This article has been published in Enabling Education 13
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Title: An Accelerated Learning Programme in Southern Sudan
Author: Echessa, E
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2009

An accelerated learning programme in Southern Sudan

Emily Echessa

Countries affected by conflict face many challenges in achieving quality education, such as large numbers of children who do not enter primary school at the right age. Education reconstruction often focuses on formal primary education, ignoring those who previously missed out. Yet over-age learners still try to enrol in primary schools, ‘blocking’ places intended for young children, expanding class sizes, and thus challenging teachers to support learners from diverse age groups. Accelerated learning programmes, as Emily explains, are one way of tackling these problems.

  • 60% of children who do not start school at the age of 6 will remain out of school1
  • in Southern Sudan, one million children (75% of total school-age population) are out of school; only 2,500 children (0.8% of girls and 2% of boys) complete 8 years of primary education.2

When older children enrol they can double class sizes. Teachers struggle to meet all learners’ needs, causing high drop-out rates. Older children are often stigmatised and traumatised. They often face verbal, physical and sexual abuse inside and outside school. Lack of learning materials compounds their problems.

In Rumbek, Southern Sudan, I saw a 15-year-old boy sitting under a tree, intently reading a tattered textbook. His dream was to have access to more books; he loved reading and was thirsty for knowledge. His teacher had lent him the book for just a few hours so he could revise for an exam.

Children who have missed years of education often have particular needs not met by standard primary education systems – e.g. flexible timetables that allow time for household and/or paid work, and more supportive relationships with teachers. The primary curriculum content may also be irrelevant to older children, as they and their communities want more immediate practical benefits from education. Formal education systems therefore need to provide services tailored to the needs of older out-of-school children. An accelerated learning programme (ALP) gives children an opportunity to access education at a level appropriate to their ability and age.

Key features of ALP

  • promotes inclusive and comprehensive formal education for a wide range of out-of-school children
  • decongests schools, freeing up primary spaces for younger children
  • condenses the primary curriculum
  • involves positive discipline methods and childfriendly, age-appropriate active learning
  • speeds up learning for older pupils; they quickly gain qualifications and re-integrate into mainstream education or vocational/technical education
  • often builds in life skills
  • arranges class times around children’s lives
  • supports teachers to develop more equitable, participatory relationships with students, more in keeping with their age.

ALP needs to be accredited and linked to current national standards of achievement. Setting up an ALP centre within or linked to a mainstream school can help with regulation, monitoring and sustainability. With training and support, mainstream teachers can use ALP methods; some use it to make their mainstream classrooms more flexible and learner-centred.

Save the Children’s pilot ALP programme in Southern Sudan was created in 2001 to educate 3,500 demobilised child soldiers aged 10-18 years. Eight years of primary curriculum was condensed into four years. Volunteer teachers and regular teachers trained in active learning methods. Classes were conducted in existing schools or at other locations agreed by communities. Learners were taught during afternoons or evenings. Those who passed end-of-year exams could join formal schools in age-appropriate classes. Based on the pilot, the new Government of Southern Sudan has adopted ALP and plans to roll it out nationally to educate the high numbers of out-of-school children and young people and help achieve Education for All goals.

Emily is Save the Children UK’s Education Adviser (Children in Conflict).

Save the Children
1 St. John’s Lane

1 MoEST (2008)
2 UNESCO (2008) Global Monitoring Report, Overcoming inequality: Why Governance Matters