EDUCATION IN SUDAN
Education in Sudan is free and compulsory for children aged 6 to 13 years. Primary education consists of eight years, followed by three years of secondary education. The former educational ladder 6 + 3 + 3 was changed in 1990. The primary language at all levels is Arabic. Schools are concentrated in urban areas; many in the South and West have been damaged or destroyed by years of civil war. In 2001 the World Bank estimated that primary enrollment was 46 percent of eligible pupils and 21 percent of secondary students. Enrollment varies widely, falling below 20 percent in some provinces. Sudan has 19 universities; instruction is primarily in Arabic. Education at the secondary and university levels has been seriously hampered by the requirement that most males perform military service before completing their education.
According to World Bank estimates for 2002, the literacy rate in adults aged 15 years and older was 60 percent. In 2000 the comparable figure was almost 58 percent (69 percent for males, 46 percent for females); youth illiteracy (ages 15–24) was estimated at 23 percent.
The public and private education systems inherited by the government after independence were designed more to provide civil servants and professionals to serve the colonial administration than to educate the Sudanese. Moreover, the distribution of facilities, staff, and enrollment was biased in favor of the needs of the administration and a Western curriculum. Schools tended to be clustered in the vicinity of Khartoum and to a lesser extent in other urban areas, although the population was predominantly rural. This concentration was found at all levels but was most marked for those in situations beyond the four-year primary schools where instruction was in the vernacular. The north suffered from shortages of teachers and buildings, but education in the south was even more inadequate. During the condominium, education in the south was left largely to the mission schools, where the level of instruction proved so poor that as early as the mid-1930s the government imposed provincial education supervisors upon the missionaries in return for the government subsidies that they sorely needed. The civil war and the ejection of all foreign missionaries in February 1964 further diminished education opportunities for southern Sudanese.
Since World War II the demand for education had exceeded Sudan’s education resources. At independence in 1956, education accounted for only 15.5 percent of the Sudanese budget, or £Sd45, to support 1,778 primary schools (enrollment 208,688), 108 intermediate schools (enrollment 14,632), and 49 government secondary schools (enrollment 5,423). Higher education was limited to the University of Khartoum, except for less than 1,000 students sent abroad by wealthy parents or on government scholarships. The adult literacy rate in 1956 was 22.9 percent, and, despite the efforts of successive governments, by 1990 it had risen only to about 30 percent in the face of a rapidly expanding population.
The philosophy and curriculum beyond primary school followed the British educational tradition. Although all students learned Arabic and English in secondary and intermediate schools, the language of instruction at the University of Khartoum was English. Moreover, the increasing demand for intermediate, secondary, and higher education could not be met by Sudanese teachers alone, at least not by the better educated ones graduated from the elite teacher-training college at Bakht ar Ruda. As a result, education in Sudan continued to depend upon expensive foreign teachers.
When the Nimeiri-led government took power in 1969, it considered the education system inadequate for the needs of social and economic development. Accordingly, an extensive reorganization was proposed, which would eventually make the new six-year elementary education program compulsory and would pay much more attention to technical and vocational education at all levels. Previously, primary and intermediate schools had been preludes to secondary training, and secondary schools prepared students for the university. The system produced some well- trained university graduates, but little was done to prepare for technical work or skilled labor the great bulk of students who did not go as far as the university or even secondary school.
By the late 1970s, the government’s education system had been largely reorganized. There were some preprimary schools, mainly in urban areas. The basic system consisted of a six-year curriculum in primary schools and three-year curriculum in junior secondary schools. From that point, qualified students could go on to one of three kinds of schools: the three-year upper secondary, which prepared students for higher education; commercial and agricultural technical schools; and teacher- training secondary schools designed to prepare primary-school teachers. The latter two institutions offered four-year programs. Postsecondary schools included universities, higher technical schools, intermediate teacher-training schools for junior secondary teachers, and higher teacher-training schools for upper-secondary teachers.
Of the more than 5,400 primary schools in 1980, less than 14 percent were located in southern Sudan, which had between 20 and 33 percent of the country’s population. Many of these southern schools were established during the Southern Regional administration (1972-81). The renewal of the civil war in mid- 1983 destroyed many schools, although the SPLA operated schools in areas under its control. Nevertheless, many teachers and students were among the refugees fleeing the ravages of war in the south.
In the early 1980s, the number of junior (also called general) secondary schools was a little more than one-fifth the number of primary schools, a proportion roughly consistent with that of general secondary to primary-school population (260,000 to 1,334,000). About 6.5 percent of all general secondary schools were in the south until 1983.
