4 Dec 2020


Tracing Decline Of Quality Education And Standards In Sudan and South Sudan

"So, unless something drastic is done soon that will shore up the quality and standards of the universities, many countries may soon not recognize the degrees of the South Sudanese degrees."

By Prof Peter Tingwa*

This is a follow up to the interesting article and topic written by Mr. Deng Choldit “The Dark Legacy of Tyranny: How Bashir Destroyed Education” in your issue of 18 November 2019 and this following article is to add dimension and elaboration to the points of he has raised.

It is true that tyrannical dictatorship will inevitably destroy all the things Mr. Choldit has listed in his first paragraph. On the other hand, it must be remembered that benevolent dictatorships have been known to propel progress and thereby development in countries like Singapore under Lee Kwan Yu.

In the Sudan however, indeed, Bashir and his regime in their quest to establish an Islamic theocracy did many things that impacted negatively on everything, including education at all levels. The legacy of many of his bad policies and actions are still evident today in both the Sudan and South Sudan.

But it must be remembered that, while Bashir and his regime were responsible by finally delivering the coup de grace to the quality and standards of education, the many preceding regimes of the Sudan have their fair share in contributing to the decline in the quality and standards of education in the Sudan. In view of this the article below is an attempt to trace and point out the salient features of the decline in the quality and standards of education under the various regimes of the Sudan since the condominium days.

The Condominium Era
Modern education in the Sudan was started by the British-dominated Condominium Government. It was begun soon after the defeat of the Mahdists. It differed greatly from the education that the British were offering to their other colonies in Africa. That was because the Sudan was a condominium, that is, it was a joint rule between Britain and Egypt. As a consequence, the Sudan’s were conducted by the Foreign Office and not by the Colonial Office. So, it is wrong to say colonial rule in the Sudan as many say today because the Sudan was not a colony.

Be that it may, the structure of the education system which that Condominium Government established was as follows: four years each of elementary, intermediate and secondary education. The secondary years were to be followed by post-secondary education in colleges and/or universities.

In the North, the medium of instruction was Arabic in the elementary and intermediate levels but intense English was introduced in the intermediate level in order to prepare the pupils for English instructions at the secondary level. The secondary level was entirely taught in English.

In the South, after much policy debate as to which language to use, a system was reached whereby the elementary level was to be in the local languages with the introduction of English; while both the intermediate and secondary levels were to be in English. That was the general education.

At the end of those years, both in the North and South, the students took the O-Level Cambridge School Certificate Examinations. Those examinations were set and marked in Britain and were of the same standard as those taken by the British students; and those who passed those examinations well were admitted to the Gordon Memorial College, (now University of Khartoum). At that time, that College was affiliated to the University of London and so it was awarding University of London degrees.

Because of that, the degrees which our first group Southern university graduates like Aggrey Jaden, John Garang, Eziboni Mondiri, Ben Lado and Louis Buok, obtained were University of London degrees.

So here one could say that the quality, and thereby the standard of education in the Sudan was as high as was in Britain, since the students who went through the school system of the Sudan could pass the school certificate examinations for British students. And obtained degrees of a renowned university

That the high quality and standard of education of that time could be seen in two examples. Firstly, at that time an elementary level Class 4 pupil could read well and also could write ordinary letters.

I recall, while I was still in Class 4 at Lui Elementary School in 1951, I could write the letters of my uncles to their relatives who had gone to work in the other the towns.

Secondly, before independence the officials who competently manned the civil service in Southern Sudan were all intermediate school leavers, that is, with only eight years of formal education!!

Those officials performed tasks that today could hardly be done by many of the university graduates. They were well read and with high intellectual ability. They were mature, responsible and with a very high sense of duty.

Because of their high intellectual ability, one of them, Jeroboam Macuor, built a personal library which he bequeathed to the University of Juba Library.

Furthermore, they also became politically conscious about their rights as well as about the marginalization of us as South Sudanese by the Condominium Government. As a consequence, in 1943, they formed the Southern Sudanese Welfare Association to bargain for equal pay as their colleagues in the North.

Many of them like Paul Logali, Stanislaus Paysama, Benjamin Lwoki and others also became pioneers in the struggle for Southern interests at the dawn of independence of the Sudan. In fact, they are the real fore fathers of the South Sudanese struggle for freedom and eventual independence.

