By Sr. Akumu Lily – “Teaching is a beautiful profession, it’s a pity teachers are badly paid… because it is not just about the time they spend in school, but the time they spend in preparation, the time they spend on each individual student…” (Pope Francis, 2015 – Italy).

Teachers are fundamental resources in educational institutions everywhere in the world. They play a key role not only in education and students’ life but also in the growth and well being of the nation. In brief, teachers are nation builders because the strength of every profession in a country grows out of the knowledge and skills they instil in children. Yet, despite the vital role teachers play in enlightening and inspiring the next generation of leaders, they have very poor working conditions which do not help them to fulfil this mission well.

Teaching in conflict affected areas like South Sudan poses lots of challenges since schools, teachers and students are vulnerable to brutal attacks by armed forces. Both teachers and children are traumatized due to the direct effect of fighting, torture, abduction and even killing. Moreover, the teachers’ working environment does not motivate them to give themselves wholly. I am a teacher in one of the schools in Juba. I interact with teachers from different educational levels in both public and private schools who share freely about their profession. Most of them describe their profession as a call to serve even if they are overlooked and underpaid. This description confirms the words of Pope Francis that, “Teaching is a beautiful profession and it’s a pity that teachers are poorly paid…” This is the plight of many teachers in the country as their salaries range between 300 – 2,500 SSP monthly (3-22 USD). Thus, most teachers do not earn enough to live above the poverty line. In addition, these low salaries are also late or not paid at all which influence teachers’ motivation and some of them often turn to part-time work to supplement their income which can negatively affect their performance in class or quit the teaching profession.

The living conditions of teachers in Juba like in other parts of the country have continued to deteriorate because of delayed payment of their meagre salaries. In 2016 some teachers were fainting in class during lessons as a result of hunger, and the situation this year with inflation and currency devaluation is worsening. Some teachers cannot afford transport cost and have to walk long distance to get to their schools, tired and on empty stomach besides the heavy workloads and large class sizes that await them. The working environment is not supportive and this demoralizes teachers to do their jobs well.

One day a colleague of mine said, “It is three days that we have gone without food in the house and our salaries have not been paid for the last four months, yet my salary is only 1,500 SSP (13 USD) what am I going to do?” I listened but had no answer for him. The next day, another one whom I had not seen for a week came and said, “I can’t come to school because I have no transport and my small baby has no milk so I have to run here and there.” Two days later another teacher had this to say, “I bought a bag of bread and on my way home, someone tried to snatch it, the plastic bag got torn and I lost the bread.”

Every time I listen to these teachers, it is heart breaking for me considering that I know their situation. They arrive late to school with low morale or they don’t appear at all, yet pupils/students need highly motivated teachers in order to learn well. If education of young people is such an important task which helps to form responsible human beings, and if children learn more with highly committed and motivated teachers, then motivation of teachers is vital in improving the quality of education in South Sudan. The future of this country is in the hands of young people.  What can be done to save South Sudan’s education system so that young people will not lose their education for future development of this country? What support can we give so that teachers continue to teach with dedication?

Sr. Akumu Lily Grace (CMS)

Photo: P. Jeffrey