Opinion | South Sudan should privatize its K-12 education system
South Sudanese Teacher Teaching a Class under a Tree; Adapted from: Theirworld.com
South Sudan should privatize all or part of its education system in order to enable many school children within its boundaries to gain access to Primary and Secondary education programs. Privatization of schooling across South Sudan will protect the integrity of teaching and learning of children in many ways compared to the current government-controlled schools.
K-12 education system of any country is a very expensive undertaking. It is also technical and that means its success takes special skills and leadership ranging from administrators to a professional teaching workforce inside the classrooms. Privatization of K-12 education system in South Sudan is the only viable way at this point to make practical impacts.
Under a privatized K-12 education system in South Sudan, some of the following hypotheses are envisioned: First, highly qualified teachers will be attracted back into the classroom. Second, South Sudan’s ethnic politics which rifted societies into many political enclaves will be curled from the schools’ instructional leadership. Third, politically motivated corruption will be mitigated if not eliminated. Fourth and finally, the learning infrastructure will accurately be assessed, and improved wherever there are higher needs. This policy, if adopted, will dramatically increase the overall human development and strengthen political stability of South Sudan.
There are so many strong arguments put forth to support the aforementioned postulations. But before such arguments are advanced, let me flashback insights a little deeper into the history of South Sudan. This history will illuminate the contexts of the argument I am making to privatize South Sudan’s public education system. It is within such contexts the arguments to privatize education system in South Sudan will be presented. South Sudan is still recorded as the newest sovereign country in the world. It is, indeed, a new country by nomenclature but its people, land, and cultures are not new. What is becoming quite tricky if not difficult is managing transition from being part of an old country to becoming its own State responsible for populations trying to define themselves new identities while shedding off old identities. The country of South Sudan was carved out of the current Sudan in 2011 as an ultimate solution hopefully to end the longest civil war in Africa which went on since 1955 and ended in 2005 (Carter 2011).
Sudan’s civil war began in 1955 just a year before the Anglo-Egyptians imperialism ended purposely to grant the Sudanese their political independence (Kumsa 2017). In his own words, Kumsa explains that “the Anglo-Egyptians rule in the Sudan lasted from 1898 to 1956 and was known as a condominium.”
The civil war pitted the people of Southern Sudan versus the State authorities who were mostly based in the North and dominated by Northern Sudanese. The colonial rulers, according to Kumsa, without any consultations with the Southern Sudan peoples, handed over power to the Northern Sudanese political elites (Kumsa 2017). The handover of power to the northern elites by the Anglo-Egyptians condominium was seen in the South as a mere change of faces between the evil forces who were behind South Sudanese’s continued denigration and suppression. After observing signs of a transition which was not going to benefit them, the peoples of Southern Sudan could not wait for their new masters to take over their bondage from the outgoing white Masters. Following the realization of signs which smelled like neocolonialism, an atrocious conflict with the new rulers from the north of Sudan ignited. That war spanned1955—1972.
In 1972 a peace agreement was signed between the Southern Sudanese rebels led by Gen. Joseph Lagu. Following the fact that many provisions of the agreement, including the rights of South Sudanese to carry out a plebiscite in which to decide whether to secede from Sudan or remain part of a united Sudan, were dishonored by the government and hence not implemented, the civil war reignited in 1983. That latest war, championed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLM/A) led by Dr. John Garang, was more organized and ended in 2005 with the inking of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) (CPA 2005). With Garang’s organizational capacity being better than his predecessors of the preceding rebel movement (Anyanya I), SPLM/A’s well-established structures led to the success of full implementation of the CPA even after John Garang’s demise in a helicopter crash in 2005.
South Sudan bore a longer history of neglect dating back to the Turco-Egyptian conquest of the Sudan in 1821. The Mahdi Movement which drove away the Turco-Egyptian exploiters kept Southern Sudanese under similar conditions. Then came back the British-Egyptian after conquering Mahdi and the same oppression of Southern Sudanese continued as before. Scopas Poggo, in his book, The First Sudanese Civil War, details that Lord Cromer, the consul general who was mostly based in Cairo and served as architect of British policy in the Sudan, called Southern Sudanese as savages who inhabit a resourceful land. According to Poggo in his book, the British administration in the Sudan relied heavily on the Egyptian treasury to execute its programs in the North. However, it could not afford funding a budget for developmental projects in Southern Sudan. The only funds they could afford went for maintaining British officials in the South and suppressing occasional uprisings by Southern peoples. The Anglo-Egyptians Condominium administration, therefore, relied on indirect rule through African village chiefdoms (Poggo 2009, P.22).
