The PIE: Tell us about your history, and the current aims of the South Sudanese education policy?
Deng Deng Hoc Yai: I was appointed the minister of education on 29 April 2016, before that I the was the minister of the environment; I spent about two years there.
“We still have over two million children and youths who are out of school”
The important priorities for us are, one: access and equity, because as a new country and a country where the constitution states that education is a basic right for every citizen, we need to make sure all children, all people who are illiterate, have access to programs to become literate, and can go to university, college or vocational training, and become active productive individuals.
Currently, we have [around] three million children and youth in our schools, and pastoral education programs, as well as alternative education system programs. We still have over two million children and youths who are out of school, who need interventions to bring them into the education system.
The second priority for us is quality, and we have done quite a lot of things to improve the quality of education. We have trained teachers in the past, but the programs were not based on any professional standards.
So we decided to adopt and adapt the professional standards for teachers in England, and we have been using them since 2012 (South Sudan formally came into existence in 2011, after separating from Sudan, ed) as the basis for pre-service training as well as in-service training. The standards are modular, which gives you the flexibility to do one at a time or do the whole lot.
So we have now streamlined training and changed, but not completed training for the 47,000 [teachers], and we have a new program funded by the global partnership for education. US$41m over the next two to three years, with $9m spent on training teachers, to qualify and to implement the new national curriculum, which we have designed.
The new national curriculum is intended to equip our young people to achieve four things.
One, to be a good citizen; two, to be successful life-long learners; three, to be creative, active and productive individuals; and four, to be environmentally responsible members of our society.
The PIE: Was it a case of looking to outside nations and their curriculums?
DY: Exactly, we looked at the high performing jurisdictions, including the UK, US, Australia, Singapore, Finland, Norway, Malaysia, HK, South Korea, the countries that are excelling in education.
And we asked ourselves, ‘what is the one thing they are doing differently?’. We found it, basically the curricular are focusing on fewer aims. [They are] focusing on the 21st-century skills, and balancing knowledge, skills, attitudes, and abilities. So they are not just about knowledge, as was the case with our curriculum previously.
We have some skills, but not enough. We did not deal much with values and attitudes, soft skills, emotional intelligence… We had to redesign to have the right balance.
The PIE: As well as helping domestically, does that help foster international partnerships and relationships?
DY: Yes, we started in fact with the UK, because the education system we wanted to mirror is the one from the UK. This is the type of education we had in the past, before the independence of the Sudan [from the UK in 1956]. So people who are much older than me have gone through that education, and are very nostalgic.
[They were] talking about the ‘good old days’, so I said okay, we will bring the ‘good old days’ back for the younger generation! But different, in the way that we need to adhere to the constitution. That means all indigenous languages (must be) promoted, respected, and developed. So how do you do that?
“The education system we wanted to mirror is the one from the UK”
This is why we introduce those languages in our schools to be taught as subjects but also be to be used as a medium of instruction.
We arrived at this decision based on evidence, that children who learn in their national languages learn faster and more accurately.
The PIE: What is the relationship like between the older generation who remember the colonial time, and the youth who have grown up in a decade or more of change and progress?
DY: The older generation is better educated, but there are exceptions. Some young people had rare opportunities, they went abroad, they learned, they got well educated. But overall, the younger generation, especially those who were educated in Arabic, were seen to have an inferior quality education. Which is why people want an English medium education, and why we’re addressing the issue of quality, by training new teachers, by changing the curricular, by writing new textbooks, and we will introduce a school inspection system.
Actually, we have adopted the OFSTED [UK] system for developmental purposes, as a diagnostic tool. The school inspectors are going to be critical friends, helping schools develop improvement plans [which will be covered by a government grant].
We take the view that improvement will not happen overnight, it will take years, but it is important that every school starts the journey, and move at their own pace, until they become a good school.
We are happy with the system now as we’ve already implemented reforms, and we know that in the area of access we have achieved quite a lot. We still have a long way to go, in terms of improving quality and access – for both children and adults – we only have 27% of 15-year-olds and above who are literate, 73% is illiterate. So we need to embark on a large-scale literacy campaign.
We recently went to a conference in Mexico City for the bottom-30 countries in the world for literacy. The education ministers of the 30 countries will be forming a committee under the leadership of UNESCO’s Institute for Lifelong Learning, to tackle literacy.
“We only have 27% of 15-year-olds and above who are literate”
I have decided that every school will be used in the afternoon as an adult education centre, or a literacy centre. What we need now is to ensure we have enough teachers to work also in the afternoon, because we cannot recycle the same teachers from the schools.
The PIE: Will there be an international outreach to find teachers?
DY: We are looking to recruit locally.
The PIE: Can you tell us more about the global partners you work with?
DY: We have quite a lot of partners in the National Education Forum, which is [formed of] the government, the development partners, such as UN agencies, donors such as [UK government agency] DFID, USAid, international NGOs working in education, which have formed the emergency education cluster, and local NGOs.
The PIE: And do you work with neighbouring countries in the Forum too?
DY: No, we work with neighbouring countries on a bilateral basis. We have signed a cooperation agreement with DRC, one with Egypt, we are going to sign one with Kenya and Tanzania. We have another old agreement with Uganda, signed in 2006 which we are going to renew. We have a cooperation agreement with Sudan, which we are going to update and renew to respond to emerging issues, and the same with Ethiopia.
The PIE: And what are these agreements trying to do?
DY: Part of it is about offering opportunities for our students to go to HEIs in those countries, using scholarships. But the other is when the student goes alone, and pays their own fees, then they are not charged as a foreign student – they are charged as a domestic student.
But we also have primary school learners who are in these countries, especially Kenya and Uganda, so it also about making sure they are charged the same fee as a home student.
It’s also about cooperation in terms of sharing best practices, lessons from reforms implemented, so we are also aware of what they have done and if it has done well.
The PIE: In terms of HE, are you looking for students and investment coming into South Sudan?
DY: We want the private sector to come in. We are keen to do two things, bring in the private sector to expand higher education. Because the government alone cannot achieve massification, which is an important aim in higher education.
“In the afternoon every school will be used as an adult education centre, or a literacy centre”
Second, we want to improve quality, in the same way, we are trying in basic education. Up to now, our universities are not in the global university rankings, so we want to introduce a quality assurance framework. We also want to encourage ‘twinning’ with universities that are ranked highly, in Africa or the world.
They can take part in the exchange of staff and students, sharing digital libraries. The beauty of digital libraries is you don’t have to come to Africa, or leave, you can access it from anywhere.