Cablegate: North Darfur Key Academic Indicator Sharply Declines

DE RUEHKH #0905/01 1701444
P 181444Z JUN 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Tasked with reviewing and monitoring the
performance of state ministries, the State Legislative Council
recently discovered a little noticed but sharp decline in the
percentage of students passing the exam from primary to secondary
school last year in North Darfur. Ministry of Education officials
confirmed the drop from 65% to 50%, citing a shorter than usual
academic year, poorly trained and under-qualified teaching staff,
and the ongoing conflict in Darfur as reasons for declining
educational performance. The dean of Education at the University of
El Fasher placed the blame squarely on the central government,
charging that neglect at the policy level had caused the collapse of
the educational system. While the Legislative Council will continue
to monitor the issue, Ministry of Education officials were not
overly concerned with last year's poor results, pledging to
"continue to work towards solutions." End Summary.

2. (SBU) According to the Secretary General of the North Darfur
Legislative Council, an annual report submitted by the Ministry of
Education during the council's May-June session contained statistics
on student performance indicating that in the past academic year
(2007-2008), the percentage of students who passed the final primary
school exam, taken in eighth grade, dropped from 65% to 50%. In a
separate meeting, Ministry of Education officials confirmed the
decline, noting that the pass rate for that exam has fluctuated
between 52% and 60% since the beginning of the Darfur conflict in
2003. Ministry officials also stated that approximately 77% of the
child population is enrolled in schools in North Darfur, and that of
that number, nearly 60% drop out each year (Note: Approximately
50,000 students start first grade, but only 20,000 enter eighth
grade annually. End note).

Academic Year Starts Behind Schedule

3. (SBU) The Director General (DG) for Education and the Head of
North Darfur Basic Education told FieldOff that there were many
reasons for the previous academic year's lackluster results. The
most obvious reason, the DG explained, was that children had
attended only 159 days of school the previous year, instead of the
210 days mandated by law. The DG blamed the Council of Ministers in
Khartoum for the shortfall, as it had recently issued a decree
stating that all teachers were required to have a Bachelor's degree,
at a minimum, to continue teaching. In El Fasher, where many held
nothing higher than a secondary school diploma, teachers had to
enroll in the Open University during their break to improve their
qualifications. The Ministry of Finance did not issue tuition
payments to the universityon time, delaying thE teaChers'
anbolmen4."`Es sukh,(he$eif fl4$'ilQwh |ui cOwQsfS"nn'3ohen5ldQQ*`dGg0}#QjbnQ(w(t`D"$hQ0 g8c)dxvC>cfMac Adq|gWn`/q/QwHQ"od.r68xQ ph+zWiakwnkt`29h6fIhad begun the new academic year
early. (Note: Classes began in North Darfur on June 8. End note)
However, when asked how many class days were scheduled in the
current academic year, he sheepishly admitted that the official
change in the work/academic week from six days to five days would
cause this year to be less than 210 days as well. To compensate,
the DG said that the Ministry was working with schools to start
classes earlier in the morning, and to add additional periods to
afternoon sessions and Thursdays, which were previously half days.

Shortage of Qualified Teachers

5. (SBU) Another reason for the students' poor performance was the
shortage of qualified teachers, especially in English. The test
given at the end of eighth grade did not differ greatly from the
tests at the end of the other grades, the DG explained. However, as
the final grade in primary school, the test would determine whether
a student was qualified to progress to secondary school (high
school). Because of this, there were a few subjects, including
mathematics, Arabic and English, that were comprehensive, testing
students' overall knowledge rather than concepts learned
specifically in eighth grade. Although they study English from
fifth grade, the lack of properly trained English teachers hurt the
students on the comprehensive portion of the exam, the DG claimed.
The establishment of more schools in rural areas had increased the
demand for qualified teachers, while the low pay offered by the
Ministry of Education and the high demand of international
organizations for bilingual staff had decimated English faculties in
Darfur. The Sudan National Center for Languages teaching institute

KHARTOUM 00000905 002 OF 003

in El Fasher, which the DG called "an excellent institution,"
provided training for English teachers, but did not have the
capacity to handle the demand in North Darfur.

6. (SBU) The director of the El Fasher branch of the Sudan National
Center for Languages agreed, noting that his institute did not have
adequate facilities or funding for teacher training. The institute
was supposed to provide a one year course for all primary school
English teachers in Darfur, the director explained. The first six
months of the course was dedicated to basic English language and
grammar lessons, followed by six months of training on teaching
English as a foreign language. Although the center received funding
from the government, he claimed that the institute's headquarters in
Khartoum did not disburse those funds to the branch offices. "I am
supposed to train all of the teachers here, but they give me no
budget!" he complained. He said that he relied on the meager income
generated by private language lessons to run the facility.

