteers such as Sister Staunton are trying to bring their expertise to a country in desperate need of help.

Between 2011 and 2015, DFID will provide #163;75 million for education, as well as a further #163;30 million in capital funding to help South Sudan build new and much-needed schools.

According to Sister Staunton, who volunteered through international development charity VSO and is working on developing the country's primary curriculum, just a quarter of lessons are taught in permanent classrooms. The rest take place in tents or often under a tree.

"There is a national teacher training college next door (to where I work) that has been closed for at least two years because there is no money or food," she says. "Our brief is to revise the curriculum at all levels, but resources are virtually nil."

Oil provides about 98 per cent of South Sudan's income, but a dispute with Sudan over the allocation of the natural resource has meant the taps have been turned off, leaving South Sudan on the brink.

The lack of money means it is impossible to build schools, train teachers or pay staff. There is now just one qualified teacher to every 100 pupils. Girls are less likely than boys to be educated and young women are three times more likely to die in childbirth than finish school, according to VSO.

Alice Castillejo, the charity's country director for South Sudan, says the challenge the nation faces is huge and that it is "crucial" for specialists to come forward to help the country.

"More than 55 years of conflict have denied several generations of South Sudanese basic education and literacy," Ms Castillejo says. "This provides a frighteningly small pool of people who can become teachers and has held back the development of the training colleges needed to support this process.

"It is crucial that the country's education service gets the necessary increase in skilled professionals, and this will need a massive effort in retraining existing staff and inspiring new trainees."

IN NUMBERS

51% of South Sudan's population is under the age of 18.

37% of people over the age of 6 have never attended school.

27% of people over the age of 15 are literate.

16% of literate people are women.

#163;105m has been promised by the UK government to help the country's education system.

Source: VSO.

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