Analyses Education

Poverty, Conflict, Access To And Equity In Education: An Explanation To Education Exclusion Zones In South Sudan

By David Ruach Tang,

Children who are silently excluded from education, and still live below extreme poverty line and in conflict zone (zone 3 exclusion; physically attending Bush School but have nothing to learn due to absence of quality learning environment, Maiwut County South Sudan, June 2105.
Children who are silently excluded from education, and still live below extreme poverty line and in conflict zone (zone 3 exclusion; physically attending Bush School but have nothing to learn due to absence of quality learning environment, Maiwut County South Sudan, June 2105.

March 27, 2016(Nyamilepedia) —- According to recent UNICEF report on the status of education of children in South Sudan (2016), about 1 out of 6 children in South Sudan do not have access to education, receive no equitable education, or at all have not been enrolled in school. Equitable access to education implies more than equal opportunities in that it means ensuring additional and particular support for the poorest and most marginalized (Hossain Altaf & BenjaminZeilyn, 2010). Equity in education requires interventions to ensure that the barriers to access to education faced by certain sections of the population are overcome through well-targeted policies (Lewin, 2007). While equitable access to education is much discussed in educational literature, the discourse on equitable access to education in South Sudan usually focuses on poor children’s physical access to school, though still very poor one, and only rarely touches on access to education that results in meaningful learning for children.

Obviously, there are many compounded factors for this grim education situation in penurious and conflict ridden South Sudan. Amongst these factors is conflict and poverty which brought along with them lack of access and equity to education in the country. Although the interconnectedness between conflict and lack of education provision are complicated and dubious to be measured in educational literature, both are said to have devastating effects on determining children’s progress in school. In this paper though, we are going to dwell much on linkages between poverty, access and equity to education because both are resultant of the conflict, and how conflict influences education provision in South Sudan. Experience will also be drawn from previous empirical or scientific research findings out there in the field to reflect on the need to revisit the political economy of education in South Sudan that may lead to robust reforms in the system itself.

In this regard, we are going to employ social exclusion model by Sarah and Dieltien (2008) and Five Exclusion Zones by (CREATE,2009) in primary education to examine and analyze the relationship between, poverty, conflict, access and equity of primary education in South Sudan. The model is developed by Consortium for Research on Educational Access, Transitional and Equity (CREATE), and Centre for International Education, University of Sussex in the UK that addresses various exclusions in primary education in terms of poverty, access, and equity . Analysis from the scenarios are drawn by inferring to current primary education status in South Sudan. Based on the analysis, inferences are drawn and recommendations are provided for further improve of access and equity on primary education. Generally, the paper attempts to reflect on the interconnectedness of poverty, conflict, access to and equity in education. This interconnectedness is viewed from exclusion zones in primary education mentioned above.

Poverty, Conflict and Access to Basic Education in South Sudan  

Poverty is often given   an important reason for why children drop-out or unable to attend school. Access to basic education lies at the heart of development .Lack of educational access, and securely acquired knowledge and skills, is both a part of the definition of poverty, and a means for its diminution, (Lewin,2007).   Sustainable access to meaningful leaning that has utility is critical to long term improvements in productivity, the reduction of inter-generational cycles of poverty, preventive health care, the empowerment of women and the reduction in inequality.

South Sudan school children in need of education, their number adds up every day.
South Sudan school children in need of education, their number adds up every day.

Access to basic primary education in South Sudan has been hampered by many factors. Poverty and conflict are amongst the top in the list. South Sudan has been in an intermittent conflict for nearly six decades. Much of conflict happened before the country attained its independence from the old Sudan and left its burden unturned on basic primary education provision. Two years after the independence, another devastating conflict occurred which created one of the darkest chapters in the history of education in the youngest nation in the world. Currently more than half of children in South Sudan, don not have access education. Conflict and absolute poverty are the fundamental causes to lack of access to basic primary education of children in South Sudan. This is considered to fall within the realm of what Lewin (2007) called  exclusion zones in primary education provision. Zone 1 contains those who never attend school .In this category he includes those children who could attend existing schools but do not, and those are excluded by livelihoods, locations, civil status, disability, social stigma or other vulnerabilities.