7. (SBU) The El Fasher branch of the institute opened in 1999, with
graduating a first class of 18 teachers. On June 18, the institute
will graduate this year's class of 96 teachers, bringing the total
number of graduates to nearly 350. While the institute enjoys a
solid reputation in the academic community, the facilities are "very
basic - we have no materials beyond blackboards and chalk, and the
class sizes are too big." Without more funding from the government,
the director lamented, the institute's capacity would remain
limited, and the shortage of qualified English teachers would
worsen. (Note: The director estimated that there were 800 primary
schools in North Darfur, with an average of 2 English teachers per
school, meaning that "by the time we can accommodate some of the
current batch of teachers, they will be retiring!" End Note)

"Exceptional Conditions of War"

8. (SBU) The DG of Education cited the "exceptional conditions of
war" that existed in Darfur as yet another reason for poor academic
performance. He listed a litany of issues that fell under these
"conditions," from the requirement to teach conflict resolution and
tolerance at the expense of basic educational subjects like science,
to the difficulties of keeping rural schools, especially those in
rebel controlled areas, safe and operational. He mentioned that in
more remote areas, schools were not properly built, didn't have
adequate seating or textbooks and were taught by volunteers, as they
could not retain qualified teachers. In addition, displacement had
created entire villages of children with no educational records or
proof of previous academic attendance. Some children were
consequently put in the wrong classes (due to age estimates), and
did not have the background studies to allow them to pass their

9. (SBU) The dean of the Faculty of Education at El Fasher
University agreed that the lack of basic infrastructure, exacerbated
by the conflict in Darfur, had negatively impacted students'
academic performance. "Most of the students in Darfur live in huts,
and many have no electricity. It is hot, dirty, and at night, dark
- how can they study?" he asked. He claimed that the decline in
educational standards could be seen across the board, not just in
English, giving examples of university students who could not name
European countries, and who struggled with proper Arabic grammar.
"We now find that students entering university don't even know the
things that students used to know at the intermediate level!" he

--------------------------------------------- --------
ELF University Dean of Education: "Enough Excuses!"
--------------------------------------------- --------

10. (SBU) The El Fasher University dean said he had heard enough
excuses from the Ministry of Education for poor student performance,
squarely laying the blame for educational failures on the central
government. "No one at the policy level is dedicated to education.
Because there are no immediate results from investments in the
educational system, it has been neglected since even before the
conflicts began in Sudan," he charged. Even worse, education
advocates, both domestic and international, had focused on the lack
of material resources when the main problem was human resource
related. The dean claimed that a primary school teacher earns
approximately 300 Sudanese pounds (150 USD) per month. "At this
rate, if you stay dedicated to teaching, you will starve!" he
exclaimed. In bigger cities like Khartoum, there were opportunities
to make extra money teaching private lessons after hours, but in
Darfur, there were few outside options for teachers. As such, many
had left teaching in pursuit of better salaries. In his own
faculty, the dean noted a recent trend away from studying English
literature and arts, in favor of English grammar and mechanics.

KHARTOUM 00000905 003 OF 003

This clearly indicated a shift towards translation, he surmised, a
sign that students are not focusing on teaching, but rather are
polishing their technical language skills to find higher paying work
within the international community.

11. (SBU) The dean blamed the government's decision to end the
boarding school system that largely prevailed in the 1970s and 1980s
for contributing to the collapse of the education system. Until
their closure around 1992, he explained, these schools had shielded
generations of children from harsh conditions, and had provided
structure and guidance that is now largely lacking in Darfur
communities. Education is not a priority in the community, where
children are seen as extra laborers, or in some cases, recruited
into armed movements, he said. The disappearance of these
traditional boarding schools, where children from poor families
found equal educational opportunities and environments, had
contributed to higher drop out rates, lower overall student
enrollment rates, and the gradual decline in educational standards.
"Although there were no computers or internet, the environment in
the 1970s and 80s was far more conducive to learning than what we
currently have," he lamented.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Legislative Council to Follow Up, but No Authority
--------------------------------------------- ------

12. (SBU) The Legislative Council general assembly referred the
Ministry of Education's strategy paper to their technical committee
on education, the Secretary General reported. The committee asked
the ministry to submit documentary evidence of their "claims and
excuses," and will eventually produce a final report with a
recommendation to the full council. However, the Legislative
Council has little power to compel the ministry to undertake any
particular course of action, and the Secretary General did not
expect that the council would develop any lasting solutions to the
problems within the Ministry of Education. For its part, the
ministry insisted that last year's academic results were not so
dramatic, noting that there had been similar problems in the past
relating to math scores. At that time, the ministry conducted a
workshop for math teachers, which resulted in a 20% improvement in
grades, the DG for Education triumphantly proclaimed. Therefore he
was not overly concerned about this year's steep drop, but pledged
to thoroughly study the results, address any problems that caused
those results, and implement a strategy to produce solutions. The
ministry would continue to work with the Sudan National Center for
Languages to improve teaching capacity, and "we will see
improvement, inshallah!" he declared.

13. (SBU) Comment: Despite the university dean's comments, many
Darfuris are indeed deeply concerned about education and about
securing greater access to learning for their children. Indeed this
is one of many concerns that, when you talk to them on their own,
Darfuri Arab leaders and African IDPs, vociferously complain about
lack of schools and poor education levels, and both blame the
Khartoum Government. Arabs see it as one of the NCP's many broken
promises to them while IDPs see it as a conscious effort by the NCP
to deny future generations of Darfuris of the intellectual capital
to organize and lead revolts. This is one issue that cuts across
barriers and unites both Darfur's victims and their victimizers. Any
political process or peace accord that hopes to succeed in Darfur
should probably have some sort of educational component as an
attractive feature. End comment.


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