The Impact of Cultural Factors on the Development of Education in Greater Pibor, South Sudan

By KWAJE, Sebit Nicholas Phillip

Table of Contents

1.    Introduction 

2.    The Murle People 

3.    The Relationship between Culture and Formal Education 

4.    Cultural Factors that Shape Formal Education

5.    Recommendations

6.    Conclusion 

7.    References 

8. About the Author

1.    Introduction

Culture and education are interlinked. This entry examines the cultural factors that shape the development of formal education systems for the Murle minority group of Greater Pibor in South Sudan. It also identifies non-cultural factors that have affected the development of formal education systems and analyzes the relationship between them. The entry is structured in four sections. First, it introduces the context of the Greater Pibor and the Murle minority group in South Sudan. It also provides definitions of culture and education and discusses their relationship. The next section identifies specific cultural aspects of Murle society and analyzes their impact on formal education. After that, the entry presents recommendations for the work of scholars and educational stakeholders such as government officers, and concludes with implications for development of formal education. This entry intends to help teachers and education specialistsunderstand non-school factors that shape the development of formal education systems, embedded in the context of Greater Pibor society. 

2.    The Murle People

The Republic of South Sudan is the world’s newest nation; it gained its independence in 2011 after claiming about 98.8% vote in a referendum in favor of political autonomy from Sudan (Christopher, 2011; Curless, 2011). The Murle are the Eastern Nilotic people who are believed to have migrated from Ethiopia and settled in the eastern part of what is now South Sudan (Arensen, 1964). Sudan’s 5thPopulation and Housing Census of 2008 estimated the population of Greater Pibor as 214,676 people (SSCCSE, 2008). They are one of 64 ethnic groups in South Sudan, originally inhabitingthe Greater Pibor Administrative Area (Turton, 1979). According to the National Baseline Household Survey conducted in 2009, about 144 out of 214,676 Murle were literate, a proportion lower than any other group in South Sudan. Similarly, Greater Pibor in Jonglei region has the least primary school Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of 5,472, which is just 15% (see Figure 1). This situation raisesconcernas to the underlying factors of such low literacy and enrolment numbers. The cultural context of Murle societycan be one possible factor. 

Figure 1.  Gross Enrolment Ratio for Counties in Jonglei Region(Southern Sudan Centre for Census, Statistics and Evaluation (SSCCSE), 2009, p. 69).

Figure 1. Gross Enrolment Ratio for Counties in Jonglei Region(Southern Sudan Centre for Census, Statistics and Evaluation (SSCCSE), 2009, p. 69).

Formal education, like other forms of development, can only take roots in a society that supports its values, norms, beliefs and structures. Rigid cultural practices and beliefs, such as those of the Murle people as discussed below, make investment in formal education slow. 

3.    The Relationship between Culture and Formal Education

Culture and education are interdependent as society’s educational systems are shaped by its cultural beliefs and values and, in a similar manner, cultural patterns are guided by its educational systems. Many comparative education researchers focus on school-based inputs to analyze educational development across countries. Yet, culture is one of the most influential non-school factors that influences learning. To demonstrate this connection, we first look at the definitions and meanings of culture and education. 

Tylor defined culture as a ‘complex whole which includes’ ‘knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits, acquired by humans as members of society’ (as cited by Thomas, 2007). The current globalization of education is arguedby some countries and minority groups to potentially have a negative impact on their education through its political, economic, and cultural colonization of education (Bakhtiari and Shajar, 2006). 

Formal education is defined by Claudio (as cited in Dib, 1988) as a systematic, organized education model, which can be structured and administered according to a given set of laws and norms, presenting a rather rigid curriculum as regards objectives, content, and methodology (p. 300-315). In most cases, local language is used as the medium of instruction in formal schools.   The relationship between culture and formal education is that they both are structured in a way guided by a set of laws and norms that must be compatible to support oneanother’s development. 

