In just a few days, on July 9, South Sudan will become the world’s newest nation.
There’s no doubt that South Sudan will start its new life as a member of the community of nations at a significant crossroad: it faces both immense challenges and immediate threats.
Yet it also has a unique opportunity to break with a past blighted by war and chart a new course.
Decisive leadership by the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) and resolute support from the international community could transform the lives of southern Sudan’s people and make the new nation a human development success story.
Education, education, education
Education has a vital role to play in that success.
As one of the new country’s founding fathers, Dr John Garang, constantly emphasized, it is through education that people and countries build the skills needed to strengthen self-reliance, expand choices, and create shared prosperity.
But education illustrates both the immense challenges and the opportunities facing the new country.
South Sudan starts independent nationhood close to the bottom of the global league table for educational opportunity, especially for young girls. It has some of the world’s lowest primary school enrolment rates, highest dropout rates and widest gender disparities.
However, these daunting challenges need to be set against the immense opportunity that the country also faces.
Since the 2005 peace agreement, the primary school population has risen four-fold, by over 1 million children. More teachers are being recruited, classrooms are being constructed and many children are getting their first textbooks.
On my recent visit to South Sudan I saw first hand how we’re supporting these efforts, training teachers, building schools and providing books.
For its part the government has also set the goal of achieving universal primary education and doubling the secondary school population by 2015 and is putting in place plans to improve quality.
The targets are ambitious but they reflect the aspirations of the country’s leaders and the heartfelt belief of its population that South Sudan’s future will be best secured through education.
And we know that they are right. The successful creation of an education system that extends opportunity for quality education to all will transform the lives of South Sudan’s people.
Seizing these opportunities will require not just national political leadership, but sustained support from the international aid community.
Countries emerging from armed conflict need secure and predictable long-term development financing, backed by support for peace and security.
All too often, the governments of post-conflict countries are provided with short-term, unpredictable humanitarian aid, which is of limited value in delivering effective results and building capacity.
The slow pace of disbursement under a pooled fund administered by the World Bank has hampered financing for education.
And the overall aid effort suffers from under-financing, fragmentation, weak coordination and a failure to put in place long-term financing commitments.
Building the future
On the eve of independence we’re urging the international community to support education in the world’s newest nation with the creation of a consolidated pooled fund, with a specific funding stream for education and the development of an aid partnership with a guarantee of long term, predictable aid.
There is a real opportunity to exploit the window of opportunity created by the peace agreement and South Sudan’s imminent independence to set the country on a trajectory that offers hope, development, shared prosperity and common security for all.