With this glaring history of neglects, oppression from different external powers, exploitation, and violent wars of resistance (1821 – 2005) as laid out above, it is obvious that South Sudan in its newest status as a nation state has inherited horrendous ruins of its social capital. It cannot rebuild its K-12 education system alone and still be able to catch up with the world’s current competitive teaching and learning through constructivism theoretical framework models. These ruins of social capital are observed in so many forms two of which are described below: 1) widespread culture of ethnic violence among South Sudanese themselves. South Sudan obtained independence in July 2011 in what Alex De Waal calls a kleptocracy (De Waal 2014). De Waal (not me) described South Sudan as a “militarized, corrupt neo-patrimonial system of governance.” In this, De Waal argues, South Sudan’s numerous Generals with divided ethnic-based loyalties held together by rental agency from the center could no longer stuck together when oil money dried up following oil operations shutdown in 2012 (De Waal 2014). 2) On another note, impacted by many years of poverty and underdevelopment, South Sudan has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world (UNESCO 2017). Sardar Umar Alam, Representative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in South Sudan, in her statement made on one of the occasions of the International Literacy Day, which is usually marked on September 8 each year said, “the war-torn country has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world, currently standing at 73 percent,” (Gale 2017). With this unprecedented gap in adult literacy compared to the rest of the world, South Sudan’s education system can easily benefit if managed by a non-political private entity either through charter, voucher, or partnership arrangement.
Given many years of neglect by the colonial elites who ran the Sudan’s affairs from the center in Khartoum (1821-1956), in addition to many other years of fighting the civil wars with the new rulers (1955-2005), learning spaces have shrank in ways which have compromised formal education in South Sudan. During the 21 years of the longest civil war which ran from 1983 to 2005, the little foundation of the education system laid in place by the foreign imperialists was destroyed. Almost all the teachers, students, and school administrators in the Southern schools joined the fight on either side of the conflict divides. As the fighting waxed on, most school premises were turned into military barracks, stores, and/or temporary shelters for internally displaced persons. Others were simply abandoned to rust in natural ruins. As a result, there are generally very few learning spaces available now in South Sudan. The few that were inherited are dilapidated due to lack of maintenance over the years of wars. Those school premises which were built after the war and during the interim period are only concentrated in major urban centers. This makes learning in South Sudan and especially outside major urban centers very complicated if not impossible.
With a national government wrecked by ethnic politics and cash-starved by the ongoing civil wars, building schools especially across the rural areas where more than 80% of the populations live is obviously an overshadowed priority. A large chunk of South Sudan’s oil proceeds, which funds 98% of the government budget, is consumed by security sector. In his role as a Co-Chair of the High-Level Panel on global education, Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, produced an exceptionally articulated review of South Sudan’s education system (Brown 2011). Brown identified the following gaps: 1) There is a huge need to improve educational opportunities for South Sudan’s 2.5 million children, half of whom are out of school. 2) There is a financial gap needed to provide support for the education of half-a-million girls. 3) There needs to be provision for the education of 300,000 children displaced as a result of armed violence or living in conflict zones. And 4) A policy mechanism is needed to train 30,000 teachers and build 3,000 schools.
According to Mr. Brown, achieving these goals requires additional financial resources South Sudan does not have at the moment.
Theoretical Frameworks: Privatization of South Sudan’s Education System
Given the huge needs articulated in the above historical contexts, South Sudan definitely needs a third force to lay a scientifically based modern education system if it is expected to par quicker with the world outside its boundaries. That parring can be measured in terms of political stability, strengthened institutional capacities, and a comparative economic standing in the East Africa region. Supporters of privatization of public education believe that a free market-driven teaching and learning based on human capability spur competition among learners and education providers. This thinking is driven from what Francine Menashy called neoclassical economics framework (Menashy, 2014). It is also known in other word as neoliberalism. As a result, a privatized market-based education provision, a responsibly regulated competition leads to heightened standards in terms of curriculum benchmarking on the side of contracted providers. With the fragmented war-torn South Sudan, it will continue to take time for the Juba-based Ministry of General Education to provide equitable access to basic education for all children of South Sudan who spread out across its political divides and ethnicities. Given the fact that most children live in different remote villages and especially in conflicted affected areas, a non-political private entity will be able to provide credible schooling equitably across the political realms without resistance whatsoever. This will allow the current school-age generations to move on with their learning without waiting for the ultimate political settlement of the conflicts.
