The Need for Education in the Midst of Conflict

1 December 2015

During periods of conflict, aid funding for education falls in preference, with humanitarian organisations choosing to focus on food and health provisions. An Education for All report has shown that aid for education has fallen overall since 2010 by around £850 million, with around only 10% of aid going to the sector. Furthermore, national income spending on education in conflict-affected countries is far below global average.

It is perhaps unsurprising that education’s ability to function once conflict takes hold of a nation, and the availability of financial resources, is far removed from global expectations. But education’s descent on the list of priorities is not completely justifiable. Education is a foundation from which a warring nation can build a peaceful future. During times of conflict, finance and support for education needs to be sustained.

The current humanitarian situation in South Sudan is critical. Despite the signing of the peace agreement in August, violence has persisted. The conflict has seen over 2 million people displaced and 4.6 million facing severe food insecurity. The numbers of people killed due to the violence is inconclusive, with estimates ranging from 10,000 to 50,000. These numbers do not take into account those who have died from disease.

The situation in Sudan is also desperate. As of 2014, 3.1 million are displaced across Sudan, with continuing outbreaks of violence, despite calls for ceasefires. In South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions, also known as the Two Areas, government forces, led by Bashir, have persisted to bomb and attack civilians and the SPLM-N rebels.  Between January and August 2015, over 250 attacks against civilians in South Kordofan were recorded. This includes aerial bombardment, shelling and abductions.

Taken on a HART visit to Sudan

In periods of extreme fragility, conflict and strife, the impact on education can understandably be devastating. In regions where educational development is already struggling, the consequences can be devastating. A report by UNICEF, released in September 2015, stated that of the 7.9 million school-aged children in Sudan 3.1 million were not attending school. 47% of school aged children in Blue Nile are out of school, 37% in South Kordofan. These are some of the highest rates for regions in Sudan.

UN-OCHA suggest around 2 million South Sudanese are in need of education. A report from 2012 stated that over 1 million children are out of primary school and enrolment in secondary school was less than 10%. This was before the outbreak of the civil war. 35% of teachers “have only a primary level of education”. In South Sudan’s most battle-ridden states, 70% of schools are reported to have been closed since the fighting started and “hundreds of thousands” have been forced to drop out due to the violence.

In February 2015 a team from HART visited South Sudan and the Blue Nile state across the border in Sudan. Whilst visiting partners in the region to discuss their needs for aid, the team heard first-hand experiences of those facing the conflicts. Nagwa Konda, the Executive Director of NRRDO, told of students sitting exams under the peril of aerial bombardment in Blue Nile state. The students were told to bring a heavy stone with them, not as a symbol of strength but to stop the papers from “blowing away” when the planes fly over;

“What you need to do, calmly, is pick up the stone, put it over your paper, and lie down until the plane goes. Because if they start running around, if it drops the bomb, it would hurt so many people… wait for the plane to pass and then go back, gather your strength and start again”.

Nuba Reports recently recounted how teachers in the villages on the outskirts of the Nuba region, would walk for miles “sometimes days in 90 degree heat to take notes from one of the few outdated textbooks in Kauda and bring the scraps back to their students”. The report includes an interview with Tijani Timma, the secretary of education in the self-proclaimed government, whilst he “awaits the arrival of an illegal chalk haul at his office”.

This brave determination to maintain a standard of education in periods of extreme violence is not uncommon. A collective report from a number of aid agencies indicated that the improvement of education was high up on the list of priorities for South Sudanese people. War Child states that not only do schools provide, usually, a safe social environment, but also teach children ways to stay healthy and combat disease. These are some immediate benefits of education during conflict, but a report from UNESCO has emphasised the longer term and cultural advantages of education in conflict zones. Increased education has been linked with higher rates of voting. By cultivating an interest in politics and decision-making activism and campaigning increases. More voices and opinions want to be heard as participation rises, which leads to a more democratised society. The recent AU report on South Sudan stated that civil society is vital for “galvanising” participation, and education directly feeds into it. As suggested in a USAID article, without education, South Sudan will not be able to reach its full peaceful potential, and the same should be said of the Two Areas.

The UNESCO report also stated that higher levels of education build tolerance for diversity amongst society. In countries where violence is sometimes a result of ethnic or religious tensions, with Sudan and South Sudan being no exception, this is a crucial step. The report also suggested that cities in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia that saw an increase in secondary education between 1960 and 2006 also saw a decrease in the number of lethal events.

A girl attending the Marial Bai Secondary School, established by the VAD Foundation, in Warrap encapsulates the peaceful ambition that education can nurture: “When I finish school, I want to be a doctor and help my nation, those in my community, and others from outside. My biggest challenge is that I want to go to university, but I don’t know if I will be able to do that”.

Education’s role in conflict periods has not been ignored. The UN developed the Safe Schools Declaration, which has now been signed by 51 states, to show support “for the protection and continuation of education in armed conflict”. Sudan and South Sudan are amongst those who have put their name to the declaration.

HART works with partners in Sudan and South Sudan to help provide educational opportunities for those that live there. Marol Academy, in Bahr-El-Ghazal, opened in 2008, giving free education to over 700 students. The school describes itself as ‘a girls schools, which boys can attend’, stressing the need for education to reach out equally to both boys and girls, as school attendance and literacy rates are significantly lower for women (for more analysis on how HART promotes education for girls, read our recent blog). Marol Academy wants to work towards “sustainable education”, offering training to teachers with plans to become a teacher training centre in the region.

In Sudan, HART works with The Nuba Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Organisation (NRRDO), based in the Nuba Mountains. The organisation, formed in 1993, has carried out a number of community-led projects from food security to gender equality. Education is a priority concern for NRRDO, they help run “179 primary schools for almost 40,000 pupils”. But with much of the Nuba population illiterate, the NRRDO seeks further improvement, including mitigating the dropout rate. Through the difficulties faced in achieving their targets of improved access to quality education, there is a strong determination and belief that “education is key to their liberation”.

The educational work that HART supports in Sudan and South Sudan is vital for promoting and encouraging new generations to form peaceful and stable communities.


Disclaimer: This blog is a space for discussion and personal reflection. Any opinions expressed within the blog are those of the author and are not necessarily held by HART. Individual authors are responsible for the accuracy of statements made within the blog.

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