South Sudanese Students Struggle to Get an Education

South Sudanese family

South Sudanese students are struggling to get the education they need.
Image: Vlad Karavaev /

Getting motivated enough to go to class—especially early in the morning—can be tough. But imagine if going to school were actually a daily threat to your life! For students in South Sudan, that’s their daily struggle.

South Sudan, located in East Africa, has the world’s highest population of children without an education. According to UNICEF, half of school-aged children in the country (1.8 million) don’t attend school at all. The reasons are varied, but poverty requiring them to work alongside their parents and traditional values that don’t support education for girls are two of the biggest problems.

As for the students who do manage to get to school, they are constantly risking their lives. Kidnappings and shootings are common since the 2011 separation of South Sudan from Sudan. In 2013 a civil war broke out between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar. Though a peace deal was signed in August of this year, tensions still run high—not a good setting for an already troubled school system.

More than 2 million people remain displaced, and about half the population (5.8 million) are struggling with hunger. That hasn’t stopped students from dedicating themselves to their education, though. Mary Kiden Yohana, a 14-year-old student in South Sudan’s capital city Juba, noted that “even if there is no food, we have a right to get an education.”

The quality of education available, however, isn’t ideal. “Many schools are organized in temporary shelters or under trees, and only two-thirds of them have sanitation,” reported Tizie Maphalala, a UNICEF education manager. In refugee camps, a “school” could be nothing more than a single classroom for students ages 3 to 17 where children receive only the most basic instruction in reading and math.

And for girls, there’s another barrier: ingrained cultural mores discourage them from getting an education. As a result, primary schools have seven girls for every ten boys, and the ratio falls to five girls for every ten boys in secondary schools. In 2013, there were only 500 high school senior girls in the whole country.

Still, these kids aren’t about to give up. “We want to learn, even during war,” said 12-year-old John Mabior Deng, who goes to school in the Mahad refugee camp. “Education will be the only thing to get us out of this situation.”


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