4.    Cultural Factors that Shape Formal Education

In the Greater Pibor area, livestock is the main source of livelihood and has increasingly made its way to urban markets that have expanded beyond local economies (Leff andLeBrun, 2014). The Murle in Piborengage primarily in pastoralism, moving with their cattle between more established settlements and more temporary ones, depending on the season (Maxwellet al., 2014). Regular migrations remain an important aspect in this traditional livelihood production system, especially during the dry season when cattle are taken to distant places for months, in search of pastures and water. In most instances such movements attract conflicts over grazing lands, water sources, and cattle raiding, which are deadly, and creates a circle of violence with neighboring communities. Such practices (livestock keeping) are demanding and create mobile communities which hardly settle. It further deprives nomadic children of the opportunity for formal schooling. These children and youth devote most of their time looking after cattle instead of being in school. In addition to constant migration, the establishment of permanent schools becomes difficult, because they are likely to be left unused when seasonschange. School attendance in pastoralist communities remains low, as entire generations are being raised without education (Beswick, 2001). This cultural belief of sticking to traditional sources of livelihood creates a gap that makes it a challenge to keep pace with formal schooling system in the Greater Pibor area.

Child abduction (kidnapping children and women) is another unique cultural practice by the Murle people (Leff andLeBrun, 2014). Abductee(s) are usually adopted to become members of abductors’ community. The article titled 14 Abducted Children Rescued in Jonglei State’(Thon, 2009) discusses the abduction and reunification of 14 children from Jonglei and the detention of the abductors in Pibor town awaiting trial. This practice of child abduction is carried out by Murle youth, with their neighboring communities the Jie, Kachipo, Anyuak, Dinka, Nuer, and Toposa, and now has expanded to other countries like Ethiopia and Northern Kenya. Recent trends of internal child abductions among the Murle created mistrust among members of the community. Some of them now do not allow their children to go to school even if schools exist within their community. In some areas when a raid or abduction happens, parents or community leaders ask the school to suspend learning activities for a certain period, paralyzing the routine operation of classes. Sometimes youth organize parties to chase after abductors to recover their children or cattle. Such activities often end up in violent clashes due to revenge. This culture of abduction has resulted in a vicious cycle of violence that has led to the slow development of formal education in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area (Yoshida, 2013).  

The Murle society does not have a formal hierarchical leadership structure, but is broken into generational age-sets, with each set comprising of a ten-year span (Leff andLeBrun, 2014). As the members build a family and acquire livestock, their roles within the age-set may change. A new age-set forms about once in every ten years, and they rise and fall in prominence depending on its strength and their abilities to raid. These generations have internal governing systems and symbols of identity (Leff andLeBrun, 2014). For example, the type and pigment of beads, body markings and hair styles of each group clearly describe the generation style. To-date, there are up to nine different generations, with the older called ‘Moden’ and the younger ‘Lango’, although there is an emerging younger generation called the ‘Tangot’. Power transition from one age-set to another is never peaceful. The younger generation has to fight their way through to take responsibility from their predecessors. Such fierce and fatal generation fights have resulted in fractures, injuries, and deaths. Communal bonds make it difficult to break the vicious cycle of illiteracy, because one member cannot be in school if his or her age-set is involved in a cultural group activity, hence derailing the participation of the Murle in formal school settings. 

Another aspect of the Murle culture is the value attached to dowry or bride price paid in the form of cattle during traditional marriages. In many parts of South Sudan, girls are often regarded as an opportunity to increase family wealth, as marriage brings in resources such as cattle or money. About 40% of girls between ages 15-19 are married, with some as young as 12 years old (Girls Education Strategy South Sudan, 2012). With pastoralist tribes typically partaking in the bride price practice, girls also serve as a form of family wealth, in which the sooner the girl marries, the sooner the family acquires her monetary ‘value’ in cattle (Beswick, 2001). This matters because formal education is governed by a set of cultural rules and laws that guide its operation in communities. These cultural lags of discrimination against one gender create inequalities as married girls cannot participate in formal education. 

5.    Recommendations

The South Sudan General Education Act 2012 set forth a framework for development of policies and programs that promote accelerated learning especially for communities affected by the civil war (1955 – 2005). This gave rise to the development of the Alternative Education System policy in 2014, with six major strategies to condense 8 years of primary school to 4 years for overgrown children (GESP, 2012). Based on the above, I suggest the following remedies to the situation in the Greater Pibor area described above.

