When I joined The Banaa Student Group over a year ago, I knew education was beneficial, but I was naïve as to how much. I have been amazed at how knowledgeable the Banaa Scholars are and at how seriously they take their education. Sudan and South Sudan need well-rounded people that are committed to a peaceful future for the countries. South Sudan is in dire need of committed people for education development, as it has one of the worst education systems in the world. The positive externalities associated with education are bountiful; the least of which are health development and peacebuilding.
South Sudan’s desire to develop and provide for its people is in stark contrast with its reality. South Sudan is believed to have the world’s worst literacy rate.1 It’s such a shame because the people of South Sudan have shown a high resilience and commitment to education. Survey evidence shows that South Sudanese parents identify schooling, alongside food and water, as being a major priority.2 According to a review written by former Prime Minister of the UK, Gordon Brown, “education has the potential to deliver an early, large and highly visible peace dividend.”2
To give due diligence, there is an education system that was in place at the time of the 2005 CPA peace accords. The Government of South Sudan did lay out an education strategy. However, only the initial foundations are in place, heavily supported by donors and NGOs, which have found ways of delivering results while helping to build up government capacity. Yet progress made is constantly threatened because of an economic and institutional deficiency in the country. One of the biggest examples of this deficiency is the lack of quantity and quality of schools and teachers.
Many teachers do not know how to manage a classroom full of students with different abilities and needs. One reason for this lack of quantity is that a generation of South Sudanese adults have been deprived of basic education.3 Another reason is the country’s decision to switch from Arabic to English as the language of instruction while many of the better qualified adults are learnt in Arabic.
This dearth of quality is why South Sudan ranks second to last in secondary education out of 134 countries. 2 The system of higher education in South Sudan is even worse. Not only are new universities suffering, which were set up to become centers of excellence in specific subjects, but so are established universities, like the University of Juba, which is suffering through economic and institutional deficiencies as well.3 For example, the University of Rumbek was meant to serve as colleges of education, economics, medicine, and agriculture. The first two have opened, only to be closed abruptly last year.3 It also does not help that there are ongoing conflicts with Sudan over oil.
So how impactful can Banaa be on one of the worst education systems in the world? All we can do is produce drops in a very large bucket, but the ripples that emerge have the potential to be very large indeed. South Sudan needs well-rounded people, within its own borders, who are committed to a peaceful future for their country. This is a defining aspect of being a Banaa Scholar. A commitment to peace means a commitment to education. Banaa Scholars have a high regard for education because of their own experience. They are future leaders in improving their country’s education. Educating a Sudanese and South Sudanese is not just about helping one person; it is about giving the critical tools that will allow passionate people to effectively help their country develop in a sustainable manner. The Scholars also serve as a vital link between Sudanese diaspora in the United States and the Sudanese communities back home. With the first Banaa Scholar, Makwei Mabior Deng, back in South Sudan, the country and its education system can only become better from the efforts of Makwei and future South Sudanese Banaa graduates!
George Washington University Class of 2014