Considering the status of primary education in South Sudan in relation to first zone of exclusion, we find that at least more than 95% of South Sudan population lives in rural areas. In most parts of rural South Sudan you will grossly find that there are no schools constructed where children can attend and get enrolled to learn. Very few schools found out there, have no school facilities. There are no professionally trained teachers, educational materials such as student textbooks, or teacher’s guides, and harmonized primary school curriculum. Needless to mention teaching materials or leaning aids. Children falling under this zone, have no complete access to education. There are enormous factors that lead to exclusion in South Sudan context; poverty and intermittent conflict are in the top list of these factors. We argue that absolute poverty and conflict combined explain delays in entry of children to schools.

With the current on-going conflict that started nearly three years ago , the whole educational infrastructure in the country is completely ruined including in the so called “urban” areas particularly in most major towns, like Malakal, Bor , Bentu , you name the rest . Most schools were either destroyed, or made military barracks. This situation of leaning is categorized as learning in exclusion (zone 2 learning environment). It includes majority after of children who are excluded after initially entry, and who soon drop out of school because of the conflict and rampant poverty . As result, they fail to complete full cycle of primary education. This situation of learning is prevailing currently in South Sudan and other countries with devastating conflict. Most Children in the urban conflict- ridden towns do not attend school and as such, they excluded in learning.

Children who are extremely excluded from access to education due to extreme poverty, conflict (Zone One). Gur-Nyanyang, Nair County, January 2015).
Children who are extremely excluded from access to education due to extreme poverty, conflict (Zone One). Gur-Nyanyang, Nair County, January 2015).

In zone three (3) we find children who are categorized as are in “silently excluded” learning zone. Silently excluded in that they initially got enrolled in school which has no basic education provisions, like student textbooks and absence of professionally trained teachers with child centered teaching and learning methodology . In South Sudan case, there are children who are in urban areas, but still learning in silent violent conflict zones, like Juba and other major towns with mild violent conflict presence due to poor learning environment. So children who are learning in this zone, only attend schools devoid of basic school learning environment , as result they gradually risk drop-out of school , or have poor academic achievements because of poor attendance, absence of teaching and learning materials and conflict (inefficiency rate and wastage in education increases). Because of this, they are classified as silently excluded though enrolled, they however learn little while physically presence in the school.

 Social/ Class Exclusion and Equity in Education

The concept of social exclusion is concerned with the experiences of poverty, its inequitable outcomes and the processes that lead to exclusion, (Dieltien & Gibert: 2008). Social exclusion literature emphasizes experiences in relation to other and explains the mechanisms by which certain section [elite] in the community excludes majority of the population from having access and equitable services such as education and health. For social exclusion theorists poverty is a relative concept .It relates poverty to a reference group and determines poverty on where people are on distribution curve. Redmond (2003) defines social exclusion as the, “processes in society that lead some people to be excluded from range of institutions, activities or environment; the denial or non-realization of civil political and social rights of citizenship.” Social exclusion may be carried out on basis of, for example, race, ethnicity, socio-economic difference and class.


Social exclusions in education in South Sudan takes different forms. After the independence in 2011, people of South Sudan were expecting with great enthusiasm that their government would deliver those services they missed dearly for nearly half century. The government and the politicians they have elected to office to provide them with effective and efficient service delivery, instead turn blind yeses to these basic human rights [education, health and water]. Getting social services and development they have been waiting for and which they have tremendously sacrifice their lives became remote and out of their reach. Amongst the services delivery people expected of their government to offer, is free compulsory and universal access and equitable provision of primary education to population. People’s expectations were met with fierce social exclusion that has bearing negative effect on the education of their children. The social divide or exclusion takes two folds: (1) rural and urban exclusion on one hand, and (2) elite and urban poor exclusion on the other. The gap between the two divides in primary education provision is so polarized and negatively skewed.

