Challenges in Sudan’s Education System

Written by Anna Kordesch  

Education stands as a cornerstone of society, with children representing the future of our nation. It is imperative to invest in both their educational environments and their skill development. Such investment not only aligns with moral imperatives but also promises significant contributions to the future GDP of the country.  This statement, made by Owan Watkins, the communication chief at Unicef Sudan, underscores the vital importance of prioritizing education (Guardian, 2022).  

However, despite the recognized significance of education, approximately 6.4 million children in Sudan had their learning disrupted and suspended in April 2023, forcing them to abandon their education altogether. This raises a critical question: how did such a staggering number of children become deprived of their right to education? 

This article aims to address this pressing issue by analyzing the various factors contributing to the high incidence of out-of-school children in Sudan. Furthermore, it seeks to offer policy recommendations to mitigate this crisis. 

The article is structured into three main sections. The first section provides an overview of the general state of education in Sudan. Following this, the second section delves into the specific obstacles hindering schoolchildren in Sudan, which result in their inability to access education. Finally, the third section offers actionable policy recommendations to address these challenges and ensure a brighter educational future for Sudanese children. 

General State of Education in Sudan 

The ongoing political instability and conflict in Sudan have precipitated a dire humanitarian crisis within the country. While the 2020 Juba peace agreement offered a glimmer of hope for peace, its implementation has been uneven across regions, with power struggles exacerbating issues, particularly in the eastern region (Education Cannot Wait, 2022). 

Notably, the city of Darfur has been ravaged by waves of violence stemming from disputes over access to water and essential resources (Education Cannot Wait, 2022). Consequently, educational opportunities have been severely reduced, with only 37% of children in central Darfur able to attend school, leaving a staggering 63% deprived of their right to education. 

According to UNICEF, an estimated 19 million children in Sudan are currently out of school, equating to one in every three children Nationwide. The 6.5 million children whose learning has been disrupted due to violence and insecurity face further challenges as approximately 10,400 schools in conflict-affected areas have been forced to close (UNICEF, 2023).  

Mandeep O’Brien, a UNICEF Country Representative in Sudan, has warned that Sudan is on the brink of the worst education crisis globally. Children in Sudan, enduring the horrors of war for nearly a year, find themselves increasingly torn away from their classrooms, teachers, and friends. Such circumstances threaten to plunge them into a void that damages the future of an entire generation. In addition to the ongoing conflict within the country, Sudan faces a critical shortage of professionally trained teacher (Bent, 2023). This shortage results in an alarming ratio of one teacher attempting to educate anywhere from 77 to 140 children. This challenge is further compounded by a series of climate-induced disasters in recent years, along with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. These dual crises have not only precipitated dire economic conditions but have also left many struggling with health challenges, exacerbating the humanitarian situation in the country (Education Cannot Wait, 2022). The cumulative impact of these factors is evident in the staggering statistic that 19 million children in Sudan are currently not enrolled in school. 

Given the complexity and multitude of factors contributing to this educational crisis, there is an urgent need to dissect and analyze each cause separately to gain a comprehensive understanding of the gravity of the challenges facing education in Sudan. 

Violence and Conflict

The conflict that erupted on April 15th, 2023, between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) initially centered in Khartoum but swiftly escalated to engulf the western regions of the country, notably Darfur, resulting in widespread devastation. This conflict has led to a significant influx of forced displacement, both internally and across borders. By August 2023, over 3.6 million individuals have been internally displaced, including 1.4 million school-aged children (ReliefWeb, 2023).  

The impact on education has been profound, with more than half of the children enrolled in schools in conflict-affected states—approximately 6.5 million—being compelled to abandon their educational pursuits and learning centers. This alarming trend poses considerable risks, including heightened dropout rates, jeopardizing their safety and protection, and depriving them of a secure and conducive learning environment. 

The longer children remain out of school, the greater the likelihood that they will continue to be excluded from education and miss out on crucial psychological support. In Sudan, children are increasingly vulnerable to being coerced into early marriages, child labor, trafficking, as well as various forms of violence and exploitation. Beyond the physical dangers they face, the absence of access to life-saving assistance services within schools, such as meals, safe drinking water, hygiene facilities, and social interactions with peers and teachers, severely impairs their educational and overall experiences (ReliefWeb, 2023).   

It is widely recognized that education serves not only as a platform for imparting knowledge but also as a means of socializing children and instilling in them the norms and values necessary for integration into society. Therefore, the denial of education not only deprives children of essential learning but also undermines their development and ability to thrive in their communities as well as integrate them into the Sudanese society.  

Girls in Sudan are particularly vulnerable amid the ongoing violent conflict, often becoming victims of sexual abuse within their homes due to the absence of protective school environments (ReliefWeb, 2023). Additionally, inadequate hygiene and sanitation facilities in their homes further exacerbate their challenges, as they are accustomed to relying on the hygiene resources provided at school. 

The repercussions of girls’ inability to regularly attend school are profound and contribute to South Sudan having some of the lowest educational indicators globally (Girls’ Education South Sudan). For instance, only 16% of females aged 15 and above are literate, compared to 40% of males. This stark disparity underscores the urgent need to address the barriers preventing girls’ access to education and to create supportive environments that enable their participation. 

Cultural Norms

As depicted above, the challenges that women and girls’ education in Sudan face are multifaceted. This section will delve into some of the primary barriers beyond the prevalent violence in the country. One significant obstacle is the presence of unfavorable socio-cultural attitudes and practices that hinder the enrollment of girls and women in primary and higher education. 

