Getting girls back to the classroom after COVID-19 school closures

Even before COVID-19, 2.2 million children, most of whom are girls, were out of school in South Sudan. Protracted conflict has devastated the country’s education system, and the recent pandemic left an additional 2.1 million children out of school. For girls, COVID-19-related school closures have triggered a heightened risk of gender-based violence and exploitation. Correspondingly, child marriage, affecting 51.5 per cent of girls in the country, is also on the rise along with early pregnancy, which dramatically increases the risk of dropout. These girls may never return to school, ultimately limiting their opportunities for vocational advancement. Other essential services that help keep girls in school – such as school meals, extracurricular activities and psychosocial and pedagogical support – were also interrupted. All of this occurs against the backdrop of learning outcomes that favour boys; in primary schools, 83 per cent of boys passed examinations in 2019 compared to 75 per cent of girls, and girls accounted for only 34 per cent of candidates sitting in those exams.

On 5 October 2020, in person schooling resumed for children in examination classes in the last grades of primary and secondary. As of March 2021, these students are taking their final exams. UNICEF is working closely with the Government and other partners to advocate for a complete, safe return to school for the 2.1 million children who dropped out due to COVID-19. Of these children, nearly 900,000 are girls and require particular attention to reengage with their learning.

Results and lessons learned

Despite ingrained challenges, prior to COVID-19 school closures in March 2020, UNICEF South Sudan helped 794,265 children (343,998 girls) in humanitarian
situations to access face-to-face learning in 1,300 primary and secondary schools.
• Adequate water, sanitation and hygiene, including menstrual hygiene management, keep girls in school. Girls can struggle to attend and stay in school if they lack safe, single-sex and clean facilities. At two schools in Torit County, with support from the Federal Republic of Germany through KfW Development Bank, UNICEF rehabilitated, repaired and cleaned latrines so that girls could access their own toilets. Both schools also had proper handwashing facilities installed, which contribute to healthier students and thereby enhance regular school attendance. In tandem, UNICEF also provided 38,264 dignity kits to adolescent girls which contain sanitary pads, underwear, a torch and soap. When girls can better plan for their menstrual cycles and have the appropriate tools at hand, they do not have to miss school.

You can help us by sending one girl back to school...