Children learning in an open air mass under the tress or bush school (Zone 3 silently excluded leaning                                        Learning zone and risk dropping out earlier in school)
Children learning in an open air mass under the tress or bush school (Zone 3 silently excluded leaning
Learning zone and risk dropping out earlier in school)

For rural and urban exclusion, you find that there are very few schools constructed and at the same time poorly equipped in rural areas to enable children from poor family background have access to school. In urban areas, the so called political elite class take their children to East Africa big capital cities such as Nairobi, Kampala, Addis Ababa, Khartoum and Cairo to pursue their education. This is done at the expense of the poor. This is a hallmark of socially and silently excluded children by the so called middle class income group created overnight by political elites. Nature of schoolchildren in this zone, it is characterizes by high dropout rates that is in terms of inefficiency and waste of resources, particularly amongst the girls towards the end of primary school cycle (4th – 8th grades). Social exclusion theory provides the best explanation into why leaners drop –out of school in basic education. Another explanation of social exclusion in education in South Sudan is that education service provision to children is extremely streamed on class basis –elites dimension and individual’s purse.

Social or class exclusion in education is also manifest in unequitable allocation of annual national budge to educational sector, giving especial focus to investment in basic primary education for the advantage of the poor. The experiences indicate that budget quota that has been allocating to primary education sector in South Sudan, as compared to other sectors, is the least of all. Rampant and endemic corrupt practices by political elite in the country drain resources at the expense of the poor. The gaps between the school children from poor family backgrounds and those from ruling political elite in education provision is increasing every year. That means children from poor family background in terms of income and education, continue to be denied access to education and are left in limbo. Whereas children from elite political background (in terms of income and education) continue to have access and receive quality education outside the country. Corruption and rent seeking attitude amongst politicians gives them little chance to pay attention to education of disadvantaged and severely impoverished population of South Sudan.

Recommendations for Policy Reform in Education Sector

Education becomes insubstantial in its utility when not properly planned and executed efficiently to have an effective outcome. It is about developing mind, heart and body of the child. That is why the core concern of curriculum development should be three folds needs: First, the need for the subject matter– what, why and how to learn , that is properly planning of the content and   organization of the learning experiences needed for delivery of the lesson to schoolchildren to make them good citizens . Second, is the need of the child, which is what is relevant for the child to learn in school in terms of quality, access, relevant and equity in education? Third is the need of the society that answers the question of: What are the necessary values, beliefs, traditions and cultures of that society needed to be incorporated into the school curriculum? In other words the systematic inclusion of higher order learning outcomes (e.g., critical thinking) into a curricular strategy provides an example of how conceptualizing attitudes, values traditions and beliefs about learning, can be useful to children.

Basic Education sector in South Sudan requires a complete overhaul. The most pressing issue that needs to be amicably addressed now is the issue of access to basic education. More than 90% and above children in South Sudan do not have access to education. Second, is the issue of equity that is, there is too much disparity in provision of basic education between rural and urban areas. Similarly, we should also address the gender gaps or disproportions in educational enrollment ratios between male and female children in basic primary school education. The following specific recommendations are provided for further improvement of education system:

  1. A national policy on equity in basic education should be formulated. This policy framework should aim at to ensure that those disadvantaged by conflict, social exclusion and poverty receive greater share of the resources allocated to education sector. In other words, the situation requires an affirmative action by the country leadership to address the problem.
  2. To combat negative effects on access to education on manifestations of poverty, various practical interventions would help alleviate the problem. For example, involvement of communities and parents to part take in education of their children as important stakeholders with crtical role to play. There is also a need to provide free universal and compulsory access to primary education to all children in both rural and urban areas throughout   the country.
  3. Government and donor community should take equity and access to education measures such as the ones suggested above to ensure that discrimination based on poverty, social exclusion, and conflict does not entrench socio economic inequality. An important facet of educational reform is re-establishing the capacity to collect data on the effects of conflict and on the basis of the information obtained, developing appropriate policies and plans for rebuilding the educational infrastructure in the country.

David Ruach Tang is an academic/ educationalist and a former Director for Research and Strategic Analysis in the Ministry of Defence and Veteran Affairs, Republic of South Sudan. He can be reached with the following address: ruachtang6@gmail.com  

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