And lastly, just for purposes of comparison, can our pupils of today with eight years of education achieve this level of performance?

The first civilian Government Era
The next era was the first independent civilian government. Though it did not last long, 1956-1958, it took two major decisions which were mainly dictated by in the spirit of sovereignty. They made the Gordon Memorial College to be the independent University of Khartoum and replaced the Cambridge Examinations with the Sudan School Certificate Examinations.

The change to a full university of Khartoum did not affect quality and standards very much because the University retained links with universities in Britain through the system of links, visiting lecturers, external examiners as well as referees in academic promotions.

That government did provide the University with sufficient funds for a rigorous staff development program in which only graduates with first class or second class upper degrees and who did not fail a subject in their undergraduate period were recruited as teaching assistants and sent abroad.

Additionally, a rigorous system of staff appointments and promotions were enacted so as to ensure the quality and high standard of the academic staff.

The change from Cambridge to Sudan School Certificate was also effected without much loss of quality and standards, except Arabic Language was now made to be a compulsory subject in the Sudan School Certificate.

It was, however, this regime which mooted the idea of Arabicization and Islamization of all learning in the whole of the Sudan; and because Northerners generally begrudged English-based missionary education in the South, in just one year after independence, 1957, the government took over the missionary run but government aided schools in the South. As is the case, the takeover was right because it is the duty and responsibility of a nation to teach and bring up its children.

Unfortunately, it did not allow the missionaries to open their own schools as was the case in the North and that became a policy of the successive national governments not to allow missionary or church schools in the South on the grounds that missionaries were teaching the Southern children to dislike them.

The takeover did not have an immediate negative impact on quality and standards of education in the South. It however marked the beginning of the breakdown of discipline in the schools, that is, from what it was under the missionaries.

Additionally, since in the missionary schools the students used to work with their hands, doing such as school gardens or cleaning their surroundings, this was projected as demeaning and imperialistic.

Moreover, the pupils were now to eat bread instead of the indigenous staple of the people the asida.

So, under the government, discipline was increasingly lost among the pupils as well as the teachers, resulting in perceptible decline in the quality and standard of education.

The Abboud Era
Abboud’s era saw the expansion of education in the country, especially in the South. Many of the school buildings you see standing today, like of Juba University, Supiri Girls in Juba and many others elsewhere were all built by Abboud.

In his time, schools all over the country were well resourced; and as a result, the quality and standard of education was maintained. In view of that, it was possible for a poor pupil from the village/bush school in Southern Sudan to compete effectively with the children of the elites and the well to do in the towns and reach the highest level of education, purely on his/her academic performance.

The good standard of education in the Sudan during this period was proven when Southern Sudanese refugee students who joined schools in Uganda and the other East African countries during the Anyanya War, out-performed their colleagues of equivalent classes of those countries. In fact, many of those students who did not complete intermediate schools in the Sudan joined secondary schools and they excelled over the national classmates.

However, despite those positive things about the Abboud era, some of the policies and actions which were taken in this regime, such as Arabicization, eventually led to the decline of education standards.

As was the case and influenced by nationalism, Arabism and Islamism, many Northern Sudanese viewed English as the language of the imperialist and therefore had to be discarded and replaced with Arabic language. As a consequence, learning in all school levels in the North was changed into Arabic; and in the South a vigorous program of introducing Arabic was put underway. Hence, many schools in the South, like Juba Intermediate School, were converted to function in Arabic and also many new Arabic schools were opened all over the South.

In this, the system whereby teaching in the elementary schools was in the local languages was phased out; and in that exercise, teachers who used to teach in the local languages were either rendered redundant or were sent to teachers training institutes to be retrained to teach in Arabic.

The effect of this Arabicization of learning at all school levels on learners was as follows. In the North, it helped the Northern child to learn throughout in his/her mother tongue up to the end of secondary level. In the South the effect was different. It placed the Southern child in the rural area, where Arabic was not spoken, at a disadvantage, because it expected the Southern child to learn in Arabic language on its very first day at school in a foreign language.

The overall effect of this change was the decline in the standard of English language at the general education level, thus making the student to be ill-prepared for learning in the Khartoum University, which was functioning in English.

Abboud’s political repression, coupled with his robust Islamization program touched off the Anyanya War in the South and that led to the closure of many schools, especially in Equatoria.

