The devastating impact of war on a country is no secret. Lives are lost, infrastructure is destroyed, and economies crumble. But one aspect of war that often goes unnoticed is the damage it inflicts on the education system. Nowhere is this more evident than in Sudan.
The war in Sudan has been raging for years, tearing apart communities and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. As a result, the country’s education system has suffered immense damage. Schools have been forced to shut down, and exams – a crucial step in a student’s academic journey – have been cancelled.
Take the story of Sarah Al-Sharif, a 19-year-old information technology student. When the war broke out, her family was forced to flee their home, leaving behind everything they had. Sarah had to abandon her books and computer, essential tools for her education. Now, in her new location in Sennar, she lacks a stable internet connection and is unable to travel abroad due to a lack of a passport. Like many others in her situation, Sarah sees no way of continuing her studies while the fighting between rival military factions rages on.
The conflict in Sudan, which began in mid-April, has pushed the country’s faltering education system into a state of collapse. Many schools have been shut down or repurposed to house displaced people, and most national end-of-year exams have been cancelled. The war has spelled the end of education in Sudan, and things have turned from bad to impossible, as Sarah Al-Sharif rightly points out.
But it is not just the closure of schools and the cancellation of exams that have devastated the education system in Sudan. The conflict has brought daily battles to the streets of Khartoum and a revival of ethnically-targeted attacks in Darfur. It has resulted in the displacement of more than 4 million people within Sudan and across its borders. As a result, an alarming number of reports have surfaced, indicating that both boys and girls are being recruited by armed groups.
Furthermore, at least 89 schools across seven states in Sudan are being used as shelters for the displaced. This has raised fears that many children will have no access to schools in the new academic year and could be exposed to child labor and abuse, a situation that is truly heart-wrenching.
The education crisis in Sudan has intensified due to various factors, including the ongoing war and political instability. Even prior to the conflict, Sudan was among the top four countries globally where education was at extreme risk, according to Save The Children. Now, with the war escalating, the number of out-of-school children has risen to 9 million. Displacement has affected over a million school-aged children and around 10,400 schools have been forced to close.
Sudan’s education system had already suffered from under-investment, political interference, and an economic downturn. Street protests preceding the ousting of former leader Omar Al-Bashir in 2019 further disrupted the schooling system. Heavy floods in 2020 and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated these challenges.
Classrooms were crowded even before these crises unfolded, forcing students to bring their own chairs as there weren’t enough resources provided by schools. Abdullah, a displaced teacher reported that insufficient textbooks hindered their ability to teach effectively.
Before the outbreak of war, state-employed teachers staged a three-month strike demanding better pay and improved working conditions. In addition to their demands going unmet, many of these teachers have not received salaries since March. The uncertain future of when they will return to work compounds their struggles.
Fatima Mohamed is one such teacher who hasn’t been paid for four months and doesn’t know when she will be able to resume teaching. She fled Khartoum for Gedaraf state after her school fell under control of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
The dire situation facing Sudan’s education sector calls for urgent attention and support from both national and international stakeholders. Rebuilding an inclusive and effective schooling system will require significant investment and collaborative efforts from all involved parties.
‘Wait and hope’
In the midst of recent disruptions, Rabab Nasreldeen had reached her third year of law studies at the University of Khartoum when the war broke out. Unfortunately, she was forced to flee, leaving behind important educational documentation that could have potentially allowed her to continue her studies elsewhere. With limited options available, she expressed, “The only option we have is to wait and hope for the best.”
To alleviate this crisis, aid workers are diligently working to establish safe learning environments and provide children with psychosocial support. Education Cannot Wait, the UN’s global fund dedicated to education in emergencies, has successfully raised $12.5 million with a goal of delivering educational services to 120,000 children in Sudan and neighboring countries.
Yasmine Sherif, the Executive Director of the fund, emphasizes that during the COVID-19 pandemic parents in affluent countries were unwilling to let their children wait for education. She asks, “So why should we expect those in Sudan to put their education on hold until the conflict subsides?”
Some individuals fleeing Sudan are seeking admission into schools and universities outside its borders, such as Egypt. However, for over 377,000 refugees who have sought refuge in Chad, these options simply do not exist.
Khalifa Adam, a displaced student who escaped from Darfur to Adre in Chad expressed his distress: “I cannot return home to continue my education and I’ve lost contact with my family.” He added that while he was informed about continuing his studies online, unfortunately internet connectivity in Adre is incredibly poor.
Reuters contributed to this report.