OM DIRAISA VILLAGE, NORTH KORDOFAN STATE, March 18, 2013 – Izdihar Mohammed, 12, can still remember the day the roof of her elementary school caved in on her.
It was August of 2010, and she was in the third grade. She and her classmates had finished a lunch of traditional sorghum porridge, and were settling in to study Arabic when the rain became too heavy for the corrugated metal roof that covered them. Then there was a crash, and in an instant, she and her classmates were crushed by the roof and all of the water it held.
“I heard a loud noise, and I was frightened,” said Mohammed. “I am still afraid whenever the rain falls.”
The students were able to crawl out from under the roof to safety, many with only cuts and bruises, others with more serious injuries, but all 37 children made it out alive. School closed for a week for repairs and to allow the children time to recover, but the emotional scars have taken much longer to heal. Mohammed did not return to school for two weeks, and about 22 children never came back, terrified that the school building, made from straw and plant stalks, would not be able to stand against Sudan’s harsh rainy season.
But by July 1, 2013when the new school year starts, Mohammed and her classmates will attend the new Om Diraisa Basic School made of concrete, with eight classrooms, offices and a teachers’ dorm. This will be just one of 10 new school buildings built in rural villages in North Kordofan State through the Basic Education Project (BEP), a World Bank-supported program dedicated to improving access to basic education in four target states within the country.
In North Kordofan, BEP has also contributed to a sense of security for children whose lives have been beset by conflict and the trauma of the school collapse. Since BEP construction of Om Diraisa Basic School began about a month ago, children who were once afraid are now planning to return to school.
“All of the students here were scared, but most of them came back to school once the new construction began,” said El Rihime Ahmed, the headmaster of the school. “The parents themselves were scared for the children, but now feel safer with the new school being built.”
Ismail Maki, the director general for education for North Kordofan, said school is a place where children should feel protected and school conditions are a priority for the state.
There are many reasons children are afraid to come to school, he said, including war, sitting on the floors, schools falling on them during the rainy season, and all of these things affect the total numbers of days that children are attending school.
“Education is a tool to fight poverty,” he said. “That is why we accept all types of students, because schools provide a safe haven for these students.”
The BEP schools have also contributed to reduced dropout rates, increased retention and improved test scores, Maki said, as well as setting a standard for all schools built in the state.
“BEP schools help fulfill the ambitions of the North Kordofan people,” Maki said. “They cater to students, communities and teachers. The communities are so keen on education, they even pay incentives to teachers.”
The BEP has also supported efforts to enhance teacher quality by funding training sessions, rehabilitating the Teacher Training Institute in El Obeid, the capital of North Kordofan State, and constructing a new Teacher Training Institute in Red Sea State. In South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Red Sea states, more than 7500 teachers have received skills training in Arabic, Mathematics and English.
In North Kordofan alone, close to 3800 teachers have been trained, and when the new Om Diraisa Basic School opens, there will be 10 trained teachers working at the school, including Omseil Ibrahim Hassan. In 2011, Hassan received training for the first time in her 19 year teaching career.
“There is a big difference and improvement in my performance after the training,” said Hassan. “I gained some very good experience reflected in the work in me and the performance of the students.” In the past year, all 60 eighth grade students took the state’s basic education exam and passed it.
Suad Abdul-Raziq, the minister of general education for Sudan, said that MDTF-N support has been instrumental during a time where there has been a decrease in government revenue, and an increase in population.
“For me, it is a small door or small window that I can open during a very critical time,” Abdul-Raziq said. “This is the first time the international community has been willing to help me in rebuilding the education system as one of the basic steps to enhancing the lives of the people.”
Although MDTF-N financing for the BEP ends May 31, 2013, the impact of BEP on Sudan’s education system will be felt for years to come. Using data from the project, a comprehensive report, “The Status of the Education Sector in Sudan,” was developed, providing the first comprehensive diagnostic of every aspect of education from finance, to enrollment and teacher deployment and utilization. Completed in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, the report is the foundation for new basic education strategy which has been endorsed by 17 international partners, including the World Bank. The preparation and endorsement of the new education strategy has led to the mobilization of US$76.5 million through the Global Partnership for Education to support the school system over the next four years.
“The MDTF-N has set the stage for working in the education sector strategically,” said Elizabeth Ninan, senior education specialist for the World Bank. Along with the international partners, Abdul-Raziq has been very engaged and a champion of the new education reform policy, Ninan said.
Community investment in education has also increased. El Diyab Salih, a member of the parent teacher association, said he is grateful for BEP because he and the other men of the village don’t have to rebuild the school each year after the rainy season, a process that was time consuming and expensive. He is also happy to be able to give his children the education he didn’t receive.
“We missed the chance for education ourselves, and now our children have this opportunity,” he said. “We will do our best to help improve the school environment and make it better and better.”
The Basic Education Project is one of 15 projects funded by the Multi-Donor Trust Fund-National (MDTF-N). With $US15 million from the MDTF-N, nine countries and the World Bank contributed not only to the construction of school buildings in several states, but to all of the furnishings needed such as desks, chairs, learning materials and blackboards, as well as water provisions in some communities. Further, 42% of teachers in four states were trained in Arabic, English, Mathematics and the Core Program with funds from the project. Two teacher training institutes were rehabilitated/constructed in North Kordofan and the Red Sea states. MDTF-N funding for BEP ends May 31, 2013.