By John J. Lujang Wani, Ministry of Education, South Sudan.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, committed itself to the Education for All (EFA) goals and education Millennium Development Goal (MDG) and began collecting educational data in 2011. South Sudan has been working towards achieving these international education goals by making sure the Ministry of Education engages in a range of programmes with the aim of ensuring that all children in the country, by the time they complete primary school, are well equipped with basic reading and writing skills and are prepared for post-primary education.
Efforts to widen access and quality education services are very important for a state like South Sudan emerging from conflict and fragility, to establish a sense of security, development and prosperity for the people. To achieve the goal of providing a quality education service, the ministry planned specialized programme activities that included teacher preparation and curriculum development. These, and other, reform plans were outlined in the General Education Strategic Plan 2012-17. Other key programmes associated with the plan included those to provide incentives for girls to attend school, and a capitation grant to finance school development plans and promote a culture of continuous school improvement. Providing in-service training to heads of primary schools was also identified as crucial to make sure they manage curriculum implementation well, and introduce appropriate reforms in their schools. The schools are assisted by the payam supervisors who are skilled educators expected to work closely with the school leaderships not only to ensure that effective teaching and learning take place, but to prepare the school for regular inspections by the county education authority.
Nevertheless, even with all these schemes in place which attracted a large number of children to enter primary schools (from 400,000 pupils in 2005 to 1.3 million pupils in 2012), it is surprising to note that around 60-80% of the 28,000 registered teachers on the pay-roll system in 2012, have not received professional training at all. As a direct consequence of this crisis, the Annual Education Census (2012) clearly pointed out that there was a high drop out of learners in the early grades with very low primary school completion rates averaging 10% across the country. These figures suggest there is little learning taking place in the primary schools in South Sudan.
The study was set to examine teacher performance evaluation on selected schools in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, to provide information on the efforts being made by the ministry regarding the implementation of its teacher preparation policies and the actual learning in the classrooms. The schools selected for the survey study were drawn from Juba County in Central Equatorial state, one of the ten states in the country. The result of the study is not generalizable to all of South Sudan, but illustrates some critical issues regarding teacher professional development, motivations to join the profession, as well as the classes they prefer to teach. It also provides information on how teachers are supervised and evaluated, what teaching aspects they are evaluated on, and what their perceptions are on the inspection feedback and on the competencies of the evaluating officials. All these aspects are considered very important in supporting teachers in conflict and emergency situations to provide quality learning. Three important lessons emerged from the experience of providing primary education service in the context of South Sudan:
- First, it finds that teachers try to avoid teaching lower-primary grades for two reasons: i) this level is perceived to require more work on the part of teachers, and the majority of teachers felt that they were not prepared professionally; ii) salaries at this level were not high enough to keep them in the teaching profession, especially in the context of conflict where trained teachers migrate elsewhere. In contradiction to this finding, some teacher training programmes supported by Development Partners aim to prepare primary school leavers to teach at lower grades because of the easiness of the subject contents. The absence of having a long-term approach with sustainable mechanisms for teacher preparation is a depressing reality that can contribute to the deterioration of the primary completion rates since the base of the education is not properly supported well.
- Second, the study found that teachers wanted their performance evaluation to assess whether their teaching and pedagogical approach actually helped learners to learn during lessons. As the country is currently engulfed in crisis, support to teachers tends be focused on those areas in a state of emergency and conflict, and on a short term basis; this might lead to serious confusion as they conflict with strategies for supporting teachers. This calls for a well-structured teacher education support programme built on the local context the teachers live and work in to provide concrete support to confront teaching and learning challenges.
- Third, the current school inspection and teacher evaluations do not provide sufficient support to teachers to improve on their teaching responsibilities. The Ministry of Education needs to rethink the purpose of school inspection and develop a qualification programme for inspectors; though it has developed a new inspection framework, this is not yet fully operational.
Most importantly the study argues that education actors like NGOs, the donor community and the government should not concentrate all their support on conflict and emergency locales; in most cases, learners migrate to relatively peaceful areas, and teachers in these areas need support to cope with the influx of the learners to their schools. The ministry should also encourage the education development partners to invest in the teachers because although teachers’ condition of service is not good in situations of conflict and emergency, they do strive to teach and provide children with learning opportunities.
John Lujang Wani is Deputy Director for Quality Assurance and Standards at the Ministry of General Education and Instruction, Juba, South Sudan. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 A payam is an administrative division below the level of a County and is made up of a group of villages under one or more chiefs.