The new term begins next week in South Sudan – amid overcrowding, security concerns, and the worry that some girls may choose marriage instead

by Plan International | @janelabous | Plan International
Monday, 24 February 2014 10:11 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“In a year we have five to ten students dropping out, pregnant or married. Given the current situation it could get worse.”

Michael, head-teacher of Gudele East Primary School in Juba, says there is uneasy calm amid the preparations for the new school term in South Sudan next week.

The school has already registered over 500 students, with 200 new pupils from Jonglei and Upper Nile (Malakal) who have moved to Juba as a result of the conflict.

Michael worries that lesson overcrowding will become a problem.

“In some cases we have over 180 to 215 students in one class,” he says.

Christopher, the school’s deputy head-teacher, says that some students are not returning because they fear backlash from the conflict.

“Students from certain communities who fear directed killings are not returning or registering,” he says.

“There are some of our students in the UN compound but they won't come back because of possible targeted killings directed toward people from their community.”

But according to Christopher, many other young people are eager to restart school.

“They're bored and tired of staying at home. Some say it is a big source of stress, and brings back lots of bad memories.”

Despite mixed feelings, some parents are determined to register their children.

Among them is Elikana, a father of three.

“I was worried when the crisis started. I don’t want to take my children to another country, because I want them to learn here in South Sudan. I hope this crisis comes to an end and my children can focus on their education and build their future.”

Susan, a mother of two, adds: “We went to the village with my children but I brought them back because I heard schools are opening and I don’t want them to miss out.”

Student Susan, 17, started school last year and says she isn’t scared to go back - but some girls will drop out to get married.

“Some of the girls from my class have already opted for marriage and I’m sure they won't return,” she explains.

Global humanitarian and children's rights organisation Plan International is setting up child-friendly spaces for children to play and connect.

It is also building temporary learning spaces offering opportunities to restart education.

“Thousands of conflict affected children are missing out on the start of the new term," says Unni Krishnan, head of Disasters and Preparedness at Plan. "This will have long lasting consequences. Education is a key catalyst for development and peace.

“South Sudan is a ‘newborn’ country. The needs and rights of children should find priority in relief and recovery efforts.

"Education and play sessions are essential to gain a sense of normalcy, and together they work as methods for recovery.”

Michael says he is still hopeful that by the time school resumes on Monday 24th February, classes will have reached the expected number of students.

“The school is planning to hold an awareness session to help students understand the current situation, and instigate mechanisms to help students recover quickly,” he says.

“Classes will include a strong component of trauma counselling with regard to the crisis.”