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Millions of South Sudanese Children Remain out of School

FILE - Children play with hula hoops at the Children Friendly Space, run by UNICEF at the United Nations Missions in South Sudan (UNMISS) Protection of Civilians site, in Juba, South Sudan, Jan. 15, 2016.
FILE - Children play with hula hoops at the Children Friendly Space, run by UNICEF at the United Nations Missions in South Sudan (UNMISS) Protection of Civilians site, in Juba, South Sudan, Jan. 15, 2016.

South Sudan education officials say they are concerned about the 2.8 million children who are not going to school across the country.

Kuyok Abol Kuyok, undersecretary in South Sudan’s general education ministry, said Wednesday that millions of children — mostly girls — are not attending school largely due to two reasons: insufficient access and teachers.

“There are places where schools are not there, but the main issue is teachers. We need to make sure that teachers come back to school. We are doing a campaign," Kuyok told VOA.

The education ministry is organizing a five-day community conference in Warrap next week when Kuyok said officials will talk to chiefs, traditional leaders and women’s groups about education, “especially girls education.”

Last month, President Salva Kiir directed government ministries to ensure that primary and secondary education is free in all public schools.

The general education minister has written letters to state governments calling on them to implement the president’s directive, Kuyok told VOA.

He said the ministry of finance and planning has released 1 billion South Sudanese pounds in capital grants to support primary schools so that parents are no longer charged registration fees.

The grants target more than 4,000 public schools across the country including government, community-run and faith-based schools.

“We must make sure that schools don’t prevent children from attending classes. They have to be enrolled, whether they have uniforms or not. There should be no reason for a public school to prevent children from registering,” Kuyok said.

Kuyok warned “there will be consequences” if the ministry learns a school is asking parents to pay money. “As we speak now, some headmasters are in trouble for asking parents to pay registration fees,” he added.

The education ministry will soon kick off a public campaign to educate parents, school administrators and teachers about the free public education program in South Sudan, according to Kuyok.

One head teacher of a government-owned primary school, who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said his school is still requiring registration fees be paid by parents because the government has yet to send the grant money.

“Concerning this decree, until now there is no money released for the schools to run the services. Until now since schools opened on February 6th, there is no money. And now we are still waiting. When the funds come, we shall register pupils without anything,” said the Juba head teacher.

The head teacher said his school had been charging parents 32,000 South Sudanese pounds in what is known as “support funds” to the school.

At the same school, a parent who brought her daughter to be enrolled told VOA she was asked to pay 34,000 South Sudanese pounds for registration and school fees. She said she is not aware of the government directive about free education for all school-aged children.

Alek Regina, a Juba parent of three, said of all her children are out of school because the school that her children used to attend is still demanding feed to be paid by parents.

“My children are staying at home because the school administrators are demanding 20,000 (SSP) in order to register my girls in school. They told me that they cannot register my children without the registration fees. That is why my children are staying at home,” Regina told VOA.

Education officials acknowledge that the country’s private schools have better facilities and resources than public schools.

Kuyok said the government increased the national education budget this fiscal year to 12.5% from 6% of the total budget. Aside from providing free public education, he said the government is also addressing issue of unpaid teacher salaries.