South Sudan’s embattled government has a reputation of fiducial risk. The news of corruption investigations among the country’s top entrusted stewards of public offices are common. As a result, the international donor community has intentionally curled its support for the national development budget with liquid funding. Most of the international financial support towards South Sudan is currently coming in terms of humanitarian assistance through third party implementers. Besides, if there are a few development assistances still ongoing in critical areas of need, they are also directed through third party or implementing agencies due to the same aforementioned allegations of fiducial risks on the side of the government of South Sudan. Involvement of a non-political entity in the management of South Sudan’s public education system, especially within the country’s remote villages will, therefore, clears fears of the international donor community to invest their development assistances in direct support of South Sudanese children.
International Funding Support
Gordon Brown’s review, for example, recommended a series of financing strategies that include an increased resource mobilization effort on the part of the Government of South Sudan as the primary owner of the problem. Development assistance, on the other hand, is only supposed to cover a financing gap of about US$1.6 billions over four years, or US$400 millions annually. Brown put forth proposals which include recommendations for individual donors. On a different note in Brown’s review, it appears that South Sudan is not yet tapping into major global international support systems to scale up its efforts which will improve education standards. Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the major multilateral mechanism charged with financing efforts to achieve the international development goals, for example, has not yet established a program in South Sudan. This is the task South Sudan’s Ministry of General Education needs to look into and takes the necessary initiatives if there is a need or have not yet tried. However, a non-political private entity entrusted to implement education programs for South Sudanese children can easily do a better job in identifying more sources of mobilizing resources internationally.
At the time of writing this article, it has come to my attention that tens of thousands of school children in some of South Sudan’s most food-insecure areas will benefit from a new education in emergencies program worth $27 million donated by the European Union (Fominyen 2019). According to the source of this information, the funding is earmarked for provision of daily hot meals to feed about 75,000 students, help train 1,600 teachers, support learners with educational supplies and provide psychosocial support services for 40,000 conflict-affected children. This is commendable of the European Union for their generosity. This initiative is worth it. If the government of South Sudan on its part responds by relegating powers to a non-political third party to restructure the foundation of a credible modern education system, South Sudan’s younger generation will quickly benefit, and the end deliverable will be a quickened change of attitudes from war to peace. Their modernized attitudes will quickly shift the dynamics of nation building to a new direction towards political, social, and economic viability.
The flip side of maintaining the status quo in South Sudan begs the following questions: 1) How will South Sudan sustains and improve its quality of teaching and learning for its 1.25 million children currently in schools? 2) How will this new country provide access to its current education programs for the other more than 1.25 million children out of schools exclusively? 3) How will the government of South Sudan provide financial support for the education of 1.5 million girls? 4) How will South Sudan government provide for the education of 300,000 children displaced as a result of armed violence, or living in conflict zones? 5) How will South Sudan be able to train 30,000 teachers and build 3,000 schools across its rural areas? Apart from financial resources, achieving these goals will require scientific know-how, fiducial credibility, and political trust between communities and central authorities.
Privatization of Education in Other Countries: Comparative Analysis
Are there other countries in which privatization of public education had been tried before? Yes, privatization of public-school system has been or is being tried in the following countries. There could more countries but let’s sample the following countries just for comparative analysis:
- United States:
More than 5% of school going young people in the United States attend charter schools (Cohodes 2018). Charter schools are public schools operated and managed by contracted private entities through a funding mechanism called voucher payment. Charter means contract between the public authorities and private education providers. Charter schools are operated by more than one contractor. They operate with more autonomy different from traditional school districts and their continued funding depends on performance measured mostly by the level of clientelism. The constitution of the United States does not discuss or define the public education system in detail. This simply means, the types of education system, standards, and curriculum benchmarking or models of content delivery are determined by each State and local school districts. Since 1990, there has been visible growth in the demand for privatization of public education across the United States. As a result of the growing disgruntlement within the education clientele community against publicly delivered education models in the United States, more than 1 million students attend 4,000 charter schools in 40 States and the District of Columbia (Center for Education Reform 2007). On a different note, more than 1 million students are currently homeschooled. This has shot up from 300,000 homeschooled back in 1988 (Steven, 2007).
