Waging war against illiteracy

By: Sheila Ponnie

As South Sudan continues to recover from nearly a decade’s conflict, there is one battle that continues. It’s a war against illiteracy and it is being fought in the classrooms of informal, adult education centres that are being opened in the country.

Dianna Robert was sitting in the class of adult students, interacting with her classmates laughing on top her voice telling them how hard it was for her to make a decision to join school at an adult age

Robert is a 25-year-old adult student with four children; she attends an adult education programme sponsored by OXFAM. She says that she is ready study until she finishes school and graduate with degree so she too can get a better job just like the educated people and will be able to look after her family.

“My children are not going to school now; this makes me so sad. I am not educated, and I am now scared that they might end up like me because they are not going to school.”Robert said.

The Minister of General Education and Instructions Deng Deng Hoc Yei said adult education is a top priority, adding that it’s as important as formal form of education.

Yei explained that South Sudan education system is directed towards four goals that the National curriculum will pursue these are, one to develop good citizens, successful lifelong learners, creative active and productive individuals and environmentally responsible members of our society.

“Goal two emphasizes the importance of lifelong learning and we want everyone in the country to be a successful lifelong learner,”

 “Adults are now going through our literacy programs, including people in the organized forces the army, police the prison wardens.” 

Another student Rebecca Nyankiir Deng is a 47 year old mom with two children.  She is also an example of a growing number of South Sudanese adults who see the current reduction in hostilities as a chance to pursue long delayed dreams. 

“We are studying here because they are teaching us for free. If I had to pay for school I couldn’t be here,” Deng said.

“The General Education Act 2012 provides for free education programs especially focusing on basic adult education and basic literacy.”

Today, without an education, life is difficult for Rebecca. She makes and sells beaded jewellery, through the Roots Project but she makes so little money that she struggles to buy food and pay school fees for her 17-year-old daughter, Sunday, whom she attends class with.

“This life is hard the issue of food is hard, I keep collecting the little money I make,” she said adding that “if God gives me something small I eat if not we just stay. Now this small work I am doing if I get four thousand or five thousand it is what for feeding my family.”

 However, Rebecca admitted that education is important because before she joined, she was unable to read or even write her own name.

“When I started learning, I did not know anything, I did not know English but in the two years I have spent,  I have known  my name, if there is something to be signed, now I can look for my name and sign by myself,”

While smiling, she says “this is nice  if get educated  completely one day I will look for a job and I will get an office job and I will  be able to work ,”

Sunday Peter Wein a 17 years old is a daughter to Rebecca Deny she says that she is happy that her mother have taken a right decision to go back to school and she has now learnt a lot of  English alphabets such as A,B,C,D up to Z

“My mother has now learned a lot of English words such as greetings and that makes me happy. If I come home early, I help mum to do her homework.”

South Sudan has an adult literacy rate of only 27%, the lowest in the world.  Deng Deng Hoc Yai, says “the benefit of adult education is enormous”, and it allows people to pull themselves out of poverty, which is also one of the driving factors of migration.

The minister of general Education said being educated is vital at any level in the country.

“At the individual level, at the level of a country, with communities that have a lot of educated people, they will all be working, all be enjoying better health, they will be more peaceful compared to people who are illiterate.”

He added that those who are stuck in cattle rustling and ethnic fighting and clan fighting and the habit of cyclic killing, killing somebody else because that person or a relative of that person has killed a relative.  

“All these things can be improved, and can be addressed if we have better education in the country,” the Minister said

“Studies show that quality life depends on the quality of the education you receive, the quality of the job and how much you get paid in return for your services.”

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