Teaching a New Nation

South Sudan strives to improve education with new teacher training and curricula
Teacher Gaga Simon leads a discussion with fellow teachers in South Sudan.

Gaga Simon teaches math and science at Ligi Primary School in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria state. Like most of the school’s teachers, Simon had no formal training and relied on methods such as rote memorization, just like he was taught when he was a boy.

But now, as a participant in the South Sudan Teacher Education Program (SSTEP), Simon has learned new, engaging ways of teaching, especially in literacy. The four-year program seeks to reach some 3,000 teachers like Simon to help them learn how to make education more accessible and enjoyable for students.

Simon received training to lead group study sessions with other teachers in his own community, to pass on what he has learned. Today, Simon is tutoring his fellow teachers in how to create a lesson plan.

“I take my time and I explain to them what I learned, so that we can all progress at the same level,” says Simon, who has been a teacher for more than eight years. “I introduced them to the child-centered teaching methodology, where all children are involved in the teaching and learning process. This has made learning fun and interesting for both the teachers and learners.”

SSTEP is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by EDC in partnership with Winrock International and Episcopal Church of South Sudan. EDC is working with the South Sudan Ministry of General Education and Instruction to field-test the new SSTEP in-service teacher training program. Simon is one of more than 1,200 teachers who have attended the trainings so far, held at education centers around the country.

“Most of the teachers in South Sudan have never been introduced to how to effectively teach literacy,” says EDC’s Lainie Reisman. “It’s eye opening to them if they’ve never given thought to how to teach primary school children the mechanics of reading and writing. We’ve infused literacy into the core of our program.”

Peter Dara is one of the teachers who has benefited from Simon’s teacher training and tutelage. “We are now able to apply the child-centered learning method and use any materials around us to demonstrate a lesson to the pupils,” Dara says.

Making progress

Education programs are slowly moving forward in South Sudan, just two years since its historic vote for independence from the north. This progress includes a commitment by the government to improve education in its primary school classrooms and keep more students in school.

Teacher training is an important first step, and the need is dire. South Sudan has a critical teacher shortage, with the majority of teachers untrained. Drop-out rates in the country are some of the worst in the world, particularly for girls. According to UNESCO, about 1 million school-aged children do not attend school, and just 37 percent of school-aged girls are enrolled. USAID reports that in 2010, only 27 percent of the adult population could read and write.

As part of SSTEP, EDC has worked with the education ministry to revise its teacher training curriculum to meet the newly launched National Professional Standards for Teachers in South Sudan. EDC has also developed teaching materials for master trainers such as Simon, including tutor guides and community- and school-based activity workbooks. EDC is monitoring the SSTEP training-of-trainers and will evaluate its effectiveness using the electronic Early Grade Reading Assessment (eEGRA) tool.

Godfrey Karakacaha is another SSTEP teacher trainee. He’s using the new teaching methods he’s learned in his classroom at St. Bakhita Girls School in Eastern Equatoria state, supported by EDC-developed student learning materials.

“I can now teach reading using the letter sounds [to help] my learners to learn the right pronunciations of words,” Karakacaha says. “They are learning to read new words with a lot of interest. My class has attracted more learners, who are also encouraging their friends to come and see what happens at school.”

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