This article was penned by Elm Consulting, A research and social impact consultancy delivering technical solutions to support educational and economic development.
Authors: Sahar ElAsad, Soha Osman, Susan Kippels
As the war in Sudan surpassed its seventh month, half of the country's population is in need of humanitarian aid and protection as they endure one of the world’s worst internal displacement crises. The armed conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces that erupted in mid-April 2023 forced many schools to shut down or become repurposed to host displaced people. This has further pushed Sudan's already fragile education system to the brink of collapse.
A report published in July by OCHA indicated that at least 89 schools across seven states were being used as shelters for internally displaced persons. This, in conjunction with the announcement of the Minister of Education canceling end-of-year exams in war-affected areas, heightened the fears that many children would have no access to schools in the new academic year, compounding, in turn, the learning loss students have been experiencing in the troubled nation.
A makeshift classroom for newly displaced children in Nyala. Source: Albert Gonzalez Farran / UNAMID)
Sudan’s education system has been systemically deteriorating for decades due to insufficient government investment resulting from political interference and misuse of economic resources. Moreover, the year 2020 was an exceptional year for the world. For Sudan, however, it was an overwhelming shock to multiple sectors, including education.
The unstable state, which was still facing disruptions after mass protests that led to the ousting of former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2019, was not only trying to curb the spread of the coronavirus but was also mired in unprecedented economic crises. Shortly after, in 2020, catastrophic floods covered 17 of its 18 states. These challenging episodes further affected Sudan’s vulnerable education sector, causing it to be classified by UNICEF and Save the Children as one of the four countries worldwide where education was in a critically precarious state long before the outbreak of the conflict, primarily due to these learning disruptions.
South Kordfan teacher Adam Babiker Idris has not received a salary since March and has resorted o to making perfumes as a side job to make ends meet. Source: Ayin.
Having observed this critical state of education in Sudan, a team of three co-founders, two of whom are Sudanese nationals, recently founded Elm International to harness knowledge and research in order to make meaningful contributions to the advancement of education globally. As researchers with over a decade of engagement in education policy, we are advocating for 5 areas within education that require greater focus in relation to Sudan's current education challenges.
These recommendations stem from our previous education in emergency consultancy work, such as the forthcoming study on teachers on education in Northeast Syria with the European Institution for Peace as well as work with the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies to update its Minimum Standards Handbook. We particularly call for the following to support learning within Sudan’s education sector:
- Invest in Research- Funding education research in Sudan can help address information gaps in vital areas such as access, quality, and the psychosocial impact of conflict on students, teachers, and communities. Additionally, funding research-based policy interventions can help ensure strong strategies for providing education for displaced groups and promoting peace.
- Increase Community Engagement- Policymakers, researchers, and international non-governmental organizations need to collaborate with local communities of Sudan to understand their unique educational needs and challenges. This can help them ensure that interventions are responsive to pressing needs and contextually relevant for addressing needs stemming from the conflict.
- Support for Teacher Employment and Training- Immediate employment of Sudanese teachers who have been internally displaced or migrated to neighboring countries is a primary concern for the continuity of the education of Sudanese children inside and outside of Sudan. Training teachers in Sudan, as well as those teaching displaced students in refugee host countries, can help prepare educators to provide psychosocial support, adapt curriculum, and foster inclusive, conflict-sensitive learning environments for students. It can also help equip teachers with resilience, flexibility, and community engagement skills to ensure education continuity and promote peace values among students.
- Fund Infrastructure Development- Building high-quality education infrastructure, such as formal and informal education institutions, particularly in safe zones, can help preserve educational opportunities and contribute to post-war recovery and stability by providing a foundation for rebuilding communities and societies. Championing data-driven infrastructure development efforts will also ensure that schools are well-equipped to provide a conducive learning environment.
- Ensure Access to Technology- Supporting access to technology for education and high-quality programming may promote opportunities for increased distance learning and real-time communication while also providing continuity and support to students and teachers in conflict-affected areas, as well as refugee students. We believe that there is a need to understand the feasibility and impact of providing technology and internet access to students, particularly in remote areas, based on evidence from research in Sudan.
Sudanese refugee teachers Zahra Haroun, Nawal Adama, and Zahra Mohamed who have fled the violence in Darfur region, give an entertainment and sports training session for refugee children at makeshift shelters near the border between Sudan and Chad in Koufroun. Source: Reuters
Amidst the ongoing destruction caused by the war, the resilient people of Sudan are still holding onto hope, placing their aspirations in a rebirth of a new nation that is peaceful, inclusive, and draws valuable lessons from past mistakes, including uninformed policies built on non-existent data and research. That said, Sudanese people must understand that the revival of such a Sudan will only be achieved by the participation, commitment, and collaborative efforts of its entire population collectively.