Iguacu Blog

A right to education. Can South Sudanese children defy the odds to get an education?

Oct 18, 2017
A right to education. Can South Sudanese children defy the odds to get an education?
Blandine Sixdenier
Lead Researcher, Central Africa, Due Diligence Coordinator

Blandine holds a Masters in Conflict Studies from the LSE and a BA in Political Science from Université Laval. She formerly worked at the French Ministry of Defense and at Advention Business Partners. She speaks French and English.

In a country where 70% of the population is under 25 year-old, four years of civil war has jeopardized an entire generation. Today, 4.6 million South Sudanese children need humanitarian assistance, 2 million have been displaced and 17,000 have been recruited into armed groups.

Amid this chaotic situation, many children have had their right to education denied, shattering their dreams to build a better future for themselves. A third of schools in South Sudan have been damaged or destroyed. Schools operating both in South Sudan and in refugee camps abroad, lack teachers and schooling materials. South Sudan also holds the unenviable record of the highest proportion of children not attending school.

“It would make me very sad if my dream of becoming a pilot could not come true” said 16 year-old Nyahok
A student with his book at the Kapuri school’s current facilities, implemented by the local community and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). | Photo Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

Against the odds, South Sudanese children inside and outside of the country, continue battling to access knowledge and change their future.


The 2012 General Education Act made primary education free and compulsory for children in South Sudan. However, decades of conflict have left the educational system almost non-existent, even operational schools lack trained professionals, suitable infrastructure and learning materials. Student security and malnutrition are major issues, which negatively impact on learners’ access to education.

In 2016 the number of teachers decreased by 31% due to unpaid salaries, 1 in 4 school that were opened in 2013 have since closed due to insecurity, and only 38% of schools had permanent structures. While September marked the beginning of the year’s last semester, over two million children will not be attending school. Over two thirds of girls in South Sudan have no access to education, the highest proportion of girls out of school anywhere in the world.

“My future may seem bleak for now, but with education and hopefully peace in my country, a better day will come for me, for my family and for the people of my country” said 15 year-old Tamam
A child holds up a map in the Protection of Civilians site in Bor, South Sudan. | Photo Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

To respond to the crisis, humanitarian organizations have set up emergency strategies to help children continue their education. So far this year, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), along with its partners, has ensured 300,000 children have had access to formal education, trained over 8,000 teachers and parent-teachers. In addition, cash initiatives have proven to keep children in school. Allowing students to buy the materials they need and helping them reduce poverty within their families. In 2017, Girls’ Education South Sudan will provide cash incentives to over 200,000 female students across the country.


Two decades ago, South Sudan’s struggle for independence gained international attention for creating a lost generation. Known as the Lost Boys, over 20,000 children walked for weeks to flee to neighboring countries. Today history is repeating itself. The civil war has forced 2 million people to flee, of which over 60% are children.

The number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda surpassed a million in August. While Uganda grants access to basic services, including education to refugees, it has struggled with the sheer volume of new arrivals.

“We need quite a lot. We need permanent buildings, and the sanitation is not good” explained Julius, teacher in one of Bidi Bidi settlement’s school

Portrait of a former school teacher. | Photo Credit: Alyona Synenko/ ICRC

In the Bidi Bidi settlement in Uganda, the world’s largest refugee camp, schools consist of overcrowded tents with an average of 100 students per teacher. Schooling materials such as notebooks, pens and textbooks are sorely lacking. In Yangani school, there are only 279 textbooks for 5,000 students.

Despite Uganda’s generous policy, and the support of humanitarian organizations, 40% of primary-school-aged children are not in class. The percentage increases to 80% for secondary-school-aged teenagers.

The opportunities to access education are even more dire in the other neighboring countries hosting South Sudanese refugees. For instance, in Ethiopia, getting an education is a privilege that less than 10% of secondary-school-aged refugees have.


South Sudan ranks among the world’s worst countries for literacy, with 70% of its population that is not able to read and write. Education has the power to help improve South Sudan’s economy, enhance social development, assist with peace efforts, and enable citizens to elevate their families from poverty. Right now the standards, provisions, and application of education throughout the country are falling well short for the vast majority of learners. And this has to change.

Amir Nasser, 12, young businessman, Jamam refugee camp. Two small makeshift schools are now open in Jamam, but these cannot accommodate all the children in the camp. | Photo Credit: Oxfam International

“I want to be a businessman when I grow up” said 16 year-old John

While the four-year civil war has stolen the childhood of millions of South Sudanese children, they have not given up on their hope to get an education. The messages of South Sudanese children inside and outside the country is clear, they want to go to school and realize their dreams.

Want to learn more about the conflict in South Sudan?  Head to weareiguacu.org/south-sudan.

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