Schools open in troubled Sudan amid UNICEF warnings

In light of institutions suffering from poor infrastructure, lack of seats, textbooks, a prepared teaching staff, the suspension of school meals, and the threat of a possible teachers’ strike, schools resumed in Sudan amid very worrying UNICEF warnings.

Khartoum: AlTaghyeer: Sarah Taj al-Sir

After a two-week delay, about 13 million male and female students of all educational levels in Sudan are headed to school on Sunday, marking the start of the new year.

This school year comes amid unprecedented crises represented by a deteriorating economy following the October 25 coup, and the collapse of more than 2,000 schools due to torrential rains and floods.

In addition to the harbingers of a possible strike by Sudanese teachers due to the weak salary structure that is not commensurate with the increase in prices and high inflation.

Suspension of the School Meal Program
This return to studies presence of more than 3 million children out of school, and 6.9 million others dropping out.

7 out of 10 children aged ten years old cannot read or comprehend a simple sentence, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

UNICEF Representative in Sudan Mandeep O’Brien said that “no country can bear the burden of not knowing a third of its school-age children to have no literacy, numeracy or digital skills. Education is not just a right, it is also a lifeline.”

At the time the United Nations World Food Program revealed at the end of last September that poor funding would force it to shut down its school meals programme, which provides lunch for schoolchildren, on January 2023.

The program said that this affects the educational opportunities for the youngest generation in Sudan, as school programs provide a strong incentive for families to send their children to school.
The program urgently needs $201 million over the next 6 months to maintain a lifeline for people who need it most.

Possible Teachers’ Strike
About 24 hours before the start of the school year, the Sudanese Teachers Committee held an expanded meeting on Saturday, the first of October, to reflect on what needs to be done after having studied the cost of living and the minimum wage proposal prepared by the Social Office.

The meeting reached the necessity of submitting a memorandum to the Council of Ministers containing a number of demands to help improve the living conditions of those in service.

The same memorandum is to be submitted to the secretariats of governments in the different states, and that the submission of the memorandum is through processions, and a copy pushed to the Ministries of Finance, the Federal Education, the Federal Government, and the ministries of education in the states.

In a statement AlTaghyeer managed to obtain a copy of the committee set October 16th as the date for the memorandum to be submitted to all parties, in all states of Sudan, with time limit set for the response.
The memorandum included demands to raise the minimum wage to 69,940 pounds, 50% to 70% for teachers, and 80% for special education, teachers of areas of distress and technical education.

In addition to introducing an allowance for education workers covering 10% of the basic salary under the name “education allowance”, provided that the amendment includes all employees.
The Teachers’ Committee expressed its hope that an agreement with those referred to would be quickly reached, so that the school year would proceed without problems, before alerting teachers to be “prepared for all possibilities.”

High School Prices
According to information provided to AlTaghyeer, the fees for private schools have doubled, this year, at rates exceeding 250%, starting from English language kindergartens.

Private school fees for English curriculum schools have gone up to 600,000 Sudanese pounds at most, with the national curriculum following ones amounting an increase of up to 300,000 pounds excluding deportation.

As for Arabic language private schools, new fees ranged between 250-700 thousand pounds, provided that 50% of the value is paid during registration and the rest is paid in 2-month installments, with the institution tasked with providing books and school uniforms.

Government education was also not exempt from increased fees despite circulating talks regarding free education for the primary stage.
Education and the Priorities of the Ruling Elite.

The official spokesman for the Sudanese Teachers’ Committee, former Executive Director of the Ministry of Education, Sami al-Baqir, considered, during a TV appearance, said that the two-week postponement of the school year was not enough to solve problems and prepare schools affected by floods and torrential rain. as well as issues pertaining to the lack of textbooks, teacher training, and improved living conditions for teachers.

Former Minister of Education, Muhammad al-Amin al-Tom, confirmed, during the same TV interview, that the political reality has cast a shadow of sorrow on education.

He said that, for the first time in Sudan’s history, the ministry remained without a minister for more than a year, after the first transitional government was dissolved on February 7, 2021.

Before that, the coup authorities appointed the Director General of Examinations as an undersecretary of the Ministry of Education and then a minister in charge, holding three jobs at the same time.

Al-Tom accused the ruling elite of not paying attention to education, citing that it did not fulfill to what it had previously promised in free education for the primary stages and the provision of free school meal.

In addition, the former minister pointed to the weak budgets allocated for the education sector compared to the amounts spent on security and defense.
“The education budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021 did not exceed 9%, while the international standard was not less than 20%, at a time when the army and security services accounted for 80% of the budget,” Al-Tom added.

The former minister pointed out that the ministry reduced the specified days of the academic year by 180 days, or 36 weeks, standing currently at only 24 weeks.

In light of institutions suffering from poor infrastructure, lack of seating, textbooks and teacher preparation, the suspension of school meals, and the threat of a possible teachers’ strike, schools opened their classes on Sunday at a time when UNICEF warned that if urgent measures were not taken, the learning crisis in Sudan will turn into a generational disaster.

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