First, effective implementation of the Alternative Education System policy and the Girls’ Education South Sudan program by the government and development partners would curb the widening illiteracy gap among the Murle people. The Alternative Education System is an accelerated program designed to cover educational lag of communities affected by conflicts. This program has 6 main strategies aimed at improving enrolment through establishment of accelerated learning programs, community girls’ schools, pastoralist education programs, basic adult literacy programs, and intensive English courses for teachers. Second, civic education is vital in the communities to sensitize parents so that they can see the importance of formal education and allow their children to participate in learning. This does not only change the perceptions of education by parents, but enables them to see the value of learning for their children’s future. Community engagements through meetings, forums, and dialogues can mobilize the Murle for development of sustainable and lifelong learning programs.

Third, there should be investment in construction of infrastructure, especially schools, teachers training colleges, and vocational institutions. The Government of South Sudan with development partners should invest in infrastructural projects, especially constructions of roads for the Murle people to access business and learning opportunities within South Sudan and beyond. Fourth, Murle livelihood programs should be diversified to include mixed farming methods. The government should encourage market-oriented production to improve local economies, and encourage stable settlements within farms and reduce seasonal migrations.

6.    Conclusion

Cultures are not static, but change with time depending on the level of interaction of a specific community with the outside world. Education in this case plays an important role in shaping the attitudes and perceptions of the Murle people to view their community using a global lens and learning from other communities. Specific aspects of their culture, such as the informal leadership structure, child abduction, traditional cattle grazing,and the value attached to bride price may not be the only reasons that account for the low development of formal education in the Greater Pibor Area, but they contribute greatly to the lag. Education stakeholders and government officials need to further investigate educational imbalances and make recommendations and interventions that aim at addressing the ‘cultural lags’ delaying the implementation of education for sustainable development for the Murle people.

7.    References

Arensen, J. (1964). The History of Murle Migration: Research Paper on Cultural Anthropology (D.Phil.), Oxford University Professor of Anthropology, Houghton College.

Bakhtiari, S. & Shajar, H. (2006). Globalization and Education Challenges and Opportunities. International Business and Economics Research Journal5(2), 95-101.

Beswick, S. (2001). "We are Bought Like Clothes": The War Over Polygyny and Levirate     Marriage in South Sudan. Northeast African Studies, 8(2), 35-61.

Christopher, A. J. (2011). Secession and South Sudan: An African Precedent for the Future? South African Geographical Journal Suid-Afrikaanse Geografiese Tydskrif, 93(2), 125-132.

Curless, G. (2011). Sudan’s 2011 Referendum on Southern Secession. Ethnopolitics, 7, 1-25. 

Dib, C. Z. (1988). Formal, Nonformal and Informal Education: Concepts/applicability.Paper presented at the AIP conference proceedings.

Girls Education Strategy South Sudan (2012). Ministry of Education and Instructions, Directorate of planning.Government of South Sudan.

Leff, J. & LeBrun, E. (2014). Following the Thread: Arms and Ammunition Tracing in Sudan and South Sudan. Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies.

Maxwell, D., Santschi, M., Gordon, R., Dau, P., & Moro, L. (2014). Researching Livelihoods and Services Affectedby Conflict.Overseas Development Institute.

Southern Sudan Center for Census, Statistics and Evaluation (SSCCSE). (2008). Sudan 5thPopulation and Housing Census Results, 2008.Government of Southern Sudan.

Thomas, J. (2007). The Trouble with Material Culture. Journal of Iberian Archaeology, 9(10), 11-23. 

Thon, P.A (2009); 14 Abducted Children Rescued in Jonglei State.Sudan Tribune Plural News and Views on Sudan(September 2012, Bor).

Turton, D. (1979). A Journey Made Them: Territorial Segmentation and Ethnic Identity among the Mursi. Segmentary Lineage Systems Reconsidered. Queen’s University Papers in Social Anthropology, 4, 119-143. 

Yoshida, Y. (2013). Interethnic Conflict in Jonglei State, South Sudan: Emerging Ethnic Hatred between the Lou Nuer and the Murle. African Journal on Conflict Resolution, 13(2), 39-57. 

About the Author

KWAJE, Sebit Nicholas Phillip

MEd, The University of Hong Kong.

