Southern Sudan: JRS pilots mother tongue instruction in six primary schools
22 February 2011

A primary school student in Kajo Keji, Southern Sudan. By introducing mother tongue instruction, JRS hopes to increase performance. (Angelika Mendes/JRS)
“The language is disappearing, and when it is going, you lose your identity.”
Kajo Keji, 22 February 2011 – In collaboration with county education officials, head teachers, and community members, JRS has started mother tongue instruction in six schools in Kajo Keji County, Southern Sudan. 

These schools will teach and examine Bari, which is the mother tongue for 90 percent of the residents of Kajo Keji County, as a subject in the county-wide exams. They will also use Bari as a mode of instruction in the lower primary classes. 

“We are starting small, with a pilot program of six schools,” said Londo Edward Eliason, JRS primary education coordinator. “Once these are showing to be successful, it will become easier for the government to continue to implement this programme throughout the county.”  

Revamping an old idea

In Kajo Keji, formal schools initiated under British rule were taught in Bari. During the first Sudanese civil war, schools were required to teach in Arabic. Later, mother tongue instruction was reintroduced but not on a consistent basis, and then during the second civil war, mother tongue instruction was completely lost. 

“We are grateful for these ideas,” said Alex Taban, a parent at Jalimo. “The language is disappearing, and when it is going, you lose your identity.” 

For more than fifty years academic research, policy agencies and governments all over Africa have promoted or directly supported mother tongue instruction alongside instruction in national (colonial) languages. This is not only because of its positive effects on maintaining cultural/linguistic identity, but also because instruction and learning in a second language is facilitated by proper learning of a first language. 

Enhancing performance through mother tongue instruction 

Based on knowledge of this research, head teachers of JRS-supported schools and JRS staff began to examine the possibility of mother tongue instruction in Kajo Keji in 2010. They soon discovered that not only was it best practice; mother tongue instruction was also the official policy for schools in Central Equatoria State. 

In Juba, capital of Southern Sudan, elders, government officials, and partner organisations, such as the Summer Institute of Linguistics, an international NGO that specialises in mother tongue literacy, and IBIS, an international NGO working in education, are working towards introducing mother tongue instruction throughout Central Equatoria State within the coming years. 

JRS Southern Sudan education coordinator, Francis Biryaho, has met with members from this group to coordinate JRS efforts in Kajo Keji with the broader government programme. As JRS Kajo Keji moves forward with implementation, it will be in collaboration with these other NGOs and with the government. 

JRS working with Parents and the Community to Promote Change

With a population that consists almost uniformly of Bari native speakers, implementation in Kajo Keji County is easier than in other counties with mixed populations. The major obstacles to effective implementation include the lack of trained Bari teachers and the lack of instructional materials. 

Many government teachers are not literate in Bari, as they grew up and were educated in exile, where schooling was mostly in English. As such, most participating schools have had to recruit volunteer teachers, who are not on government payroll but who were taught or trained in Bari between civil wars. 

These volunteer teachers will depend on the financial support of the parents and school communities for their work. In order to secure this support, JRS met with parents and school communities of the pilot schools, and found overwhelming support. 

“This has been disturbing us so much, because these children can not write their mother tongue. We welcome this idea so much,” said the school management chair at Loopo Primary School. 

Parents and school management members at the pilot schools agreed to advocate with other parents to raise funds for the programme. 

In collaboration with the county, JRS will provide as much technical and material support as possible. Already, several Bari books have been secured from different sources within the community. In addition, the Summer Institute of Linguistics has provided some additional materials. 

County support for mother tongue instruction

Although the official government mother tongue programme is still in the planning stages, the Kajo Keji County Education Department is helping to promote this plan. 

At the sub-county and county level, enthusiasm for mother tongue instruction is high. Inspectors and officials have agreed to help give technical assistance to participating schools, and are urging JRS to extend their efforts to all county schools.

JRS has been present in Kajo Keji since 2001, supporting 26 primary schools and promoting peace building activities. The organisation will withdraw from its activities in Southern Sudan in 2012.

Press Contact Information
Angelika Mendes
+254 20 3874152