The imminent independence of Southern Sudan is spotlighting the challenge of improving “among the world's worst” education systems, the UN said today.
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) called upon the international community “to act with a greater sense of urgency and resolve in supporting the development of a national education system,” according to an agency press statement.
Southern Sudan is scheduled to formally separate from the rest of Sudan on 9 July.
“It is hard to overstate the scale of the challenge,” said UNESCO's Director-General, Irina Bokova, “but independence brings with it an unprecedented opportunity to build a good quality education system.”
“The people of South Sudan cannot afford to see that opportunity squandered – and neither can the international community,” Ms. Bokova said.
A policy paper launched today in the capital, Juba, said “Southern Sudan has some of the world's worst indicators for education.”
More than a million primary school-age children are out of school – about half of the total. The new country has the world's lowest recorded enrolment rate in secondary education. Fewer than 400 girls make it to the last grade of secondary school, and only 8 per cent of women are literate.
The paper was produced by UNESCO's Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report team, an independent group hosted by UNESCO.
The paper said that since the peace settlement in 2005 the number of children in school has tripled, hundreds of new classrooms have been built, and more teachers are being recruited and trained. Yet the reconstruction effort in Southern Sudan falls far short of the standards set in other post-conflict countries, including Rwanda and Sierra Leone.
The paper also calls on the Government of Southern Sudan to step up its own efforts, including more robust financial management systems, a strengthened commitment to overcoming inequalities between different regions and groups, and action to tackle gender disparities.
“The overall aid effort suffers from under-financing, fragmentation, weak coordination and a failure to put in place long term financing commitments,” said Kevin Watkins, Director of the EFA Global Monitoring Report.
However, the report says: “Decisive leadership by the Government of Southern Sudan backed by a concerted international aid effort could transform South Sudan into a development success story.
“There is a real opportunity to exploit the window of opportunity created by the peace agreement to set the country on a trajectory that offers hope, development, shared prosperity and common security for all of the people of Southern Sudan.
“Putting in place an education system that equips Southern Sudan's children with the skills, competencies and attitudes they will need to build a better future for their country is the starting point for a break with the past.”