Email: sebit.nicho1983@gmail.com

Addressing the Challenges of Adolescent Girls’ Education in South Sudan

By Ayume Elly Joseph

Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Challenges to Adolescent Girls’ Education in South Sudan

2.1. Different Gender Roles

2.2. Poverty

2.3. Early Marriage

3. Solutions to the Challenges of Adolescent Girls’ Education in South Sudan

3.1. Achieving Gender Equality

3.2. Reducing Poverty

3.3. Eradicating Early Marriage

4. Conclusion

5. References

6.  Key Words and Definitions

7. About the Author

1. Introduction

Investing in girls’ education is viewed as one of the best ways to empower and equip them to contribute to the development of their families, communities, and nations (Levine, Lloyd, Green, & Grown, 2008). In South Sudan, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has set up transformative strategies to improve girls’ education and the government set it as the country’s priority to educate every child.

Nevertheless, access to education for girls is still a challenging issue in the context (MDGs, 2010) and, as a result, many girls and women have lower levels of education compared to their male peers (Levine, Lloyd, Greene, & Grown, 2008). The illiteracy rate for women in South Sudan is estimated to be 90%, and, according to Brown (2006, p. 20), the country ‘has proportionately fewer girls going to school than any country in the world’.

It has also been observed that rural adolescent girls are more disadvantaged and vulnerable than girls in urban areas, who are at school and have higher chances to receive education (Deng, 2003). Girls face systematic drawbacks in education that include gender-based discrimination, poverty, early marriage, and the burden of domestic work. In addition, South Sudan faces a continuing war. The recent United Nations International Children Fund (UNICEF) report (2005) indicates that 59.3 million children living in countries affected by war are out of schools and the majority of them are girls. Due to socio-economic, political, and cultural challenges, 80% of these girls are unlikely to start school compared to 16% of boys.

This entry aims to explore specific challenges that affect girls’ education in South Sudan.  The findings in this analysis intend to be helpful in improving girls’ education and reducing gender inequality in the national context.

2. Challenges to Adolescent Girls’ Education in South Sudan

2.1. Different Gender Roles

Cultural norms in South Sudan see girls as house wives or carers who should do all the domestic work (Deng, 2003; Shimeles & Verdier‐Chouchane, 2016) that includes cleaning, fetching water, collecting firewood, cooking, taking care of the sick and their siblings. The Girls’ Education Strategy for South Sudan (2015-2017, p. 4) states that such culturally-determined ‘customs and behavior are enforced by male community leaders, elders, fathers, uncles, brothers, as well as mothers and aunts’ who make decisions girls are expected to respect and abide by. Domestic work load alone stands as a major challenge to girls’ education in the country as it restricts the time they can spend on studying (Lacko, 2011). This gendered culture discriminates against and denies girls’ right to receive education. As Levine et al. (2008, p. 2) note, ‘girls spend more time than boys on domestic chores, which can restrict educational, social, and economic opportunities’.  It is evidence of real exploitation of the girls and is a major factor contributing to the rising number of illiterate girls.

2.2. Poverty

Poverty is another challenging factor that affects girls’ education in South Sudan. The recurring conflict in the country has increased the number of people living below the poverty level to more than 51%, as the South Sudan Bureau of Statistics (2008) identified. Pouch (2016 p. 4) reported that

The war and resulting humanitarian crisis have displaced more than 2.7 million people, including roughly 200,000 who are sheltering at United Nations (UN) peacekeeping bases in the country. Over 1 million South Sudanese have fled as refugees to neighboring countries.

More than 90% of those who fled to Uganda are women and children. More than 50,000 people have been killed in the recent fight in addition to the 2.5 million people killed during the liberation movement between 1983 and 2005 (Pouch, 2016).

Recently, government forces have been blamed for serious abuses against civilians during the war in Juba and its aftermath. The reported crimes include extrajudicial killings (e.g., burning people alive), enforced disappearances of people, looting and property destruction (including schools and families), sexual violence (raping of school girls and women), and torture (Pouch, 2016; Shimeles & Verdier‐Chouchane, 2016). These merciless incidences have helped increase the poverty rate from 44.7% in 2011 to 65.9% in 2015 (World Bank, 2016).

