Failure to prepare, prepare to fail: Sudan's schools face chaotic return
Every year in Sudan, numerous problems accompany the start of the school year, and long-term solutions are rarely offered. However, the crises faced this academic year are more severe than usual, posing a serious threat to students' education across the country.
The start date for the school year was initially set for 6 September but has been postponed to 20 September, itself a signal of the disarray prevailing in the sector. As the date approaches, families are expressing their worry over their children's fate in a school year that seems fraught with complications from the start.
The first issue regards students going into the first year of the intermediate level: a stage formerly known as middle school which has been reintroduced after a 30-year hiatus (the regime of deposed ex-President Omar al-Bashir had removed it). Pupils will be the guinea pigs for an untested curriculum and have no idea what to expect.
There are also concerns that not enough teachers will be qualified to teach the programme, and that schools will not have enough classroom space to accommodate the extra level.
"The biggest concern for parents of children entering this level is the teachers’ lack of training – they are teaching a curriculum which has not been tried out before"
Alzain Gibril, whose son will be entering the intermediate level (Year 7), says to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, the New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication: "My son is starting middle school, but I still don’t know what he'll be studying. Nor was I able to get hold of the textbooks, even though I had put aside money for them.
The biggest concern for parents of children entering this level is the teachers' lack of training – they are teaching a curriculum which has not been tried out before. This is the Educational Administration's fault. We did not expect these kinds of blunders after the Sudanese revolution, especially in the education sector – it's the most important sector if we want to see radical change in this country".
Gibril believes that the administration needs to come up with effective solutions urgently, instead of making empty promises.
Fee increase of 500%
Another problem aggravating the situation this year is the unprecedented fee hike (in some cases by up to 500%) imposed by private schools, especially in the capital, Khartoum. Education in Khartoum relies heavily on private schools of which there are around 12,000, attended by around 12 million students.
Parents choose these schools because of the poor reputation of government schools – which many see as substandard and unable to prepare students for higher education. Likewise, government schools are perceived as hiring teachers with little experience, having crowded classes, and resulting in students scoring low marks.
Mona Abdullah, whose daughter is in Year 4 of primary school, says: "My daughter is at a private school which charges 59,000 Sudanese pounds ($131) per year, not including travel costs, meals and other essentials. But I was shocked this year when the school increased the fees to 360,000 SDG ($800) and transport fees to 100,000 SDG ($222).
"We can’t afford it. I thought the education ministry would intervene to force the private schools to lower the costs, but they didn’t. I feel desperate"
We can't afford it. I thought the education ministry would intervene to force the private schools to lower the costs, but they didn't. I feel desperate - I tried to transfer my daughter to a government school, but I couldn’t as there isn’t one close enough".
Government schools are full
Awad Kamal, another parent, had a similar experience: "My children are all at critical points of their educations – my oldest is going into secondary school; my youngest is going into his first year of primary school and my daughter is entering the intermediate level. This year their school has suddenly announced a huge hike in fees which we can’t afford.
They said every student must pay 210,000 SDG ($466) and this doesn’t include the price of transport. So we made a huge effort to move them to government schools, but these were full, so now we are desperately trying to raise the money so they can actually go to school this year”.
Kamal dismisses the government's start date announcement as unrealistic: "Many schools are still being used to mark secondary school certificate exam papers, while others have been flooded due to the heavy rains recently. All of them are also facing severe electricity shortages and many have been unable to print out curriculums.
The most serious issue is that parents can't afford the fees. At this point we are demanding government intervention to bring an end to the madness in the private schools or close them down completely and reallocate students to government schools near their homes.
It should be pointed out that all Sudanese people dream of free education and that those delivering education work with integrity – not with greed for profit which characterises many of those invested in the commodification of education in the shape of private schools".
"All Sudanese people dream of free education and that those delivering education work with integrity – not with greed for profit which characterises many of those invested in the commodification of education"
A fragmented approach
Many teachers support these views, like Muntasir Alfadni who says: "The main problem this year and in general is that those running the education system have a fragmented approach. They don’t have a clear strategy to deal with educational affairs or requirements - there is no overarching program.
The planning for the beginning of a school year should happen before the end of the previous school year, and this did not happen for two reasons: the lack of suitable leadership in the Ministry of Education, and the fact that the Ministry has not used educational specialists to help with educational planning".
Alfadni continues: "The reinstatement of the intermediate level was due to popular demand and necessary to develop education here. But the ministry didn’t prepare sufficiently as to how it would be implemented – they didn't consider where the courses would take place or which books would be used, and teachers have not been prepared to teach this level. Now the ministry wants to print thousands of books without them being subjected to review, which violates the most basic educational standards".
Plummeting conditions for teachers
Alfadni says that the predicament teachers are in is maybe worse than anyone else – the whole structure of teaching sector salaries has crumbled. This means even highly experienced teachers who have spent 30 years working will not earn more than 26,000 SDG ($57.7) which is not enough to cover the basic needs of a family for even one week, while less experienced teachers earn no more than 16,000 SDG ($35.5) and struggle to cover essentials such as health insurance.
At a press conference at which the new school year start date was announced, Sudanese Minister for Education, Tamadir Al-Turifi Awad Al-Karim, confirmed that many obstacles had been overcome. She confirmed that 50% of school textbooks had been printed and promised they would be delivered to schools before the start of term, and that the rest would be printed and distributed within the month.
Al-Karim clarified that the ministry had prepared emergency plans to train teachers for the intermediate level in English, Arabic, the sciences and sport. A further strategy around teacher training and girls' education would also be implemented in the coming period. This followed reports that in some primary schools only one girl had sat the entrance tests.
"Even highly experienced teachers who have spent 30 years working will not earn more than 26,000 SDG ($57.7) which is not enough to cover the basic needs of a family for even one week"
Al-Karim also announced the start of two TV channels which would broadcast and explain the educational curricula, as well as a social media platform which would do the same. A financial grant would be available to every school and free school meals would be provided in 148 schools to help limit student drop-out rates.
Health measures would also be introduced in schools and school libraries would be provided. Finally, she pledged to put all her effort into dealing with the problems teachers were facing and amend their wages, acknowledging that teachers are "the cornerstone to any education system".
This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.
Translated by Rose Chacko