There were only 190 upper-secondary schools in the public system in 1980, but it was at this level that private schools of varying quality proliferated, particularly in the three cities of the capital area. Elite schools could recruit students who had selected them as a first choice, but the others took students whose examination results at the end of junior secondary school did not gain them entry to the government’s upper secondary schools.
In 1980, despite the emphasis on technical education proposed by the government and encouraged by various international advisory bodies, there were only thirty-five technical schools in Sudan, less than one-fifth the number of academic upper secondary schools. In 1976-77 eight times as many students entered the academic stream as entered the technical schools, creating a profound imbalance in the marketplace. Moreover, prospective employers often found technical school graduates inadequately trained, a consequence of sometimes irrelevant curricula, low teacher morale, and lack of equipment. Performance may also have suffered because of the low morale of students, many of whom tended to see this kind of schooling as second choice at best, a not surprising view given the system’s past emphasis on academic training, and the low status of manual labor, at least among much of the Arab population. The technical schools were meant to include institutions for training skilled workers in agriculture, but few of the schools were directed to that end, most of them turning out workers more useful in the urban areas.
The hope for universal and compulsory education had not been realized by the early 1980s, but as a goal it led to a more equitable distribution of facilities and teachers in rural areas and in the south. During the 1980s, the government established more schools at all levels and with them, more teacher-training schools, although these were never sufficient to provide adequate staff. But the process was inherently slow and was made slower by limited funds and by the inadequate compensation for staff; teachers who could find a market for their skills elsewhere, including places outside Sudan, did not remain teachers within the Sudanese system.
The proliferation of upper-level technical schools has not dealt with what most experts saw as Sudan’s basic education problem: providing a primary education to as many Sudanese children as possible. Establishing more primary schools was, in this view, more important that achieving equity in the distribution of secondary schools. Even more important was the development of a primary-school curriculum that was geared to Sudanese experience and took into account that most of those who completed six years of schooling did not go further. The realistic assumption was that Sudan’s resources were limited and that expenditures on the postprimary level limited expenditures on the primary level, leaving most Sudanese children with an inadequate education. In the early 1990s this situation had not significantly changed.
In the mid-1970s, there were four universities, eleven colleges, and twenty-three institutes in Sudan. The universities were in the capital area, and all of the institutions of higher learning were in the northern provinces. Colleges were specialized degree-granting institutions. Institutes granted diplomas and certificates for periods of specialized study shorter than those commonly demanded at universities and colleges. These postsecondary institutions and universities had provided Sudan with a substantial number of well-educated persons in some fields but left it short of technical personnel and specialists in sciences relevant to the country’s largely rural character.
By 1980 two new universities had opened, one in Al Awsat Province at Wad Madani, the other in Juba in Al Istiwai Province, and in 1981 there was talk of opening a university in Darfur, which was nearly as deprived of educational facilities as the south. By 1990 some institutes had been upgraded to colleges, and many had become part of an autonomous body called the Khartoum Institute of Technical Colleges (also referred to as Khartoum Polytechnic). Some of its affiliates were outside the capital area, for example, the College of Mechanical Engineering at Atbarah, northeast of Khartoum, and Al Jazirah College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Abu Naamah in Al Awsat.
The oldest university was the University of Khartoum, which was established as a university in 1956. In 1990 it enrolled about 12,000 students in degree programs ranging from four to six years in length. Larger but less prestigious was the Khartoum branch of the University of Cairo with 13,000 students. The size of the latter and perhaps its lack of prestige reflected the fact that many if not most of its students worked to support themselves and attended classes in the afternoon and at night, although some day classes were introduced in 1980. Tuition only at the Khartoum branch was free, whereas all costs at the fully residential University of Khartoum were paid for by the government. At the Institute of Higher Technical Studies, which had 4,000 students in 1990, tuition was free, and a monthly grant helped to defray but did not fully cover other expenses. The smallest of the universities in the capital area was the specialized Islamic University of Omdurman, which existed chiefly to train Muslim religious judges and scholars.
The University of Juba, established in 1977, graduated its first class in 1981. It was intended to provide education for development and for the civil service for southern Sudan, although it was open to students from the whole country. In its first years, it enrolled a substantial number of civil servants from the south for further training, clearly needed in an area where many in the civil service had little educational opportunity in their youth. After the outbreak of hostilities in the south in 1983, the university was moved to Khartoum, a move that had severely curtailed its instructional programs, but the university continued to operate again in Juba in the late 1980s. Al Jazirah College of Agriculture and Natural Resources was also intended to serve the country as a whole, but its focus was consistent with its location in the most significant agricultural area in Sudan.