The Second Civilian Government Era
Abboud’s regime fell in 1964 and it was replaced first by a transitional government then by an elected civil government. During this period, in the North no serious policy changes or actions were taken in education but the general downward trend continued.

In the South, the war was raging and only few schools were functioning. The government ceased that as an opportunity to convert almost all the functioning schools in Bahr El Ghazal and Upper Nile into Arabic.

That civilian government, however, did not stay long enough, 1964-1969, to effect serious actions or policies in education. It was ended by Nimeiri’s military takeover.

The Nimeiri Era
Beginning with Nimeiri’s time, the effect of Arabicization of schools began to be felt in the University of Khartoum, that was, very low proficiency in English of the new students. They were having difficulties in with their studies. For example, they could not follow the lectures well, could not take notes and express themselves well and make use of references books in the library. They were very dependent on the lecturer’s notes and to them a good lecturer was the one who would dictate his notes.

That situation encouraged rote learning. Studies in the University of Khartoum at the time revealed that the low proficiency in English was now directly responsible for the declining academic standard in every faculty of the University. In other words, the change to Arabic language as a language of instruction in the schools had ultimately led to falling academic standards in the University.

A direct outcome of this was, whereas in the old days a graduate of a Sudanese university was accepted without taking the qualifying tests of GRE and/or of English language, TOEFL, for graduate work in the US or UK universities, they now were required to pass those tests before admission.

In view of that, the University of Khartoum had to introduce an English Language Servicing Unit to shore up the English students’ proficiency in English language. So, when the University of Juba was opened in 1977, it similarly had to embark on a Communication Skill program to achieve the same goal.

Though Nimeiri was not responsible for this major decline in academic standards as a result of Arabicization, he was also responsible for policies and actions, or inaction, that also significantly contributed to the decline in education standards. One of this was the change in the general education ladder from 4+4+4 (elementary, intermediate, secondary) to 6+3+3 (primary, junior secondary, senior secondary).

The argument for that change of the ladder was that, since not all children did not have the opportunity to go to the next ladder, because of limited space, it was better for a child to leave school after six years of primary learning than only after four years of elementary learning. That was good.

But, unfortunately, the policy was effected without preparing the schools for them resource-wise. What happened was, overnight, the elementary schools became primary schools, in which case, they now were expected to teach the subjects of first two years of the intermediate schools, while using the facilities and staff of the elementary school.

Similarly, the intermediate schools became junior secondary schools overnight and were now expected to teach the first year subjects of the secondary schools using the facilities and staff of intermediate schools.

That drastic change without resources greatly contributed to the decline of quality and standards of education in the schools in Nimeiri’s era.

In the South, the Addis Ababa Agreement gave the responsibility of running of the lower schools to the Southern Regional Government. That was alright and since it restored the use of English to the Southern schools. But the physical destruction wrought by the war to education in the South was extensive beyond the capacity and resources at the hands of the Southern Regional Government.

Unfortunately, the Central Government stood aloof and left the rehabilitation burden to the Southern Regional Government which had no resources. So many schools remained in a dilapidated condition.

Additionally, with the restoration of teaching in English, there came to be two different systems English and Arabic pattern schools resulting in a lot of confusion. In the Arabic pattern schools, most of the Northern teachers had left soon after the Agreement and so there were insufficient number of teachers to teach in Arabic. In the English pattern, schools also suffered from the lack of teachers because no new teachers had been trained over the war years. Worst still, teachers were not receiving their salaries regularly and all the schools lacked facilities.

The outcome of this was that the quality and standards of the schools in the South dropped down very badly. Consequently, whereas in the past the students of both Rumbek and Juba Commercial Secondary Schools could compete equally well in the Sudan School Certificate Examinations with the secondary schools in the North and would be admitted to the University of Khartoum on their own scores, after the Addis Ababa Agreement, their performance plummeted, such that they could not score at the competitive level and so a special admission program had to be designed in order to admit Southern students into the University of Juba.

Nimeiri’s other contribution to the decline of academic standards in education was the under-resourcing of education generally. His system created a situation where teachers and the teaching profession lost status in the society. Whereas in the past the teacher was the most highly regarded and respected person in the community, during Nimeri’s era, membership of the Sudan Socialist Union (SSU party), was at the top, it not only bestowed status and respect but paved the way upward mobility. That situation was such that, even workers with little or no education rose to top positions where they could now pronounce themselves on important matters of the state. Education was thus denigrated.

