"Shining the light of education in the darkness of illiteracy"

26.04.21

The Role of Girls' Education in Promoting Peace and Development in South Sudan

The latest FIGS webinar, on April 17th, had around 70 participants from six countries listen to a range of distinguished speakers explore and debate the critical role of girls' education in promoting peace and development in South Sudan. The speakers included:

  • Bridget Nagomoro, Founding Chair of Ibba Girls' Boarding School.
  • Hon Jemma Nunu Kumba, National Minister for Parliamentary Affairs in South Sudan, and former Governor of Western Equatoria State (2008-2010).
  • Dame Rosalind Marsden, FIGS Trustee, former British Ambassador to Afghanistan and Sudan, and former EU Special Representative for Sudan and South Sudan.
  • Dr Kuyok Abol Kuyok, Undersecretary of the South Sudan Ministry of General Education and Instruction.
  • Hon Pia Philip Michael, Undersecretary of the South Sudan Ministry of Peace Building, former Minister for Education, Gender and Welfare for Western Equatoria State, and IGBS Trustee.

With four of these speakers based in Juba, South Sudan and one in Khartoum, Sudan, it was always going to be tricky to sustain a reliable internet connection, and on the day we had a tantalising short contribution from Hon Jemma Nunu Kumba before the connection broke. Dr Kuyok was finally able to connect just as the webinar was closing; those still on the call were able to join him in a very good discussion. However, both he and Hon Jemma have expressed interest in being involved in a second webinar on this important topic, which we are organising for June.

Ambassador Agnes Oswaha (South Sudan Ambassador to the UK) and Archbishop Samuel Peni (Archbishop for Western Equatoria State) also contributed valuable evidence and insights while the tech team behind the scenes tried to restore connections.

All speakers argued that girls education will help South Sudan both to consolidate peace and enhance social and economic development, lifting the country out of poverty and strengthening entrepreneurial activity to build a thriving private sector, creating pressures for public services such as roads, health care and schools and creating informed and confident citizens who can accept diversity of thought and culture because they have developed critical thinking skills.

Educated girls will reduce gender-based violence and divorce, and are less likely to egg on their menfolk to war or cattle-raiding (as in some parts of South Sudan), and are more likely to raise healthy families themselves, reducing maternal and child mortality rates. Women are less likely to become involved in corruption and more likely to spend income on ways to improve family life and the wellbeing of their community. With more women in employment or self-employment there can be a wider tax base for the country.

However, South Sudan has a number of historical and cultural disadvantages, so there is a lot of ground to make up. The periods of British and Arab domination of the region meant that schooling was scarce, whether for girls, boys or adults. A lot of education of South Sudanese children occurred and still occurs outside South Sudan, whether in East Africa or further afield, which makes it inaccessible to ordinary families and in any case means that children can lose contact with their own culture.

Where education does take place in South Sudan, there are relatively few schools outside the towns. Only 5% of schools are secondary schools. The war and displacement mean that school facilities are limited, and teachers are often untrained or unpaid volunteers. Poverty means that many families have to choose which of their children will go to school, so a boy is generally chosen. In these circumstances, it is perhaps not surprising that so few girls go to school.

However, there is hope for the future. “Ibba Girls' [School] is a big gift,” said one speaker. It is proving to be a tried and tested model which is not only providing education to girls in a remote rural area but is also providing ideas and inspiration for other areas of the country. “We want to see 79 girls' boarding schools around the country,” said the South Sudanese ambassador.

The idea of residential education, where girls can study in safety, free from domestic labour and the risks of early or forced marriage, are recognised. Schools within the country mean that girls can retain their identity as African women and can be liberated from the bondage of poverty. Peace and reconciliation are in the new curriculum for primary and secondary from 2019 onwards. In the next webinar, Dr Kuyok will add more about some national initiatives.

At Ibba Girls' School, peace-building and sustainability are taught and developed in a practical and local way. For example, each Friday the whole school is involved in debates between two teams on “hot topics”, where the girls research the evidence and build the argument for their side, while also actively listening and responding to the other side of the debate. In this way, critical thinking skills are developed and honed, and arguments settled through dialogue. The school also models the democratic process; the head girl and other student roles are elected, with the whole school participating in hustings, secret ballots, official counts with observers, declaration of results and the swearing in of newly elected students.

If action can be taken at national, state and local levels to provide education to girls (as well as boys and adults) then both peace and development can be improved, spread and sustained, with benefits for all. The speakers have explained the obstacles, but also the ways forward. Mike Stone, recently appointed FIGS Trustee, reminded everyone that scholarships through FIGS for girls at the school is one practical, important way to help girls to get to and stay in education which will contribute both now and in the future to the development of their communities and their country.

Watch the edited recordings from this webinar on our YouTube channel here.

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