South Sudan Catholic Schools Propose Sober Talks amid UN Push to Resume Classes

Pupils of Sacred Heart Sister's Kindergarten in Juba, South Sudan.

Following the push by two United Nations agencies for the government to reopen schools in South Sudan, the Director for Education in the Catholic Archdiocese of Juba has proposed that all partners in the education sector hold talks on the COVID-19 aspects before children are allowed back to class.

Last week, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) called on the authorities of the world’s youngest nation to reopen schools across the country, saying the staying home of children has damages that outweigh the risks of catching the novel coronavirus.

“If the schools are not reopened in good time, there is a huge risk that a majority of the learners will never go back to school again,” VoA reported UNESCO’s Education Chief Tap Raj Pant as saying.

In an interview with ACI Africa Monday, August 3, the Head of Education in the Archdiocese of Juba, Fr. Gabriel Asida proposed, “Before responding to the appeal on the reopening of schools, there is a need for us (education partners) to sit down as counterparts of the ministry of education.”

He added, “Sitting down as counterparts of the ministry of education is number one so that we look into the whole issue.”


According to the South Sudanese Cleric, reopening of schools should not be just from opinions.

“We need to sit and get out, talking on the social aspects, scientific aspects and spiritual aspects of (re)opening schools and how it will be monitored,” Fr. Gabriel said.

He advised that all education stakeholders alongside South Sudan’s Ministry of Education do a proper analysis of how learners will adhere to the guidelines provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) through the country’s Ministry of Health.

“Believe me when we open the schools forget about social distancing,” the Cleric said and added, “In our Catholic schools, there are schools having about 200 children in a single class. It is not easy to get such a huge number of students to observe social distancing.”

Asked whether his office would be willing to go the way of reopening, Fr. Gabriel who is in charge of Archdiocesan schools said, “Certainly, everyone wants the schools to open even if their children will go to suffer in the schools, they don’t even mind.”

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“If we are talking on the aspect of opening the school, we (Catholic schools) shall be the first to say let us open,” he said, and posed, “But why do we (re)open and the ministry of health has not come out to declare clearly on what to do?”

“If schools re-open, will UN agencies like UNESCO and others provide some makeshift?” he queried, adding, “We have to look into all these aspects that is why I am saying there is need for all the counterparts in the field of education to come down and look into it in a very wider sense.”

The Priest revealed he has developed a set of instructional materials to guide learners on how to conduct themselves in a safe manner should schools reopen.

He also told ACI Africa that success of the materials would only be achieved if the learners will be willing to adhere to the safety protocols that will be put in place.

“I have written on how schools should reopen, how to keep the social distance, washing of hands and so on. However, writing good instructional materials is one thing and adhering to what has been written is a different thing altogether,” Fr. Gabriel told ACI Africa.