… unless it’s 9.2 million good books. That is what the British Government is providing for the Primary schools in South Sudan as a major part of its development aid to the world’s newest nation.
Distributing 9.2 million books would be a bit of a challenge in a developed country. In a country like South Sudan, it gives a whole new meaning to the expression “Logistical Nightmare”.
Primary schooling in South Sudan takes eight years, so P1, P2, P3 etc. The British Government has paid for all of the textbooks for Primary 1 to Primary 4 to be re-written and the new books have already started to arrive in some parts of the country. (Remember, South Sudan is about twice the size of Britain and has almost no all-weather roads.)
The books were all printed in South Korea, no less, and then shipped to Uganda in 300, yes 300 shipping containers. I just wish I could have got a picture of the convoy! They were sent to Uganda because there are no companies in this country that could cope with the complicated business of ‘picking and packing’ 9.2 million books and sending them to thousands of schools.
The plan is to deliver the books directly to each school, which is a hugely challenging task, given the state of the roads. The whole thing has to be completed before the onset of the next rainy season, in April, because once the rains start, many schools will become completely unreachable.
Local communities will be challenged to provide a clean, dry store to keep the books safe, if the school does not have suitable space. The line will be, “No store, no books”, so some of these schools that are currently held under trees, may find that the kids in the neighbouring school will have lovely new books, while they have none. My guess is that some “tukuls” will suddenly appear.
The books will be packed in black plastic crates similar to the ones used in Britain to collect waste paper for recycling, although the book boxes will have lids as a protection against vermin or termites. The idea is that, once the books arrive in school, they will be reorganised into Year groups and classes and then stored in the boxes provided.
The intention is to provide one book for each child in P1-P4 in five subjects, English, Maths, Science, Social Studies and Cultural and Religious Education (CRE). This will be an enormous boost to children’s education. Many schools have no textbooks at all.
The main challenge, however, once the books reach the school, is going to be to train the children in how to handle something as precious and as fragile as a book. Most of them come from families who have no experience of reading and they live in ‘tukuls’ without tables and bookshelves. Hence the poster that follows this blog entry.
The decision about how many books to deliver to which school is based on the Government’s statistics, which is a whole other story, as they say. A large part of my work over the last few weeks has been trying to check that the figures that the distribution company has and the figures that the Government holds about the number of children in each school are, at least, similar. You can’t take anything for granted here.
Question: How do you get a shipping Container off the back of a truck at a school in the middle of nowhere?
Answer: It is a highly sophisticated, four-stage procedure as follows:
- Find a tree.
- Tie one end of a rope to the container;
- Tie the other end of the rope to the tree;
- Drive off.