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South Sudan Students, Teachers Back in School After 14-month Lockdown

FILE - South Sudanese children sit an exam in a high school in Aweil.
FILE - South Sudanese children sit an exam in a high school in Aweil.

Primary and secondary schools across South Sudan reopened Monday, a little more than one year after they were closed in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Hussain Abdelbagi, head of the South Sudan task force on COVID-19, urged teachers and students to continue social distancing and adhere to all other preventative guidelines as they return to classrooms.

At the launch of the back-to-school campaign at Juba One Primary School on Monday, Abdelbagi said the government decided to reopen schools after seeing a significant drop in COVID-19 cases across the country. She urged all teachers to get fully vaccinated, noting the government has opened more vaccination centers.

“We are going to increase the centers to ten centers across Juba and the states, so we want all our teachers to go to the vaccination centers to get COVID-19 green cards against coronavirus,” said Abdelbagi.

Over the next few months, the government will send COVID-19 committees to various schools to assess whether teachers have been adhering to the health ministry’s preventative guidelines, according to Abdelbagi.

General education minister Awut Deng warned the government will not hesitate to close schools again if students and teachers fail to social distance and wear face masks.

But Deng called on parents across the country to send their sons and daughters back to school.

“All the children in the country must report back to school, girls and boys together.” said Deng. This is our responsibility as parents to ensure that our children are encouraged and supported to report back to school.”

Deng assured teachers that the education ministry will improve working conditions for teachers, especially during the pandemic.

When the academic year ended just six weeks after it began last year, many students worried they would never be able to sit for their final exams and finish their education.

Eighteen-year-old Randa Wani said she is excited to return to school and meet her new teachers and classmates.

“I have missed many things that I was supposed to get when I was in class,” Wani told South Sudan in Focus. “But with the schools reopening, I expect the new curriculum to be taken seriously, where it involves deep learning and is student-centered, so I expect that the new curriculum should be put in place and students have to be very serious about the curriculum for their own benefit.”

The lockdown deeply affected students and instructors, said George Kenyi, the head teacher at Juba Day Secondary School. He said many boys dropped out of online classes to try to earn an income while many girls either became pregnant or got married.

He said teachers are happy to be back in school and are eager to help students with their work as they did recently with Senior Four students who were preparing to take leaving exams.

“We were adhering to COVID-19 ministry of health protocols where social distancing is observed and people must have face masks and washing throughout,” Kenyi told South Sudan in Focus. “Although with washing hands there are a lot of challenges because it needs continuous pouring of water, sanitizers and washing with soap, but with the major sources [of funds] that we have, we have secured all these things so that it pushes us.”

The government closed all schools including universities on March 20 last year to help prevent the spread of the virus.

South Sudan has recorded 115 COVID-19 deaths, 10,312 recoveries, and 10,604 cases overall.