Hope revived as schools reopen

Students, teachers and parents look ahead as senior 4 exams finish

You can sense the jubilation at Development Secondary School in Juba as senior four students braced the blistering heat to celebrate the completion of their secondary school examinations. Happy and excited, students jumped with joy after dusting the last examination paper- the day they have been looking forward to for four years is finally over. The whole school erupted into hugging, cheering, and overall joy, knowing that they can join the university and get their degrees.

“The exams were fair, not hard, not easy, but it was fair. It was good enough for us to finish,” Daniel Athien (17), a senior 4 student, joyfully expressed after putting down his pencil. “I can’t wait to get the results and join the university. I am very excited to enrol for my bachelor’s degree in logistics studies; it is so appealing.”

On 20 March 2020, all schools in South Sudan were closed and almost 2 million children were forced out of classes due to COVID-19 preventive measures. With the academic year cut just six weeks in, many students were worried they would never be able to sit their final exams and finish their education.

Students tried to keep learning at home, but Wendy Ahonda (16) explains it was no easy feat. The family noise meant she had to study at a neighbour’s house or wait until the nighttime snoring stopped before she could open her books. Lawrence Mathew (15), a senior three student says also he has been struggling; “We have been out of school and idle at home for over a year, sometimes we revise our past lessons, but we are losing hope that our classes will reopen.”

For Daniel, Wendy and other candidates sitting their final exams in early 2021, education resumed last year in October 2020. “Usually, we look forward to the holidays, but suddenly our holiday became so long,” Wendy said. However, catching up on seven months of lost education and preparing for the biggest exam of our lives was stressful.

“I am happy that right now, we can study again. My plan for the exam is to study as much as possible, keep on reading every day and hope that I am ready for the examination,” said Daniel, days after returning to school. Both Wendy and Daniel made it through the lessons and were part of the scenes of joy and relief after the last exam was done.

“This year is unique; I am proud of all candidates who never experienced school closures before, and despite the pandemic and crazy things happening, reading for exams in a short time. I believe we are going to excel in the exams, and I am glad we have made it,” Windy says with a grin.

Now, it’s time for Lawrence and the rest of the children to return to school. The Minister of General Education and Instruction (MoGEI) has just announced that all schools in South Sudan will reopen on 3 May 2021. “Overstaying at home is embarrassing us and erasing away the knowledge we acquired from our teachers. I am excited to hear schools will reopen and soon we shall get to reunite with friends and teachers to learn more,” Lawrence said.

Parents are also thrilled to see their children returning to school. “I am happy that schools are going to reopen. Seeing children at home idle is having a profound negative effect on children, especially girls that are being married off at a tender age,” says Nathalina Samuel, a mother of seven children. “When schools reopen, we will notice a reduced number of female students,” she says with sadness in her eyes. Even the teachers are ready to go back to work. Noel Kana is one of them, “I am happy to hear that schools will reopen because being idle is not suitable for learners. Students and pupils learn different things in contrast to what is taught in schools as they are not keen to revise their books; only the reopening of schools can make everything better, and the learning process will resume smoothly.”

UNICEF has been one of many strong advocates for the reopening of schools. In South Sudan, schools provide more than just academics. At school, students learn social and emotional skills and it’s a safe place for the most vulnerable. Schools protect learners from harmful cultural practices and work as an access point for services including water, sanitation and hygiene and food. UNICEF is working with the Ministry of General Education and Instruction to prepare schools for the reopening and we are excited to note that this year will be the first with the new South Sudan curriculum.

UNICEF is thankful for all the support from our trusted Education partners, including Canada, EU/ECHO, Norway, Sweden, the Global Partnership for Education, UKAID and USAID.



Source: UN Children’s Fund