United States been a free and developed country. It has been politically stable for more than 260 years compared to South Sudan whose stability has always hanged in the balance since it gained independence in 2011. Charter schools in the United States have their own contextual disadvantages compared to their publicly run schools. However, the point I am trying to make with this comparison is that if United States’ public education consumers are still dissatisfied with the government-run education system, South Sudan should learn that development of human cognition is a technical undertaking which should always be carried out by well trained and experienced authority.
Although South Sudan’s 73% of its adult populations have missed out on acquiring themselves formal education during the wars, every parent in that country expects his/her children to be well schooled and grow into successful innovators. It is the reason why many refugee camps and schools across the neighboring countries are full of South Sudanese school-going children.
Following a series of tinkering in the Chilean public schooling system which dates back to 1980s, the resultant ultimate privatization of some public schooling took many precedencies. the first reform of giving municipalities control of schools, the second decentralization reform, led to the privatization of part of Chile’s schools (Zelaya, 2015). Chile’s privatization of some schools within the public system was enabled by the creation of a government funded voucher system to help subsidize the costs of attendance for low-income students and to subsidize operation costs in some cases. According to Zelaya, privatization of some public schools in Chile gave way to a pierce competition between schools, hence, the quality of teaching and learning was dramatically driven up high. The government funded voucher system improved accessibility to education by allowing low-income students the possibility to attend a private school. The creation of private schools in Chile enabled market competition that could incentivize the improvement of the quality of education overall, given that schools of both types now had to compete for the same students and could distinguish themselves through the quality offered. Additionally, because enrollment at private schools was less constrained by the government funded voucher system which improved the financial capabilities of low-income students, the survival of institutions was left to be determined by market forces alone. In the bout of 1980s to the late 1990s, enrollment in private schools increased by 40% while enrollment in public schools decreased by 22% as privatization policy improved quality of curriculum and models of delivering contents (COHA, 2008).
With this comparative analysis, South Sudan on the par, will undercut internal political competition which is mostly based on ethnic representation rather than technical trainings. It is my logical opinion that if South Sudan embark on privatization of its public education system with a government funded voucher system just like Chile did and could still be doing, its quality education will dramatically heighten. First, if the privatization charter is managed by internationally recognized education service provider such as Education Development Center (EDC), Bridge International, or a religious body such as the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek (CDR), Episcopal Church of the Sudan (ECS), the current fiduciary risk feared on the part of the Government Officials will be eliminated. Lots of the current development assistance finances, compounded with a government funded voucher, will be efficiently spent in building modern learning spaces, training and compensating qualified teachers across the country.
Liberia shares a common historical evolution with South Sudan. It is a great example to use for comparative analysis in terms of its frantic search for strategies to develop a credible and effective education system. Liberia has had a very difficult recent history. It endured a devastating 14-year civil war from 1989 to 2003 which killed 150,000 people, sent one-third of the population as refugees to other countries, and internally displaced another third (USAID, n.d.). Liberia’s war destroyed nearly 80 percent of Liberia’s schools (Stromquist, et al. 2017).
In 2014 and 2015, an Ebola virus outbreak which devastated many countries in West Africa killed thousands of people and brought down many economic activities to their knees. Schools were closed for most days of 2014 and 2015 (UNICEF, n.d.). With these historical contexts, Liberia is one of the poorest countries in Africa just like South Sudan. More than half the population is illiterate, and its net primary school enrollment ratio of 38 percent is one of the lowest in the world (Romero, Sandefur, and Sandholtz, 2017). It is within these historical contexts that Liberia is considering privatizing its primary education system.
To test this conceptualization, Liberia turned over the administration of 93 government primary schools to eight private organizations in a program called Partnership Schools of Liberia (PSL). The Liberian government, however, held on over the payment of teacher salaries. Privatized schools were still supposed to be free, and private contractors could not select students for admission. Contractors received a $50 per-student subsidy to supplement the approximately $50 that the government was already spending per student on primary schooling. Contractors could also add any resources that they were able to raise privately. While contractors had to follow the primary schools ‘curriculum adopted by the State of Liberia, they (contractors) were given the autonomy to emphasize what they liked. Class sizes for seven of the contractors were capped at 65. Bridge International Academies, which was the largest contractor, however, had their classes capped at 45 students maximum (Klees 2017).
