Education: key to South Sudan's future

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.

Supporting schools

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.

Steady financing

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.

Funding issues

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.