South Sudan will abolish fees in all public schools, the government announced on Monday, sparking concern that the move could worsen the problems of the war-torn country’s already crippled education system.
“South Sudan is working hard to build an inclusive education system in the face of huge unmet needs, and this is why we want free education for all children,” Education Minister Deng Deng Hoc said.
Devastated by decades of civil war before achieving independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan has a literacy rate of only 27 per cent.
A military conflict between the government and rebels that has been ongoing since December 2013 has destroyed more than 800 schools, according to the UN.
With more than half of elementary and high school age children not able to get an education, South Sudan has one of the highest proportions of children out of school in the world.
Hoc said the UN and other development partners were supporting schools with educational materials.
South Sudan is also trying to revive its oil production, which had dropped because of the military conflict.
It was not clear how the government would finance the free education.
South Sudan’s school fees are currently only about $5 per child annually, but education analyst Abraham Kuol Chol said fees helped to finance teachers’ salaries.
Abolishing them could prompt many teachers to abandon the profession.
“Most of the teachers in the countryside… depend on… school fees,” he said.