The renewed conflict in July 2016 in the country has driven many more families to poverty and, as a result, to a more limited access to education. The literacy rate for women and girls has dropped to 16%. Humanitarian and development agencies have been trying to ensure the provision of aid but many people could not be accessed in the conflict affected areas. The majority of illiterate girls are out of school due to living in extreme poverty (Yousafzai, 2016). Most women have to work through difficulties in order to earn a living for their children. Besides, some parents prefer to educate their boys rather than girls due to inadequate resources and since they value boys more than girls.

2.3. Early Marriage

Early marriage is another major challenging factor limiting opportunities for adolescent girls’ education in South Sudan. Some parents think that young girls are an economic burden and consequently wish to marry off their young daughters so that they do not become an economic liability. The problem of early marriage is common among pastoralists communities in the nation. It continues to be practiced as part of traditional culture. Early/forced marriage results into a large number of girls dropping out of school (Arabi, 2011). Some girls are forced to get married by their parents in order to get dowry since they are perceived as a source of wealth for their families (Brophy, 2003). The dowry is mainly in form of cattle. These girls who cannot resist early marriage have no option but to drop out of school and start taking care of their new responsibilities as housewives. The existing laws plan to address the problem of early/forced marriages, but have not been implemented fully because such cases are handled by village chiefs (Boma or Payam). Village chiefs prefer to address issues at the local level where constitutional laws are not followed as established.

Moreover, the current conflict in South Sudan has caused unexpected harm to the education system and made the situation of girls’ education even worse. Many schools have been destroyed and many young girls had to marry early. Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) support the government in raising awareness about the problem of early marriage but the ideology is persisting, especially in rural communities that have limited access to education due to insecurity.

3. Solutions to the Challenges of Adolescent Girls’ Education in South Sudan

3.1. Achieving Gender Equality

Although the government and municipal leaders have sought additional support from NGOs to address the issue of gender inequality, no evident outcome can be observed particularly in the countryside. Therefore, more efforts are required to achieve gender equality. As Deng pointed out ‘while there is enough policy rhetoric about girl’s education, it is important to practically address the factors related to the demand for child labour’ (Deng, 2013, p.22).

One key recommendation would be to raise awareness about the benefits of girls’ education among male community leaders and parents, especially among those who persist in practicing harmful traditional family norms. They should understand how education can build capacities for sustainable development of the communities. For example, by educating girls we can improve economic growth and reduce infant and maternal mortality rate (Yousafzai, 2016). This can be done by organizing community dialogues and trainings for the community leaders and the education actors who will later educate the rest of the people in the society. Also, awareness can be spread through consultative and participatory meetings that are aimed at advocating for improvement of adolescent girls’ education and a gender balance in leadership, decision making, and other activities.

3.2. Reducing Poverty

To eradicate poverty and improve the economic situation of its people, government intervention is required. To ensure that, the government needs to seek to establish peace in the country. Only when peace is established, will the government and NGOs be able to provide social services such as education and health to the people. In partnership with NGOs, the government can design entrepreneurship projects for people to support the education of girls and youth in general. Furthermore, more efforts should be made to make girls’ education affordable, accessible, and of high quality (Herz & Sperling, 2004); and to provide support to families who do not have the means to send their daughters to school.

3.3. Eradicating Early Marriage

Early/forced marriage is an infringement on girls’ and women’s rights and health and its reduction and elimination need to be prioritized. There are many ways to address young girls’ marriage, although there is a strong resistance to their education in some communities in South Sudan (Lacko, 2011). The practitioners of such marriages need to be made aware of basic human rights, especially the right for children to receive education. They should be taught clearly that early marriage is a harassment which is against the rights of the child. 

The multi-sectorial approach which involves all sectors ranging from the community to the government level including NGOs is the best approach to be used to ensure that girls go to school, while also addressing the underlying problems of inequality and discrimination. Communities that abide by traditional harmful practices need to be educated on the importance of girls’ education to the family and community and its socio-economic benefits. The early marriage ideology can be discouraged when all actors know that an educated girl is more valuable than an illiterate one. Hence, encouraging girls’ education would be a resource in addressing early marriage and enhancing future sustainable education development in South Sudan.