These unfavorable socio-cultural attitudes and practices reinforce the notion that a woman’s or girl’s value is determined by the amount of bride price or dowry she can bring to her family upon marriage. Given that a majority of the population lives below the poverty line, marrying off a daughter is often seen as a means for families to obtain economic resources. This practice is further perpetuated by the reality that, for many Sudanese parents, sending their daughter or son to school is not truly considered a viable option. 

Environmental Crisis

Sudan is grappling with a multitude of environmental, social, and natural resource challenges, including deforestation, land degradation, loss of biodiversity and habitat, and pollution of air, land, and water. These issues have resulted in conflicts over dwindling natural resources, food insecurity, and inadequate waste management, as outlined by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (United Nations).  

The impact of climate-induced disasters on education is profound, with nearly half of learners enrolled in basic education attending schools lacking access to electricity (El Din Daoud Abd El Rhman, 15, 2022). Heavy flooding, particularly devastating during August and September 2022, destroyed over 600 schools, according to the Sudanese Education Ministry. Many of these schools now stand as mere shells of buildings, devoid of basic amenities such as furniture, running water, or toilets. Furthermore, the severity of climate-related disasters has forced 171 schools to serve as emergency shelters for displaced populations (ReliefWeb, 2023).  

Given the reliance of particularly girls on schools for access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities, the unavailability of such resources due to climate and violence-induced disasters further exacerbates the challenges faced by Sudanese communities. For girls schools play pivotal role in their lives, that if taken away will have far reaching consequences for them  (Education Cannot Wait, 2022). 

Teacher Shortage

Due to the ongoing civil war and economic downturn in Sudan, there has been a significant increase in the shortage of teachers. The deteriorating economic conditions in the country have rendered teachers’ salaries an unaffordable luxury for the Sudanese government (Oblewski, 2022). Consequently, many teachers opt to leave voluntary positions in pursuit of more financially secure careers, resulting in a scarcity of educators and causing numerous children to miss out on essential lessons. The situation is dire for many teachers, with some reporting that an entire year’s work may not even yield earnings surpassing $100. This shortage of educators often leads to one teacher being responsible for instructing classes comprising as many as 77 students, drastically compromising the quality of education (Windle Trust International).  

Furthermore, UNESCO’s findings indicate that only approximately 35% of primary school teachers in Sudan receive any form of training. Thus, even if children manage to avoid being drawn into the violent conflict and attend school, there is no guarantee that they will receive the quality education necessary to realize their full potential and break the cycle of poverty. The lack of teachers is compounded by a chronic underinvestment by the Sudanese government in its educational institutions. Addressing these systemic issues is crucial for improving educational outcomes and providing children with the opportunities they need to thrive. 

Underinvestment in Schools

Sudan’s allocation of a mere 9% of its total public expenditure to education has resulted in a shortage of schools and inadequate instructional materials (UNICEF Sudan, 7, 2021). This chronic underinvestment has led to a general lack of quality in the education system. The repercussions of this underinvestment are evident in the findings of the 2018 National Learning Assessment (NLA), which examined learning outcomes among third-grade students. While there have been some improvements in literacy levels, overall learning outcomes remain poor. Many children still struggle to read simple, familiar words. In mathematics, less than half of the children were able to correctly complete a basic addition exercise, and even fewer could carry out more complex level two addition exercises. These findings underscore the urgent need for increased investment in education to enhance learning outcomes and provide children with the foundational skills they need for future success (UNICEF Sudan, 7, 2021). 

Financial Burden

Another significant barrier hindering children from accessing education is the financial burden placed on parents. Despite the desire of many parents to send their children to school, rising education costs have made it increasingly unaffordable for families. Education is not only one of the most expensive national services but also one of the most challenging to maintain, adapt, and administer (El Hag Ali, 68, 1960). 

The combination of direct and indirect costs associated with education, such as school fees, uniforms, and school materials, serves as a deterrent for parents considering enrolling their children in school. Instead, some families opt to send their children to work to contribute to household income. While the Constitution of the Republic of North Sudan stipulates that basic education should be free, the reality is far from it. Primary and secondary schools often impose high fees on parents, further exacerbating financial barriers to education access (Girl’s Education South Sudan). 

Possibles Policies to be implemented

Given the current underdeveloped state of Sudan’s infrastructure, particularly in remote areas, the education system falls short of international standards. The following section will outline several policy recommendations to address these challenges: 

  1. Investment in Research: Allocating funding for education research in Sudan is crucial to address information gaps in key areas such as access, quality, and the psychosocial impact of conflict on students, teachers, and communities. Research-based policy interventions can help advocate for the importance of continuous and quality education, fostering awareness and support among stakeholders. 
  1. Increased Community Engagement: Policymakers, researchers, and international non-governmental organizations should collaborate closely with local communities to understand their unique educational needs and challenges. By actively seeking genuine feedback from communities, interventions can become more responsive to pressing needs, leading to more effective outcomes. 
  1. Support for Teacher Employment and Training: Enhancing support for teacher employment and training is essential for improving education quality in Sudan. Effective training programs for teachers, including those teaching displaced students in refugee host countries, can prepare educators to provide psychosocial support, adapt curricula, and foster inclusive, conflict-sensitive learning environments for all students. 
  1. Infrastructure Development: Increasing funding for infrastructure development is crucial to address the lack of quality educational facilities in Sudan. Building high-quality infrastructure, including formal and informal education institutions, can help preserve educational opportunities and contribute to post-war recovery and stability. By providing a foundation for rebuilding communities and societies, improved infrastructure plays a vital role in enhancing educational access and quality (EIAsad et al., 2023). 

By implementing these policy recommendations, Sudan can work towards addressing the challenges facing its education system and improving educational outcomes for all its citizens, particularly those in remote and conflict-affected areas. 


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