Primary education: Too late for South Sudanese girls

Posted: November 1, 2017 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Education, Junub Sudan, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers, Philip Thon Aleu

By Philip Thon Aleu, Juba, South Sudan

young girl with a gun

A young lady with a gun on guard during Governor Philip Aguer visit to Anyidi payam, Bor County, Jan 2016

November 1, 2017 (SSB) — This week, primary students in Kenya and Uganda are sitting their final exams. And I would like to take this opportunity to wish all South Sudanese students success. This is a very important step in their academic lives – and more significantly, for girls.

I’m singling out girls because we, the South Sudanese, have fewer girls completing primary education in our country than boys. However, our children in Kenya and Uganda have better opportunities – and it appears all children – irrespective of their gender, are completing primary education in Ugandan and Kenyan towns. (Most children in refugees’ camps have limited opportunities – and girls are so disadvantaged in the camps).

Statistics from UN Agencies have it that most South Sudanese girls are more likely to die from childbirth than completing primary education. This is a disturbing but not a surprising assessment because parents do not take girl child education as a basic requirement for children upbringing.

Going through photos posted on Facebook, I still see a disturbing trend. Most girl children sitting their primary exams in Kenya and Uganda are above 16 years of age. This is too late. This is a very sensitive adolescent age bracket and children are reactive to their opposite sex in this stage of growth.

My observation is that most of these girls will not complete secondary school. After completing primary school, the praise of ‘accomplishment’ will spoil most of them – and fewer will join secondary next year.

By end of 2019, less than 50% of the current girls completing primary schools will be young mothers – often in poorly established fledging families. This has nothing to do with good or bad upbringing at all. It is purely biological changes that will be poorly managed because safe sex education is still a taboo in our community.

I have seen young girls and boys (they prefer being called young men) hugging on streets in Juba – and most of them just returned from Uganda and Kenya. Most of them completed primary and secondary school there – and have nothing to hide including expressing love on streets (I don’t know what else they do in private).

And with limited opportunities to further their education, they are heading to unprepared marriages – just like I and my older age group entered about a decade ago.

In essence, our communities are just circling around basic education – education that does not open people’s minds to venture businesses and income earning activities. And this is partly due to late education. And this unprogressive society is in a situation best known as horizontal social mobility.

So it is too late for South Sudanese girls to catch up with their counterparts in Uganda and Kenya. And a society where girls are not educated has a bleak future.

Not all is bad after completing primary school. I’m sure a little over 30% of girls will complete senior four – and about 10% will attend tertiary education. As for boys, I can bet that 60% will continue to complete their secondary education.

Others will just ‘finish’ senior four and linger around. And about 30% will attend higher institutions of learning. That is not a too low percentage but sincerely, it is not enough!

As for my colleagues – the young parents – we should give our children the best we can so that by age 12, or 13 utmost, girls and boys should complete primary school. This means by 16 or 17, they would have completed secondary education – and have learnt about their bodies.

Good luck!


Philip Thon Aleu has Bachelor Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Ndejje University, Uganda.  As a journalist, Philip started his career as a reporter for Sudan Tribune website in Jonglei State (2007) and moved to work for UN’s Radio Miraya (2010), Voice of America (VOA) and BBC Focus on Africa.  He is currently working with a diplomatic mission in Juba as a political analyst but the views expressed in this article are not from that embassy. Contact:

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