South Sudan: Promoting education as a tool of development and peace
08 September 2011

A woman during an adult literacy lesson in South Sudan. Only 12 percent of women in the new-born nation are literate. (Angela Hellmuth/JRS)
With a literacy rate standing at 24 percent, South Sudan is one of the countries with the lowest literacy levels in the world. Only 12 percent of women in the new-born nation are literate.
Lobone, 8 September 2011 – Every year on September 8 since 1965, the world commemorates International Literacy Day to draw attention to the importance of education as a fundamental human right, a tool for personal empowerment and a means for development. 

However, while the number of illiterate persons has fallen over the past decade, 793 million adults of whom 64 percent are women, still lack basic reading and writing skills. Among the youth, more than 127 million are illiterate, of whom 60.7 percent are girls. More than 21 percent of all illiterate adults live in sub-Saharan Africa.

The international community has pledged to improve adult literacy levels by 50 percent between 2000 and 2015 and initiatives like the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and the Education For All movement have partly contributed to an improvement in literacy levels.

Literacy rate in South Sudan one of the lowest

With a literacy rate standing at 24 percent, South Sudan is one of the countries with the lowest literacy levels in the world. Only 12 percent of women in the new-born nation are literate, according to the latest UNESCO statistics.

"Here in South Sudan,having gone through more than two decades of civil war, we look at literacy and education as a tool to promote peace", says JRS Project Director in Lobone, Lam Leone Ferem. 

"Education is an essential tool to eradicate poverty, reduce child mortality, curb population growth, achieve gender equality and ensure sustainable development, stability and democracy", explains Mr Ferem. "But the task ahead is tremendous. Now that we have acquired independence, education needs urgent attention", he adds.

Benefits of education 

Thirty-four year-old John* is a good example of how literacy skills can improve lives. Having started primary school in 1995 when he was 18 years old, he dropped out three years later because he did not feel comfortable being in one class with students who were so much younger than him.  

"In 2008, I decided to join adult education classes and now I can write letters to my family and read the letters they send me," he says. "I run a shop in the morning before going to the learning centre and through the skills and knowledge I gain through the lessons, I can calculate my profits and losses in the shop," explains John. 

"I wanted to learn how to write my name so that nobody would have to write it for me," says 37-year-old Jane* who returned to Lobone from Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya in 1998 and enrolled for primary school a year later. 

Just before completing her first year, she dropped out because she was offered a job as a cook, and later as a cleaner. In between the two jobs she registered for adult literacy classes but dropped out again. When she lost her job as a cleaner, she rejoined the classes in 2009. Now she is at an advanced level of the course. 

"It is good to be literate and I am happy to have access to education, even at an older age," she says. "I run a small business selling cooking oil. Now that I have literacy skills, people can't cheat me anymore because I can do all calculations myself," she adds.

The benefits of education are numerous. A good quality basic education equips pupils with literacy skills for life. Literate parents are more likely to send their children to school and a literate population will always look for ways to expand their education. Moreover, literate societies are better equipped to meet pressing challenges, they will have an improved life quality and will ideally have a positive influence on the world they live in.

JRS's contribution

For more than two decades, JRS has worked to improve literacy levels among South Sudanese by providing a wide range of educational activities. In Lobone,JRS provides education to more than 5,800 adult learners and students through five adult learning centres, five nursery schools, nine primary schools and three secondary schools. 

Support includes capacity building for adult literacy instructors and teachers through workshops, in-service training and sponsorships to higher learning institutes, construction and renovation of five classroom and four latrine blocks, an administration building and a laboratory since 2009, provision of stationery and school materials and sponsoring of 15 adults who have completed their literacy training to vocational training institutions. JRS also provides peace education and pastoral services.

*not his/her real name

Press Contact Information
Angelika Mendes
+254 20 3874152