With an adult literacy rate of 27% and only 10% of learners completing primary school, South Sudan needs to fast-track the education system.
The quality and pace of a country’s socioeconomic development is largely a reflection of its education system. Conscious of this, in 2013, the government of the Republic of South Sudan embarked on a major curriculum reform process to improve the status of education.
A new vision for a new country
The review of the curriculum was grounded on key legal documents, including the interim Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan (2011), the Education Act (2012), and the General Education Strategic Plan (2012- 2017), which guide education and the development of South Sudan.
The country’s vision has been clearly articulated in the National Curriculum Framework:
the curriculum would foster “peace and prosperity, growth and development, harmony and justice. The education of young people of South Sudan should be firmly rooted in their rich culture and heritage and to enable them to grow into true citizens of the world.” (Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, 2014)
The new curriculum is key to South Sudan’s identity as a country
This curriculum includes content that is up-to-date, relevant, balanced, gives due emphasis to all subject areas, and is consistent with international norms and expectations. It covers early childhood development, primary (8 years) and secondary (4 years) schooling, as well as alternative education.
The curriculum is designed to help young people learn about their shared national identity. It supports key values for the country including justice, democracy, tolerance and respect; these values need to become an essential part of young people’s lives.
Human rights and gender equity must also become the norm. Young people’s understanding of, and commitment to, these values is essential to the country’s future, and that’s why they are mainstreamed throughout the curriculum.
A launch in the presence of dignitaries
On September 8, 2015, the Vice President of South Sudan launched the first post-independence national curriculum. The event was attended by the British and Japanese Ambassadors as well as representatives from UNICEF, education donors, development partners and other key education stakeholders.
The ceremony marked a significant milestone for South Sudan: the ministry announced it had completed the design and content for all learning required for the general education, from grades 1 to 12, in the formal stream and grades 1 to 8 in the non-formal stream.
The launch also applauded the 200 education professionals (including 31 women) comprising curriculum designers, subject experts, university lecturers and teachers, alternative education specialists and facilitators, as well as curriculum experts from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), who worked with the Curriculum Foundation (UK) from 2013 to 2015 to design the new curriculum.
Renewed conflict makes teamwork challenging
Due to displacement as a result of the conflict in December 2013, the major challenge was to track local subject experts, to ensure representation of all ten States in the training and subsequent curriculum writing workshops that were organized periodically in Juba.
By April 2014, through various networks and tracking modalities including ‘word of mouth’, key specialists had been mobilized, forming a team of 140 who worked on the formal sub-system curriculum (early childhood, primary and secondary).
Then in January 2015 work on the alternative system (accelerated learning program and Community Girls Schools) started with 60 curriculum experts, teachers and alternative education practitioners.
Overall, the set of curriculum materials developed consists of the following:
- South Sudan Curriculum Framework
- Subject Overviews: Early childhood development; Primary 1 to 8; Secondary 1 to 4.
- Syllabi for all subjects: Primary 1 to 8; Secondary 1 to 4
- Subject overviews: Accelerated Learning Program (a four-year full primary education program) and syllabi
- Subject overviews: Community Girls Schools (a three year lower primary program) and syllabi
- Teacher’s Classroom Assessment Guide
South Sudan’s curriculum review process was initiated with DFID support and then as part of the Global Partnership for Education program. So far, the project has used US$2.5 million of the GPE grant.
More resources needed for textbooks
The curriculum launch is the first step in the curriculum review roadmap, which describes the steps leading to full operationalization of the new curriculum, while keeping the focus on improving enrollment and retention of learners.
The critical next steps are textbooks development; initiation of pre- and in-service teacher training aligned to this curriculum, training for school managers, inspectors and supervisors to provide the requisite management and oversight.
In total US$60 million is required to support the full implementation of the new curriculum, the largest expense being the procurement of textbooks.
Therefore it is urgent to mobilize domestic and external resources in order to achieve systematic roll-out of the new curriculum.
This is a hopeful start. The road is long but Africa’s youngest nation is now on a clearer path to support children’s education for improved learning outcomes.