How Darling Wisdom Academy became the darling of Juba parents
By Paul Jimbo
When Education Minister Deng Deng Hoth finally announced the results of Senior Four results, one notable thing stood out, a newly established institution had sneaked itself in the list of top performing schools.
Many observers could not reconcile their minds with reality of how a newcomer could secure space and ultimately be ranked rightfully amongst top institutions as “best performers” in the national examination.
While the rest of the institutions on the list were traditional tenants and occupants of the top 10 best performing schools in country, it was the performance of the new child on the block, Darling Wisdom Academy that evoked emotions and sent tongues wagging even as it raised more eyebrows.
The school produced the best student in the country who scored 486 marks out of the possible 500 marks.
The results saw the institution celebrate its first anniversary in a colourful event attended by parents and stakeholders in the education sector.
Out of the 243 candidates who sat last year’s examinations, 240 passed the exams and even our last candidate did not fail as such,” says Arem Riak.
Darling Wisdom Academy was also ranked 3rd best in Jubek County’s school rankings in the Senior Four examinations.
To many in the world of academia, the institution had not only registered remarkable performance but also overall sterling standards in the just announced examination results.
Juba Monitor sought to find out the secret charm behind Darling Wisdom Academy’s performance. We caught up with a man who cuts himself an image and a niche of an optimist, a go-getter who would stop at nothing to realise his ambitions. Nobel Arem Riak is tall, heavily built, dark in skin complexion and owns a broad face like his institution’s big name.
Arem Riak a career banker traces his career background in the banking sector where he first served as a customer relations officer.
He would later be promoted to different positions in the bank. He saved much of his earnings with a dream to own a school one day.
Arem Riak’s dreams started translating into reality in 2014 when he acquired three plots. He had seen an opportunity in the education sector because of what he defined as “lack of schools” in South Sudan.
He knew very well that business of any type survives depending on its unique packaging.
In 2015, he secured a 60X20 metres plot on the Gudele Road before he begun registering his dream school. However as fate would have it, the 2016 conflict disrupted Arem Riak plans and so he had to wait until 2017 when the guns went silent.
Several challenges including financial instability continued to conspire with the post-conflict situation to complicate matters for the young entrepreneur.
“I knew very well that things would not be easy and so I had to fasten my belt, normally human beings have one weakness, accepting defeat when there is too much pressure on us. I never at any single point thought of giving up on my dreams, I knew one day I would provide the best education to my people,” says Arem Riak, with a tinge of smile on his broad face.
He says he saw an opportunity in operating a private school because he had done his research well.
“Even today, there is no single private school that is not full. That means there is a high demand for quality education,” Arem Riak says with easy.
Most of his huge expenses were incurred on physical infrastructure including classrooms, perimeter wall, toilets, learning equipment and hiring teachers.
As soon as Darling Wisdom Academy opened its gates in 2017, parents thronged the school, a situation Arem Riak defines as “overwhelming turn up”.
“The high number of parents who sought to enrol their children in our school spoke volumes about the thirst for education in our country,” Arem Riak, who doubles up as the institution’s executive Director narrates.
He knew very well that quality education comes with qualified teachers and so he sourced for teachers from neighbouring countries including Uganda and Kenya.
“With this, I knew the only language my students would communicate in with their teachers would be English and that is the situation here today, even our junior pupils speak English,” Arem Riak says.
Today, Darling Wisdom Academy boasts of 2,400 students’ population and more than 60 teachers to handle the learners.
“Our classes have an average of 70 pupils and this shows that we are already overstretched and cannot admit any extra pupils,” Arem Riak affirms.
This year, the institution has enrolled some 231 candidates to sit the national examinations and Arem Riak says, the school can only do better.
He however cautions on the notion that the institution could be focussing more on examinations rather than modelling the pupils into responsible citizens.
“We are the best so far, our teachers knock doors of classrooms on time and we start learning at 7.00am and we do our best to keep our standards because all our senior school teachers are graduates while those who serve in primary school have diplomas and degrees,” Arem Riak states.
Darling Wisdom Academy also has a boarding section, which hosts some 200 students.
The Makerere University Political Science alumnus also boasts of two other degrees; MBA from Kampala University and another Master of Arts degree in International Relations from Juba University.
He cites the high cost of acquiring land in Juba, operation costs including running generators, high costs of construction materials, insecurity and high transport costs as some of the major stumbling blocks in the education sector.
“I dream of owning a university in 10 years but that can only be realised if the government provides some incentives to investors in the education sector. The future of this country depends on an educated generation and that is my focus,” Arem Riak says.
Meno Jimmy is the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) Chairman. He knows the doubting tasks before him, which include ensuring healthy relations between teachers and parents or the community.
“We don’t send pupils away for school fees, instead we indicate any areas in their diaries so that parents can sort it out. We do not disrupt learning because of school fees like other institutions that send children back home because of school fees arrears,” he says with a mean smile on his face.
Jimmy, a legal practitioner by profession, knows very well some of the challenges that come with running an institution of Darling Wisdom Academy’s status.
“I am a parent of two pupils here and the way they treat them is really good, there is no single female student who has ever dropped out of school over indiscipline or even early pregnancy. We don’t tolerate any form of rights violations here,” he says as he clasps his hands.
He says he is inspired by the kind of discipline displayed by the teachers, more so the female teachers whose dressing standards do not distract the minds of male learners.
“I am also inspired that when I drop-off my children to school, they are accorded warm reception by the ever jovial teachers, my day ends well when I come in the evening to pick my kids and they are as clean as I dropped them in the morning.”
The institution recently introduced a bursary scheme where top 10 best performing pupils are allowed to study for free, they do not pay fees.
Hawa John is a mother of seven and a parent at the school. She says the management and administration of the school has inspired many parents to enrol their children in the institution.
“They teach our girls to be obedient and respectful, there is a bonding session with the pupils where teachers just spend time talking with learners on morals,” she says as she points at the institution’s storey administration block.
Hawa states that most parents are more concerned over their children’s discipline, more specifically female students and so the institution serves as a moral modelling camp.
Nyibol Dhel, 23, is a senior 3 students and praises her school’s administration of working very closely with the learners.
“The teachers talk to us about life experiences and challenges and we learn a lot, many girls think early marriage is a better option but I can tell them that there is a secret of the best options in education,” she says shyly.
Nyibol dreams of becoming a medical doctor in future and knows very well the secret to that route; focus in her studies and more emphasis on science-related courses.
Hellen Tumalu is a nursery class teacher. She is popularly known as “facilitator” because she handles pupils as young as two-years-old. The nursery class brags of 60 pupils aided by four instructors.
“We handle learners at the very beginning of the learning process, this is very critical because we teach them how to speak, know, identify, differentiate things, use toilet, sit down and even relate to others. This is really sensitive because each child has some unique strength and capacity,” Hellen says.
She opens up that she draws her motivation from the fact that teachers are responsible for modelling renowned people in the society.
“I feel proud when I learn that one of my former students has become a doctor or a lawyer of a famous personality, that is the source of my satisfaction,” Hellen says.