But while this system of Nimeiri affected all the other professions, it affected the teaching profession most; and for that reason, many teachers left the profession.

In the North they left for oil money in the Middle East. In the South, in addition to this, teachers were not prioritized, because, whenever there was to be a delay of salaries, the teachers were always the first to miss out. For that reason, many joined SSU and politics.

The cumulative and ultimate effect of Nimeiri actions or non-actions all was decline in the quality and standard of education.

The Third Civilian Era
The civilian government that followed the Nimeiri era did not stay long 1985-1989. It did it not make policies or take actions that impacted on the quality and standard of education. In the North things stayed pretty much the same as under Nimeiri.

But in the South, things took a turn for the worst with the outbreak of the SPLM/A War. Schools were again closed, and this time round, they were closed in almost in all parts of South Sudan. A few school were functioning in the garrison towns under government control while some remedial education was begun in the areas under SPLM/A control.

The Bashir Era
Bashir took over when the war was already raging in the South. And though he did not start the downward trend in the quality of education and standards, it was his regime that gave the coup de grace to the whole education system in the then Sudan.

Bashir and his regime viewed education, both general and tertiary, as the means for moulding the youth or younger generation into the Islamic way so as to make the Sudan to eventually be an Islamic state. In general education, schools became outfits for indoctrination of fundamentalist Islam, with the teaching of religion (Islam) occupying the central position in the curricula and activities.

The program was such that, after sitting the School Certificate Examinations, a student’s failure to attend the indoctrination sessions, cum military training, could deny him admission to higher education and even prevent him from getting his examination results as well as his school leaving certificate.

In higher education, Bashir’s destruction of universities was worse. In that regard, one could go on endlessly to list the policies and actions of the destructive things which Bashir’s regime visited on the nature, philosophy and mission of universities.

However, for the sake of brevity, only a few will be mentioned below. All of them collectively combine to lower the standards and reduce the reputation of the Sudanese universities.

First of all, without resources, the regime opened many new universities; and in doing so, many ordinary schools were taken over and converted into universities. In many such cases the schools were not replaced, thus depriving the children who used to learn there of a place to learn. For example, the Universities of Upper Nile and Bahr El Ghazal are respectively occupying the buildings of Malakal Secondary School and Wau Intermediate Schools and no new premises were given to those schools.

Additionally, the regime increased the number of students who were admitted to the older universities to levels that were much more than their capacities. And in order to cover the increased need for academic staff to teach those numbers, it lowered the standard recruitment, to levels whereby individuals and/or civil servants who in the past would never have even been considered for recruitment as academic staff by the Universities of Khartoum, Juba or Gezira were taken as teaching staff. That definitely led to lower caliber of the academic staff and consequent lower academic standards. As is known globally, a university’s academic standing is gauged by the quality and excellence of its academic staff.

To make matters worse, during Bashir’s era part time staff, some with dubious academic backgrounds, became the backbone of teaching in many of the universities; hence, the quality of the staff definitely has impacted negatively on academic standards in the universities.

Furthermore, it is known that universities and their students could overthrow governments as had happened to General Abboud’s regime. So, to safeguard against this, Bashir and his Islamic fundamentalist regime put the universities under Islamic fundamentalist (Muslim Brothers) vice chancellors and deployed security personnel and other under-cover agents in the campuses.

Additionally, they coopted some of the fundamentalist academic staff, officials, workers and students into the system to report on colleagues. That made it very difficult to have open and free intellectual discussions on topics that may have effect on the government and its performance. Such discussions are what is expected of a university.

Worst still, even lectures were monitored for utterances that were deemed to be critical of the system. As a result, a few lecturers were summoned by the security agency and questioned as to what they said in the class. Such deployment and clamp down by security is incompatible with the nature, philosophy and mission of universities

Under the Bashir regime, the universities lost their independence to Ibrahim Ahmed, the Minister of Higher Education, a Muslim fundamentalist. Ibrahim arrogated to himself the power of giving final approval as to whether a person would be recruited as a staff member or not. Under his watchful eyes and firm hands, the prime criteria for recruitment as academic staff member became one’s conviction in Islamic fundamentalism and/or the support to the regime. Academic excellence did not count.

As a consequence, several fundamentalist individuals with poor academic standing became lecturers in the universities. Obviously, that led to packing the universities with poorly qualified fundamentalist lecturers.

