South Sudan charts own course in education

Wed Jan 28, 2009 10:03pm EST
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By Skye Wheeler

JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - Sudan has been at peace for four years but school principal Alex Esau still has some daunting problems, from massively swollen classrooms to undertrained staff and pupils who riot when their teachers have not been paid.

The struggle to educate children has become more meaningful as southern Sudan implements a new school syllabus that reflects its culture and heritage.

A large cultural gap between the Arab-oriented, Islamic north and the black, mostly Christian south was central to Sudan's conflict. Southern insurgents complained that Khartoum, the capital, suppressed their African identity.

Most countries in Africa have been responsible for their own education since they were freed from colonialism in the mid 20th century. Semi-independent from the north since a 2005 peace deal ended 50 years of on-off insurgency, southern Sudan is trying to catch up.

An English-language south-specific primary school syllabus was introduced in 2007 and last year secondary schools were given their own curriculum for some subjects.

"Our new syllabus reflects the identity of the south. That is a very important thing," Esau said.

Before the new syllabus, Esau taught from English translations of Sudan's Arabic-language national curriculum, but students struggled. Names, behavior and settings from the arid, Arab-focused north were mysterious.

"They'd never even seen a camel," Esau laughed.   Continued...

<p>Children in St Joseph's School in Juba work in preparation for examinations in January 2009. REUTERS/Skye Wheler</p>