Educational challenges in South Sudan

Written by Hassan A. Abusim

Education is one of the human rights that guarantee the continuity of generations and the steadiness of development and is one of the best tools for breaking the poverty cycle, as it is the basic building block for the building and renaissance of societies. The challenges of education for a country that recently gained its independence (2011) – the world’s newest nation, and occupies 2nd place on the (Fragile States Index) are extremely difficult and complex.

Agok Primary School, Abyei. Photo by Global Care.

What are the challenges for South Sudan?

In South Sudan, 70% of children aged between 6 and 17 have never set foot in a classroom. Only 10% of children complete primary education – one of the worst completion rates in the world. Shockingly, a girl in South Sudan is more likely to die in childbirth than to complete primary education.

A lack of quality teaching staff and inadequate school buildings are challenges that added to extreme poverty, as families desperately work for the next meal.

This is compounded by the violence and unrest militia groups bring to these poor communities. Thousands of young people join militia groups every year in the absence of any other source of livelihood, creating a vicious cycle of destruction.

Educational System

Unlike the previous educational system of regional Southern Sudan—which was modelled after the system used in the Republic of Sudan since 1990—the current educational system of the Republic of South Sudan follows the (8 + 4 + 4) system (similar to Kenya). Primary education consists of eight years, four years of secondary education, and four years of university instruction.

The primary language at all levels is English, as compared to the Republic of Sudan, where the language of instruction is Arabic. In 2007, South Sudan adopted English as the official language of communication. There is a severe shortage of English teachers and English-speaking teachers in the scientific and technical fields.

Education Development Plan

In 2010, South Sudan Development Plan (2011-13), through its two ministries of education, organized a conference titled the “The Education Reconstruction Development Forum.” The conference, intended to create a national dialogue about the fundamental problems in South Sudan’s educational infrastructure, did not have the intended effect “South Sudan Development Plan (2011-13)”. However, a persistent situation in South Sudan is a significant gender gap between teachers and students. The fact that the majority of teachers are male, with a near absence of female teachers further marginalizes female students, in particular.

Furthermore, a high school student-to-teacher ratio of 300 to 1 means that learning necessarily takes place in overcrowded classes. The lack of support staff such as librarians, school counsellors, and psychologists, which are staples in many educational systems and especially relevant for children with special needs, is evident as well. South Sudan also lacks modern technology, such as computers, for both teachers and students, from primary to university levels.

Challenges in the transportation system

Educational inequalities persist along rural and urban lines. For one, all 120 secondary schools are in South Sudan’s towns. Students from rural regions who want to obtain a secondary education must take on high transportation costs, which prevent some students from even trying. This challenge compounds upon others. Many rural South Sudanese families engage in cattle-keeping, for example, which forces school-aged children to migrate according to seasonal variations and economic pressures.

Challenges in Educational Facilities

Many school buildings have been decimated. In 2013, tensions between two major politicians spurred fighting between the Dinka and Nuer ethnic tribes. Thousands were killed and more than two million were displaced during the two-year civil war that followed. In the midst of this, 800 school buildings were destroyed. While 6,000 remained usable, almost all of them were stripped of vital educational resources and infrastructure. “Anywhere else, they wouldn’t be called schools. It’s a tree and a blackboard,” (UNICEF’s chief of education in South Sudan told NPR in 2016.)

Crowded primary classroom in South Sudan, where teacher-student ratios far outstrip international norms and there is little hope for individualized support, inclusive practices, or quality education. Photo by Windle Trust International.

A key question was asked of many targeted participants; “Since the independence of South Sudan, what do you view as the most pressing problem (s) in the educational system?

Participant responses to the key question posed by the interviewer as below:

ParticipantParticipant Responses
News Reporter“One of the greatest problems affecting our new country today is the continued problems and rivalries between the different tribes which has included severe violence and which has forced the government to pay a lot of money to police, security, and military forces. These problems are so severe that it is not unusual for the government to come to a complete standstill daily to the point that nothing functions in the country, not the transportation system, not the stores and markets, and not the schools. To me, the tribal problems, if not resolved, will bring this country down. I feel very bad for the children because, at times, no one seems to care for them, and many of them are likely to wander in life with no sense of contributing to their existence”. 
Minister of Education Representative #1“The major problem in the South Sudanese educational system is that we have no buildings for our students and teachers (Overcrowded Facilities). We, the government, keep telling them to be patient, but they want everything right away. This is a new country with other important priorities like our health care system, our refugee problem, our continuing problems with Sudan, and the mental health of the people affected by the war. Many of the citizens of our country have much emotional scarring from a war that traumatized everyone. They should consider themselves fortunate that we want to help them. Many of the people are illiterate, especially the parents of the children, and do not understand our mission as the new government. The President is trying very hard”
Minister of Education Representative #2“In our state and village, we keep being promised money to build our schools as the children are missing their right to free education. Everyone has the right under Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to education, and so do the children of South Sudan. First, the people from the north, the Sudanese government betrayed us and never cared about our education in the South, and now, it sometimes feels that our current government does not care. How can children learn when the schools are made of foliage and the teachers don’t get paid, or the children have to sit on the floor with no books, and are often sick?”

To discuss educational challenges in South Sudan.

Recommendation for the educational system development in South Sudan needs enormous help:

  • ‘Returnee’ schools be given immediate assistance, according to the priorities set by school management and education authorities
  • Agencies support schools outside Juba (the capital of South Sudan) to relieve the congestion in Juba town and provide boarding facilities to attract female students.
  • Agencies work with education authorities to establish policies to address quality and huge gender gaps in enrolment and attainment.
  • Support is provided to develop and procure English-language textbooks and provide intensive language training.
  • Literacy programs be targeted at adults who missed out on education to make them aware of its value and why they should send their children, including girls, to school


 The results of our observations that the current educational system in South Sudan continues to be in crisis mode, and perhaps even more so now that the country is in a civil war. Irrespective of age and role in education, the participants cited continued political strife, mistrust in the government and a chaotic economic system as contributing to the failure of education. The absence of a reliable transportation system also directly impacts the educational system in South Sudan; youth are dependent on transportation to get to school. Other problems voiced by the participants include the absence of school buildings, and the lack of basic resources such as books, teaching supplies, and computers. Overall, the needs are considerable for this new nation and are the result of a lack of economic resources in families; corruption and graft among school employees and administrators; the marginalization of female students and teachers; and a denial of basic human rights including the right to a continuous education.

  • Care, G. (2023, July 24). South Sudan Project. Retrieved from Global Care Organization:
  • Delegal, J. (2019). 8 FACTS ABOUT EDUCATION IN SOUTH SUDAN. The Borgen Project.
  • G., B. (2011). Education in Southern Sudan: Investing in a better future. London, England: Center for Universal Education, Brookings Institute.
  • John Kuek, R. J. (2014). HUNGER FOR AN EDUCATION: A RESEARCH ESSAY ON THE CASE OF SOUTH SUDAN AND THE VOICES OF ITS PEOPLE. Forum for International Research in Education, 22-31.
  • WIKIPEDIA. (2023, July 26). South Sudan. Retrieved from WIKIPEDIA website:

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