Of particular interest was the dynamic growth and expansion of Omdurman Ahlia University. It was established by academics, professionals, and businesspeople in 1982 upon the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the city of Omdurman and was intended to meet the ever-growing demand for higher education and training. The university was to be nongovernmental, job oriented, and self-supporting. Support came mainly from private donations, foreign foundations, and the government, which approved the allotment of thirty acres of prime land on the western outskirts of Omdurman for the campus. Its curriculum, taught in English and oriented to job training pertinent to the needs of Sudan, had attracted more than 1,800 students by 1990. Its emphasis on training in administration, environmental studies, physics and mathematics, and library science had proven popular.
Traditionally, girls’ education was of the most rudimentary kind, frequently provided by a khalwa, or religious school, in which Quranic studies were taught. Such basic schools did not prepare girls for the secular learning mainstream, from which they were virtually excluded. Largely through the pioneering work of Shaykh Babikr Badri, the government had provided five elementary schools for girls by 1920. Expansion was slow, however, given the bias for boys and the conservatism of Sudanese society, with education remaining restricted to the elementary level until 1940. It was only in 1940 that the first intermediate school for girls, the Omdurman Girls’ Intermediate School, opened. By 1955, ten intermediate schools for girls were in existence.
In 1956, the Omdurman Secondary School for Girls, with about 265 students, was the only girls’ secondary school operated by the government. By 1960, 245 elementary schools for girls had been established, but only 25 junior secondary or general schools and 2 upper-secondary schools. There were no vocational schools for girls, only a Nurses’ Training College with but eleven students, nursing not being regarded by many Sudanese as a respectable vocation for women. During the 1960s and 1970s, girls’ education made considerable gains under the education reforms that provided 1,086 primary schools, 268 intermediate schools, and 52 vocational schools for girls by 1970, when girls’ education claimed approximately one-third of the total school resources available. Although by the early 1990s the numbers had increased in the north but not in the war-torn south, the ratio had remained approximately the same.
This slow development of girls’ education was the product of the country’s tradition. Parents of Sudanese girls tended to look upon girls’ schools with suspicion if not fear that they would corrupt the morals of their daughters. Moreover, preference was given to sons, who by education could advance themselves in society to the pride and profit of the family. This girls could not do; their value was enhanced not at school but at home, in preparation for marriage and the dowry that accompanied the ceremony. The girl was a valuable asset in the home until marriage, either in the kitchen or in the fields. Finally, the lack of schools has discouraged even those who desired elementary education for their daughters.
This rather dismal situation should not obscure the successful efforts of schools such as the Ahfad University College in Omdurman, founded by Babikr Badri as an elementary school for girls in the 1920s. By 1990 it had evolved as the premier women’s university college in Sudan with an enrollment of 1,800. It had a mixture of academic and practical programs, such as those that educated women to teach in rural areas.
The revolutionary government of General Bashir announced sweeping reforms in Sudanese education in September 1990. In consultation with leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic teachers and administrators, who were the strongest supporters of his regime, Bashir proclaimed a new philosophy of education. He allocated £Sd400 million for the academic year 1990-91 to carry out these reforms and promised to double the sum if the current education system could be changed to meet the needs of Sudan.
The new education philosophy was to provide a frame of reference for the reforms. Education was to be based on the permanence of human nature, religious values, and physical nature. This could only be accomplished by a Muslim curriculum, which in all schools, colleges, and universities would consist of two parts: an obligatory and an optional course of study. The obligatory course to be studied by every student was to be based on revealed knowledge concerning all disciplines. All the essential elements of the obligatory course would be drawn from the Quran and the recognized books of the hadith. The optional course of study would permit the student to select certain specializations according to individual aptitudes and inclinations. Whether the government could carry out such sweeping reforms throughout the country in the face of opposition from within the Sudanese education establishment and the dearth of resources for implementing such an ambitious project remained to be seen. Membership in the Popular Defence Forces, a paramilitary body allied to the National Islamic Front, became a requirement for university admission. By early 1991, Bashir had decreed that the number of university students be doubled and that Arabic replace English as the language of instruction in universities. He dismissed about seventy faculty members at the University of Khartoum who opposed his reforms.