JUBA , SOUTH SUDAN – As South Sudan slowly stabilizes after decades of conflict, the world’s youngest nation continues to battle illiteracy. South Sudan has the lowest literacy rate in world: 27% of the adult population can read and write. To combat the problem, authorities have launched thousands of adult education classes across the country.
Rebecca Nyankiir Deng, 47, is studying with her 17-year-old daughter. But while most mothers help their children study, Deng has been illiterate for most of her life. So, her daughter is helping her learn to read and write English.
“My mother has now learned a lot of English words such as greetings. And, that makes me happy,” the daughter said. “If I come home early, I help my mom to do her homework.”
As a child, civil war in what is now South Sudan prevented Deng from going to school. To earn money, she makes and sells beaded jewelry.
A free education
The amount Deng earns is so little, however, that she struggles to buy food and pay her daughter’s school fees.
But, Deng is now getting an education alonog with her daughter.
“We are studying here because they are teaching us for free,” Deng said. “If I had to pay for school, I wouldn’t be here.”
Deng is one of a growing number of South Sudanese adults who see the current peace as a chance to pursue an education, with hopes for a better job in the future.
Literacy a top priority
South Sudan’s education minister, Deng Deng Hoc Yai, says adult literacy is a top priority because it helps pull people out of poverty and prevents conflict.
“At the individual level, at the level of a country, with communities that have a lot of educated people, they will all be working, all be enjoying better health, they will be more peaceful compared to people who are illiterate,” the minister said.
The Education Ministry told VOA that slightly more than 208,000 South Sudanese adults are now enrolled in programs to learn how to read and write.
And, as long as the current peace in South Sudan holds, they expect those numbers will continue to grow.