South Sudan: Adaptive Systems in a Conflict and Crisis Setting
The signing of Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) in January 2005 ended decades of civil war, which had devastated the education sector and saw education infrastructure targeted for destruction and occupation by armed groups. The end of the war created favorable conditions in southern Sudan for the rehabilitation and development of basic social services, including education. Education institutions and systems started to be put in place in 2005 with support from the international community. According to the United Nations’ Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Assistance (UNOCHA), school enrollment rose after the CPA from 0.7 million in 2005 to 1.4 million in 2009. Still, more than half of school-aged children were not enrolled in school.
An Enormous Task
The scale of institution building that was required in southern Sudan was enormous. There was no comprehensive education system and there was little, if any, institutional memory. All levels (central and decentralized) lacked personnel with the appropriate skills and training. Establishing systems of governance and a civil service with human resource policies, remuneration scales, service delivery capacity, defined roles and responsibilities, and a resource base were all critical tasks.
Reconciliation and reintegration were key elements of the new education system. The selection of national and decentralized-level education staff required balancing human resources. This included returning members of the diaspora and refugees with technical skills and knowledge, as well as former combatants whose expectations of some acknowledgment of their loyalty and extended service to a liberation movement needed to be satisfied by the nascent state with limited financial capacity. Decisions on staffing involved defining new roles for these various groups and building trust between emerging political institutions and populations.
In 2005, USAID, through the Sudan Basic Education Program (SBEP), provided technical assistance to the Secretariat of Education in restructuring to create an interim Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MoEST). The ministry’s departments, which are grouped according to function to encourage a coordinated approach to education service delivery with clear lines of communication and information-sharing, focused on developing a unified system of education with interim policies to guide the schools in mediums of instruction and curricula.
Given the limited capacity of the interim government of southern Sudan, development partners and non-government organizations continued to be at the forefront in education service delivery. Major USAID education programs included the following:
- The South Sudan Interactive Radio Instruction (SSIRI) (2004 – 2012) was designed and implemented to enhance the achievement of an increasingly stable South Sudan in the immediate post-CPA period. SSIRI’s mass delivery system provided a means to quickly deliver education services to a geographically scattered population.
- Technical Assistance Program (2005 – 2012) focused on meeting the immediate needs of Sudan’s State Ministry of Education and developed the capacity to create plans and programs in addition to improving implementation capacity.
- The Gender Equity through Education Program (GEE) (2007 – 2012) built on and expanded the accomplishments under the Gender Equity Support Program (GESP), 2002-2007, which promoted gender equity in secondary schools and teacher training institutes throughout southern Sudan by reducing financial, infrastructure, social, and institutional barriers that prevented females from attending secondary school and becoming teachers.
- The South Sudan Teacher Education Program (SSTEP) (2011 – 2014) focused on improving policy frameworks and management systems, access to and quality of teacher training, and access to teaching and learning materials, and grew out of previous activities.
Adaptive Systems: Return to Non-State Actors
Ongoing instability in South Sudan directly undermines an already weak Ministry of General Education and Instruction and makes it difficult to effectively provide basic education services. Beginning in 2015, congressional restrictions made it illegal to work with the government of South Sudan. Due to conflict, displacement, and a worsening economy, the out-of-school rate soared, reaching the world’s highest rate of 72% of primary age children.
As of 2018, 2.2 million children in South Sudan are out of school. USAID reoriented its approach to provide emergency education services through projects with UNICEF beginning in 2014, including the current three-year Integrated Essential Emergency Education Services project. Over the last four years, UNICEF has expanded its subgrantees to 37 non-governmental and local community-based groups, providing nationwide access to literacy, numeracy, and psychosocial support for 465,000 girls and boys. Capacity has been built within this non-state education system to conduct training for teachers, deliver conflict-sensitive materials, and conduct ongoing early grade reading and math assessments alongside risk analyses to discern continuous needs and inform flexible responses as the conflict continues.