4. Conclusion

The major challenges to girls’ education in South Sudan include gender inequality, poverty, and early marriage. First, traditional gender roles in South Sudan negatively affect girls’ education as girls are perceived as domestic helpers and are not allowed to attend school. Second, the long-lasting armed conflict has increased extreme poverty and worsened the country’s education situation, as 40% of the population lives with life threatening hunger. Third, early marriages that help families receive dowry for their daughters and/or remove the financial burden of providing for a girl, further exploit girls and threaten their health, wellbeing, and future. Good quality education, however, can provide girls with the prospect of a better life as they then can marry at a later age, have healthier children, and acquire better jobs and income. Education can also help them invest their resources in their children, families, and society. Addressing the challenges to girls’ education described in the entry is the turning point for families, societies, and the nation to develop sustainably. The need to enhance girls’ education is a responsibility of every actor in the nation. Hence, a multi-sectoral system of intervention in addressing girls’ education challenges is the best way to remove the barriers to girls’ education and enhance the quality of education for sustainable development. 

5. References

Ahlen, E. (2006). UNHCR’s Education Challenges. United Kingdom: UK: Forced Migration      

Arabi, A. (2011). In Power without Power: Women in Politics and Leadership Positions in South Sudan. Hope, Pain & Patience: The Lives of Women in South Sudan, 193-213. Fanele.

Brophy, M. (2003). Progress to Universal Primary Education in Southern Sudan: A Short Country Case Study. Background Paper Prepared for the Education For All, Global Monitoring Report, 4. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?        

Brown, T. (2006). South Sudan Education in Emergency. United Kingdom: UK: Forced Migration.

Deng, L. B. (2003). Education in Southern Sudan: War, Status and Challenges of Achieving Education for             All Goals. Sudanese Journal for Human Rights’ Culture and Issue of Cultural Diversity, 4, 1-27.  

Herz, B. K., and Sperling, G. B. (2004). What Works in Girls' Education: Evidence and Policies from the Developing World? Council on Foreign Relations.

Lacko, W. T. (2011). Education: The Missing Link for Rural Girls' and Women's Wellbeing in South Sudan. Ahfad Journal, 28(2), 15-32.

Levine, R., Lloyd, C., Greene, M., & Grown, C. (2008). Girls Count: A global Investment and Action Agenda. pare, 34(4), 395-424.

Pouch. L. B. (2016), Conflict in South Sudan and Challenges Ahead. Retrieved from; https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R43344.pdf

Shimeles, A., and Verdier‐Chouchane, A. (2016). The Key Role of Education in Reducing Poverty in South Sudan. African Development Review, 28(S2), 162-176.

Sudan Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). (2010). Report. Government of Southern Sudan, Southern Sudan Centre for Census Statistics and Evaluation. Retrieved from http://preview.tinyurl.com/jjbfg4j

The Girls’ Education Strategy for South Sudan (2015). South Sudan Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST). UNICEF South Sudan and other contributors. Retrieved from http://www.ungei.org/resources/6093.htm

United Nation International Children Funds. (UNICEF). (2003). The State of the World's Children 2004-Girls, Education and Development. UNICEF.

United Nation International Children Fund. (UNICEF). (2015). South Sudan Annual Report. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/files/SSudan_Annual_Report_2015.pdf

United Nation International Children Fund. (UNICEF). (2005).  A Report Card on Gender Parity and Primary Education (No. 2). UNICEF. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/zoknekg

World Bank, (The). (2016). Working a World Free Poverty. Retrieved from http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/southsudan/overview

Yousafzai, M. (2016). Foreword. In Sperling G., Winthrop R., Kwauk C., and Yousafzai M. (Authors). What Works in Girls' Education: Evidence for the World's Best Investment (pp. xvii-xx). Brookings Institution Press.

6.  Key Terms and Definitions

Adolescence: a person aged between 13 and 19,  the transitional stage from childhood to adulthood.

Gender Role: is a set of societal norms that dictate the type of work which is routinely done by a man or a woman based on the actual or perceived sex.

Early Marriage: is a union between two persons where one or both individuals are younger than 18 years old.

About the Author

Ayume Elly Joseph

MEd student, University of Hong Kong

Email: ayumeelly@yahoo.com