Coronavirus and the future of education in South Sudan

By Opio Jackson

With this year’s learning being interrupted due to coronavirus pandemic, many school children in the country are wondering what may be their future as cases of covid-19 keeps on increasing.

Nacy Ituro a primary eight pupil from St Theresa primary school, said she was worried whether school will be reopened this year.

She said the coronavirus will have massive impact on girl child education in this country given the exponential increase of coronavirus infections.

“For sure this coronavirus has affected us the candidates, we are supposed to be in secondary school next years but because of this coronavirus and school lockdown we shall the same class next year,” Nancy said.  

Dr.  Diana Moria, a resident of Juba said the coronavirus pandemic may hit hard on the education sector as nobody knows when school would reopened.

South Sudan confirmed its first case of coronavirus on 05th April but right now the infection is nearing 1000 cases.

Dr. Diana said right now everybody was focusing on food for survival since the lockdown had been eased despite the risk of contracting the virus.

“Most students would be affected if not all because they will just be playing, eating and sleeping and forget everything that link them to their education as they do not know when this covid-19 would come to an end while they are just there at home,” she said.

Dr. Diana appealed to the government to make the radio distance learning program accessible to all students across the country. “They should communicate with the students even if it is just a few lectures while observing the preventative measures against covid-19. Let the students be engaged so that they may actively participate in fighting this diseases,” she said.

Dr. Diana added that exponential infections of covid-19 in the country was likely to have negative impact on education since it was not clear when the schools would be reopened

She stressed that in the university there were some students who were supposed to complete their studies this year but had been delayed.

“The students will feel idle and you know in our culture girls mostly spend their time in the kitchen. After spending a long time at home they are likely to grab this chance to use for a certain activities, some may be productive while others may lead to their drop out of schools,” she explained.

“Especially for girls when the time passes they think they are delaying because nobody knows when this coronavirus will stop. They will feel like growing older and older and may take this opportunity to go for marriage,” Dr. Diana said.

According to World Vision, Forty-five percent of South Sudan’s population are children and an estimated 3.1 million have no access to school and any educational services. At least 60 percent of schools were either destroyed or partially damaged during the long-running conflict.

Amid the threats of COVID-19, the schools in the country were closed to help prevent the spread of the virus and keep the children safe in their own homes.

The organization said an estimated 1,900,000 children have lost learning opportunities and 35,000 teachers and volunteers at risk of losing jobs for an indefinite period of time as the pandemic evolves.

A local Non-Governmental Organization based in Maridi County, Western Equatroia State on Wednesday raised an alarm about the increasing rate in teenage pregnancies since school closures were announced as part of covid-19 preventive measures.

Egbandama Josephine, the Executive Director of Nutritional Protection Organization told Radio Miraya that they had recorded 19 pregnancies over the past few weeks.

She said the number had been confirmed by hospital and school authorities.

Ms. Josephine said the organization had embarked on an awareness campaign to educate girls on the dangers of early marriage.

The daily increase in the number of covid-19 infections is likely to affect the future of education in the country as nobody knows when the schools will reopen.

In South Sudan 52 percent of girls are married before their 18th birthday and 9 percent are married before the age of 15. According to United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), South Sudan has the seventh highest prevalence rate of child marriage in the world

The school closedown due to the coronavirus pandemic is most likely to act as favorable conditions for early marriage in the country.

On Wednesday, the administration of St Theresa primary school in Eastern Equatoria State said they had registered four pregnancies and one girl got married since the closure of the school due to coronavirus.

Tombe Joseph Head Teacher of the school told Juba Monitor that coronavirus was greatly affecting education in the country.

He said since the closure of the schools, there had been an increase in early pregnancies and unnecessary marriages among young school girls.

“In my school here, I have noted four girls who got pregnant and one who went for marriage making the total of five,” Tombe explained.

“I am very worried because it is still early, if one month continues I think maybe I will lose all the girls,” , referring to the rate at which girls were getting married in the state.

He said the five girls who went for marriage; one was in Primary eight, two in primary seven, one in primary four and one in primary six.

Tombe advised the pupils and students to continue reading their books during the school lockdown.

“For me I want to encourage all the learners not to give up let them be friendly to their books and also we have some parents who are teachers we need them to be close to their children,” he stressed.

Earlier the Ministry of Education in partnership with United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF)  and UN Mission in South Sudan launched a distance learning program for school going children currently at home due to coronavirus pandemic.

According to the program focus will be on the English, Mathematics and Science subjects.

However, Jame David Kolok Executive Director of Foundation for Democracy and Accountable Governance (FODAG) called on the government to focus on stopping the spread of the virus.

“Although it is a very good innovation by the Ministry of education at the time when the country is facing the threat of coronavirus pandemic, the primary focus of the government on covid-19 should be on ending the pandemic to allow stable and conducive environment for education and other social and economic aspects,” he said. 

He said government should instead focus at working hard and stop the errors of easing restriction when actually they were increasing cases of covid-19 infections.

Many experts said the government of South Sudan has failed to control the spread of the coronavirus in the country due to the lack of proper strategies to confront the disease as it quickly eased the lockdown despite spike in coronavirus cases in the country.

“The government need to focus and ensure there is robust process of ending this disease so that children are able to go back to school and have necessary environment where they can closely interact with teachers,” he stressed.

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