In order to assess the impact of PSL, a U.S funded three-year project used a Randomized Control Trial. Klees reveals that Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) implemented the RCT. Although the outcome of PSL did not show a better difference between the publicly run schools and privatized schools, a series of loopholes can easily be deduced from the way the privatization contracts were arranged. A very big problem in South Sudan’s education system is payment of teacher salaries given the fiduciary risk management noted within the National and State governments. South Sudan’s school teachers are not only underpaid but their salaries do not come to them every month when they need it. Although I am not sure how the Liberian government pays its teachers compared to South Sudan, a big difference would be made if the private education providers were given the freedom to manage all forces running the schools such as teacher training, recruitment, deployment, and accountability. South Sudan is well placed to benefit from privatization if it handover the exclusive management of all or some of the public schools especially in the remote areas.
Privatization of South Sudan’s education is the only way to achieve a speedy political, social, and economic stability. Many reasons can be cited for this opinion. South Sudan’s history of wars suspended formal human development for several generations. This history of intermittent violent conflicts has left South Sudan with a staggering adult illiteracy rate of 73%. That means getting qualified adults who can teach and administer credible education programs is difficult if not impossible. Classes were closed to learning during the 1955 to 1972 war. They were then open again after 1972 only to operate for 17 years before they were closed permanently for 21 years from 1983 to 2005. Even when the peace agreement was signed in 2005, it took quite sometimes to deal with more pressing priorities than opening classes for children to enroll. There were no teachers to teach. And even if teachers who returned from the refugee camps in the neighboring countries were available to teach, there was no money to pay them. Rampant corruption among the former rebel Generals who turned government officials after the war took precedence. As a result, South Sudan sooner than later plunged itself into its own civil internal wars. Until now, many school going children live in conflict affected areas and are not going to schools.
The education infrastructure in South Sudan is one of the casualties of South Sudan’s many violent wars. The system had been destroyed by more than 50 years of civil conflicts. With the latest wars which spanned 1983-2005 and then 2013 – Present day, South Sudan’s classrooms were turned into military barracks, refugee shelters, and others abandoned for lack of any education activities. Most well-educated South Sudanese who should be working in schools as teachers and administrators have either fled the country, joined the army, or work for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
Education is one of the most effective mechanisms for delivering a peace premium. It is a core part of the social contract between citizens and states. For the majority of people in South Sudan, the education peace premium has yet to arrive (Brown 2011). The country’s education system is not, as presently constituted, fit for the purpose of supporting the country’s social and economic development, peace-building, and state-building. With all that in mind, it is my strong opinion that South Sudan needs to handover the exclusive or most parts of management of its K-12 education system to a private entity and use a government funded voucher system to help support the implementation cost. This will vindicate the government of its feared compromised fiduciary creditability by the international donor community. The international development assistance, if any, will be directly invested into supplementing the state budget allocated through a credible voucher program to build and construct learning spaces, to train, recruit, deploy, and compensate highly qualified teachers across South Sudan. Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope.
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Romero, M., Sandefur, J. and Sandholtz, W. 2017. “Can Outsourcing Improve Liberia’s Schools? Preliminary Results from Year One of a Three-Year Randomized Evaluation of Partnership Schools for Liberia.” Washington, DC: Center for Global Development. https://www.cgdev.org/sites/default/files/partnership-schools-for-liberia.pdf
Stromquist, N., Lin, J., Corneilse, C., Klees, S., Choti, T. and Haugen, C. 2017. “Women Teachers in Liberia: Social Forces Accounting for Professional Underrepresentation,” In N. Stromquist, S. Klees, and J. Lin (eds.) Women Teachers in Africa: Challenges and Possibilities. Rotterdam: Sense.
USAID. n.d. “Liberia Teacher Training Program: Final Report, June 2010 – February 2016.” Washington, DC: USAID. http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/pa00mk6j.pdf
Zelaya V. J., (2015) Chile’s Educational Reform: The Struggle Between Nationalization and Privatization. https://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1119&context=ppr
The author James A. Mayik is a Public School Teacher in the United States. He is also pursuing a doctorate with Portland State University.
The views expressed in ‘opinion’ articles published by Radio Tamazuj are solely those of the writer. The veracity of any claims made are the responsibility of the author, not Radio Tamazuj.