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Journey Nomad Teacher Asia Rihana Mohamed The songs Schools Sara Cameron McBean Sudan Bangladesh   Brazil   Colombia   India   Iraq   Kenya   Nepal   Papua New Guinea   Senegal   Sudan   Tanzania

Originally produced for UNICEF

Schools for the children of nomads

During the 1980s and 1990s, access to primary education expanded in Sudan but disparities widened, particularly between north and south and between urban and rural areas. Children living in war-affected areas in the south and in nomadic communities were the worst affected. In the mid-1990s, for example, less than 5 per cent of boys living in nomadic communities, and virtually no girls, were attending primary school. Meanwhile, average gross enrolment in the north soared to more than 80 per cent for both boys and girls.

Nomads make up about eight per cent of Sudan’s 28.8 million population. The Education for the Children of Nomads project was first initiated in 1993 in the Darfur states, where enrolment of children from the deeply impoverished nomadic communities was negligible. Based on a partnership between communities, state education authorities and UNICEF, the project supported the establishment of multi-grade, single-teacher schools that provided community-based education to Grade 4. The project objectives were to increase enrolment, especially among girls, and to reduce drop-out by providing education that was accessible, affordable, appealing and culturally appropriate.

The schools were accessible, because they moved with the nomadic tribes or were located in dry-season areas where they remained for several months. They were affordable, because costs were shared between government and the communities, which paid an incentive to the teachers in addition to their salary. They were appealing, because the incentives attracted good teachers who used good quality teaching materials provided by UNICEF. The schools were culturally appropriate, because they provided an educational environment that communities considered safe for their daughters. The project was also timely, because it responded to increasing awareness in the nomadic tribes that their children needed to be educated.

By 2000, and before the Darfur conflict erupted, more than 20,000 children (about 30 per cent of them girls) were enrolled in the nomad schools in the Darfur and Kordofan states. In 2001, when this study was conducted, although drought loomed over the region, demand for education from the nomadic communities continued to expand. Communities with schools sometimes made migration choices based not only on the needs of their animals for water and grazing, but also on the education needs of their children. “We now only move twice a year,” said one community leader, “instead of four times a year because it is less disruptive to the school.”

Critical factors underlying this success include the sensitivity and insight brought to the implementation of the project by education officials who are often themselves from nomadic communities. There is also a crucial synergy between the interests of the nomadic communities, the aims of education officials, the availability of motivated teachers and UNICEF support for innovative solutions that can provide girls with access to education.

Success also seems due to the clarity in agreements between the various actors involved – the communities, teachers, the state authorities and UNICEF. For example, in each of the communities visited during the course of this case study, agreements between the teachers and the communities concerning incentives the teacher would receive – usually in the form of livestock and a cash payment each month – often differed. However, there was never any doubt, among teachers or the communities, about exactly what the incentive was and when and how it would be paid. The need for such clarity may seem axiomatic, yet it was certainly a factor in the downfall of some development programmes.

The teachers were regarded as an asset to communities because their role as educators extended beyond the classroom. They offered adult education classes and gave advice on health and hygiene. Parents often turned to the teachers, for example, if a child fell ill with malaria or had an accident and some teachers felt they could do more if they were properly trained (for example in primary health care) and equipped with a first aid kit.

The schools might easily have been construed as undermining traditional culture. However, the communities visited tended to see the schools as strengthening rather than challenging traditional values. Several community leaders commented that children who attended the nomad schools were more polite and respectful than children who did not go to school. Children were also said to be taking their lessons home and educating their parents. (Children themselves supported this view.) Such achievements were widely regarded as a consequence of the national curriculum which places emphasis on respect, tolerance, and the correct use of language.