President Salva failed event to raise the level of education in his home state (Warrap)

By: Sirir Gabriel Yiei Rut

December 22, 2014 (SSNA) — Dozens of school children are piled up in a classroom seated on the floor while their teacher writes notes on a makeshift blackboard made out of a broken wooden door and black slates.

Outside the makeshift classroom, children bring their various forms of lunch among them sweet cane and bottles of water as the nearest borehole is some 4km from the school.

Makerdit Primary school (Warrap State)

A bell rings to signal break time at Makerdit Primary School in Warrap and the pupils, looking exhausted, stream out of the classroom holding their torn books.

In this part of the country, uniforms are a luxury, most of the pupils are in pale, torn clothes, barefoot in the frosty weather and their faces are a signature of gnawing poverty.

Hopelessness is written all over their faces and their sorry story is in stark contrast to the estimated 56% literacy rate touted in SPLM’s election manifesto in the year 2010 and which south Sudan prides herself with.

Makerdit, like most schools in Warrap, is dilapidated and its record does not resonate with South Sudan’s otherwise impeccable educational record as it reflects government’s failure on education.

Because they are deprived of education, children from poor communities around the country grow through an insecure and uncertain childhood to an adult life whose sole preoccupation may be to escape poverty.

Many young people from most communities near the borders South Sudan have skipped the country to neighboring Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and elsewhere in search of something to survive on.

Some 10 years after the signing of Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) to the present time of our independence in 2011, to say some schools in rural South Sudan are in a deplorable state is an understatement; the situation for children from these communities is hopeless.

The current plight of these children is emblematic of the challenges other fragile and development starved societies face with regard to funding education.

Without sufficient investment of resources to equip the schools, {Liendhom} school children are at risk of losing their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire a basic education.

On a larger scale, their society will be starved of the human potential it needs to thrive in the long run. Unless government ropes in the international community to step up its investment in education there, and elsewhere in the countryside such as in Tonj East in Warrap; Liendnom, Mayian Abul,; part of Tonj South; Wathlang SS and Warrap SS; and to name, but a few areas, the prospects are slim that the country will recover even with the change of administration or the end of the economic crisis currently prevailing.

These poor schools should be government and an international community priority.

Responding to this wretched state of affairs is, not surprisingly, extraordinarily difficult. Getting dedicated teachers into these schools requires that they are remunerated for this physically and emotionally taxing work.

Makerdit Head teacher-in-charge Ustaz Joseph Ngor Chandit says the major problem is virtually everything at the school, from furniture, shortage of classrooms, water and teachers’ accommodation.

The school has an enrollment of 400 plus pupils. The shortage of classrooms is dire.

“There is no furniture in our classrooms; it’s difficult for them to write and when it is examination time, we ask them to bring their own furniture from home which is quite a challenge,” Ngor said.

“They are supposed to buy their own books, but you know the problem is that no one has the money to buy books and it’s a crisis. We have agriculture as a practical subject, but we are being limited because of the water crisis. The pupils have to walk for more than 4km to fetch water for use while others even bring their own drinking water from home.”

Another serious challenge Ngor spoke about is the shortage of classrooms as the only block of five small classrooms accommodates Grades 1-7 with some in most cases being bundled into one big classroom, never mind their different grades.

“We have Grade Six and Seven in the same classroom, Grades Four and Five in another, Grades One and Early Childhood Development classes usually learn outdoors because they have no classrooms,” Ngor added.

Another makeshift classroom resembles a pigsty and crèche-going pupils now resort to using the football pitch while others learn under a tree.

The pupils are expected to pay 450 ssp a term as school fees, but the parents hardly pay due to the economic meltdown in the country. This compromises the rural education of the pupils while government is conspicuous by its absence in assisting in the development of schools in that part of the country.

Acting Director for Education TSC, Ustaz Samuel Mayiik Mawien  said the parents did not have money to pay for the fees while others were just not interested.

“School fees is only 350 ssp, but they are not paying. We were supposed to meet as parents yesterday [last Sunday], but they never turned up; they can’t concentrate in giving children education,” Mayiik said.

The most touching scene was to be found later when some pupils went to the toilets to relieve themselves barefooted.

The area, according to parents who spoke to one of my source, provided probably the first largest number of votes for President Salva Kiir Mayardit and His SPLM during 2010’s harmonized elections, but they seem not to be rewarded for their unquestionable loyalty.

A distance from Makerdit Primary School, Liendnom Primary School had the roof of one of its classroom blocks blown off while at Malual kuon Primary School there was inadequate furniture as well.

The people’s only hope lies in the government that should naturally provide education for free in primary schools and the local political leadership which should take education seriously.

However, government is hard-pressed with other issues and the SPLM’s economic blueprint South Sudan Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation, a supposed panacea to the country’s woes is evidently dysfunctional.

The worst part is that government does not seem interested in donors to assist in the education sector judged by the tone of the SPLM’s election manifesto attacking “donorfication” of local education.

But the “donorfication” of education had, however, helped to improve education during the tenure of the inclusive government with pupils guaranteed of text books and exercise books through the Education Transitional Fund (ETF).

“With a literacy rate of males 40% and females, 16%, South Sudanese are a highly achievement-oriented people who value education as a key goal. The fact that education has become inherent to the goals of South Sudanese – as a result of SPLM’s widely acknowledged investment in education – has seen the rise of meritocracy as an important national goal especially among the youth who now make up the majority of the country’s population,” read the SPLM manifesto.

“This donorfication is driven by sinister motives inspired by the desire to uproot the architecture of education and health delivery built by SPLM since 2005 and widely acknowledged around the world as hallmarks of unparalleled success. This threat needs to be nipped in the bud to restore the people’s confidence in education and health delivery systems and to ensure their sustainability and relevance to the indigenous imperatives.”

Over the years, government has been accused of running down schools and neglecting rural populations or farms by not doing anything to refurbish infrastructure and subjecting pupils and teachers to inhumane treatment.

A case in point is an incident which happened two years ago which resulted in a 14 year-old pupil being killed when a makeshift classroom block at Owiny Kibul Primary School in Eastern Equartoria State collapsed killing her instantly in full view of other pupils.

The Makerdit story is a tragedy thousands of rural children and their dedicated teachers are facing on a daily basis, it is a story of neglect by those in the corridors of power who will always visit them during the election campaign period and not in their hour of need.

Reach me through my email address: [email protected].

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