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The children of Sudan are experiencing the worst education crisis in the world

February 7, 2024 at 9:01 pm

Students attending a lesson at a secondary school for girls in Wad Madani, the capital of Sudan’s al-Jazirah state, Sudan on 15 June, 2023 [-/AFP via Getty Images]

It seems that the return of schools and universities to their natural role in educating students is not possible in a country like Sudan, torn apart by the civil war that has erupted between Army units and the Rapid Support Forces. This fight broke out about 9 months ago and is still raging, while African mediations and UN, American, Saudi and other attempts have not succeeded in finding sustainable solutions to it. Therefore, everything that happens is going against wishes. Considering that matters are becoming more complex with each passing day, and the battles are constantly expanding towards governorates that had previously been far from them, more and more school and university age children will remain outside their doors. UNICEF and Save the Children both say that about 19 million children in Sudan – meaning 1 out of every 3 children – are out of school. Of these 19 million, about 6.5 million children have lost access to school, due to violence and insecurity increasing in their areas, and some 10,400 schools in conflict-affected areas have closed their doors.

However, children who live in areas less affected by battles, about 5.5 million children, have lost their educational opportunities due to complications related to war, the ability to pay teachers’ salaries, the destruction of buildings, vandalised equipment, the buildings being occupied by militants or displaced individuals or any other issues that prevent the resumption of teaching and education to how it was before the battles broke out. All of this is related to the war, but it turns out that this issue existed before the outbreak of fighting, as there were at least 7 million children of school age who were deprived of it.

READ: UN appeals for $4.1bn to help war-torn Sudan, refugees

The two organisations had issued a joint statement in which they said, “Sudan is on the brink of becoming home to the worst education crisis in the world,” adding, “Children have been exposed to the horrors of war for nearly half a year. Now, forced away from their classrooms, teachers and friends, they are at risk of falling into a void that will threaten the future of an entire generation.” Even worse is the fact that these numbers of children are being lured to the ranks of the rivalling military forces, hence involving new generations in the violence. This means the war is fuelling itself with more human fuel, as its continuity depends on it. It is known that many civil wars are waged, in large part, by “child soldiers” who are recruited into the ranks of the fighting parties.

The crisis initially emerged in the form of waves of displaced people from the capital, Khartoum, when the fighting was confined to its three cities, and led to a total of about 2.5 million children out of about 4 million displaced, as a result of the fighting that took place in the city’s neighbourhoods, and the loss of basic needs such as water, electricity, food, health facilities and, above all, security. However, those who did not flee with their families found themselves under the burden of a siege from which they could not escape and, therefore, could not access the right to education. Hence, deprivation of education affected both the displaced and residents alike, while what the country is experiencing under the weight of wars, whether internal or border, has nothing to do with the needs for education.

We know that, during any war, non-military expenditures are reduced in order to increase spending on the army. If there is an internal war, resources are controlled and the public treasury is deprived of them, leading to reduced educational spending. This includes teachers’ salaries in schools, and their primary concern becomes searching for a means to make a living in order to feed their families.

READ: At least 1 child is dying every 2 hours in Sudan’s Zamzam camp

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby on 7 February, 2024.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.