One of the destructive actions of the Bashir’s regime was the sudden Arabicization of learning in the universities for which they were ill-prepared. That decision was taken despite the fact that there were neither textbooks nor reference books in Arabic.

Additionally, there were no competent lecturers to teach the sciences in Arabic because, even the Northern Arabic speakers expressed they could not teach well in Arabic because they did know the Arabic equivalent of many scientific terms. As a result, the lecturers had to awkwardly use a mixture of English and Arabic to deliver their lectures, with much confusion to the student. That had a telling impact on academic standards in the universities.

Additionally, the universities lost control of the first year calendar. That was because the students were required to go for difaa el shaabi training before they begin their studies in the universities. And for those in the upper classes who would volunteer to go to fight the war in the South in the middle of the term, they were not expected to fail whenever they came back, even when they had missed many lectures.

Another destructive action of the Bashir regime was injecting Islamic religion into the curricula of many faculties, even of professional faculties like engineering. It defeats reasoning as to how the knowledge of Islam would add to a student’s knowledge in engineering and in other similar fields. That was unnecessary and a waste of learning hours.

Under that system, academic titles like professor came to be used indiscriminately, even by those who had no connection with teaching and research in the universities. It became the norm that appointments to higher echelons of the universities like positions of principals, vice chancellors automatically earned the appointee the title of professor. And since seniority was not respected in many appointments, many junior staff members who got appointed to senior positions would automatically be bestowed the title professor and for no academic achievement. That was a destructive practice.

As is the case, universities are like standing armies, they have rigid criteria for progressing up the academic ladder, that is, from the lecturer, senior lecturer, reader (associate professor) and up to the professor. Messing up this ladder, as it came to be during Bashir’s regime was and is incompatible with the nature and conduct of universities. Such a practice would be akin to appointing a second lieutenant in an army as a commander over the generals. Unfortunately, this is now a frequent occurrence to this day.

Under Bashir, the dictatorial jargon, ‘decree’, crept into the vocabulary of the universities to the extent that nowadays it is common to dub vice chancellors’ or other senior officials’ orders and decisions as decrees. But, as is known, the word ‘decree’ is used to describe edicts issued by potentates (dictators) who usually have absolute powers. In those cases, the decrees they issue become laws and can only be altered or repealed personally by them.

Viewed in this way, the term ‘decree’ has no place in the vocabulary of university. Why? Because, since the time when the idea of modern universities came into being in the post-medieval times, university governance has been the epitome of democracy. The democracy is practiced through its statutory bodies and as such no one wields dictatorial and/or absolute powers in it. Hence, the use of this term is completely incompatible with norms of universities.

Additionally, Bashir’s era coincided with the period when the country was literally swimming in petro dollars. He therefore had much more opportunities than his predecessors to grow and improve the quality and standard of education, yet nothing of the sort. Under his rule, education at both the general and higher levels were not prioritized and they remained stagnant.

Today, Sudanese schools (South Sudan as well) continue to wallow in the old system and ways, whereas in many similar African countries, new knowledge and technologies have been introduced and are now reaching the schools.

In higher education, decrepit school buildings continued to be the seats of many of the universities. And added to that are: poor facilities; lack of space; lack of equipment and books; poorly paid staff; lack of funds for research and publication etc. All those shortfalls indicate how Bashir’s regime under developed the universities, despite the sufficiency of resources.

In South Sudan, unfortunately, many of the bad legacies of the Bashir era are evident in the new country. The same lack of prioritization of education can be seen at both general and higher education levels.

Worst still, the self-inflicted war has devastated schools in many parts of the country. In higher education, the universities have not only lost their independence, quality and standards, but have also been reduced to the level of being departments of the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology. They are consistently under-funded, though the country earns petro dollars.

So, unless something drastic is done soon that will shore up the quality and standards of the universities, many countries may soon not recognize the degrees of the South Sudanese degrees.

In conclusion, if we take the education in the Sudan during the condominium era as a high water mark, that is, when the standard of the schools was equivalent to the level in Britain, then it is clear that over the years, the quality and standards of our education have fallen behind to the extent that now our secondary school students cannot compete at the same level with their equivalents in Britain.

*Prof Peter Tingwa, former Dean of the College of Natural Resources and Environmental Studies of the University of Juba; and former member of the National Council of Higher Education. He can be reached at ptingwa@yahoo.com

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