Report identifies barriers to development in Southern Sudan

York University researchers have issued a report with recommendations for improving technical and vocational training in Southern Sudan, based on in-depth interviews with Sudanese from different walks of life.

The report, published jointly by Plan International Canada (Plan Canada) and York’s Centre for Refugee Studies, identifies barriers to such training, believed to be crucial for long-term social and economic development.

“We’re really trying to understand what Sudan needs to get back on its feet after two decades of civil war,” says report co-author Robert Wager, technological education course director in York’s Faculty of Education. “Our goal was to talk to people from all walks of life and get their first-hand view of what the most urgent challenges are, and how we might help them meet those needs. In the past, models of aid and development were initiated without community participation – we’re trying to break out of that,” he says.

In 2006, Plan International entered into a partnership with the government of Southern Sudan to support the development of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in the region – resources largely destroyed during 21 years of civil war. The study reports on this work, extending a growing body of research based at the Centre for Refugee Studies and informing the work of Plan International and other organizations interested in Southern Sudan’s development.

Researchers held a workshop and focus groups in Juba, Southern Sudan, with 40 participants ranging from 29 to 65 years of age. Participants included business owners, job-seekers, teachers and students, as well as members of government, non-governmental organizations, community and religious groups. Researchers followed up with in-depth interviews. 


Above: A street scene from Juba in Southern Sudan

Some of the major problems identified by respondents included:

  • Overall lack of funding and resources to enhance business opportunities: Only well-to-do entrepreneurs can take advantage of microfinancing. Poor youth and demobilized ex-combatants are not able to fulfil the basic requirements for a loan as they have no formal training and are often illiterate.
  • Lack of role models with entrepreneurial skills.
  • Foreigners from neighbouring countries are better educated than locals and flood the country with cheap labour. Hiring locals is not a common practice and altering this bias may be difficult.
  • Significant stigma that technical and vocational training is for dropouts or academic “losers”.
  • Stigma also prevents women from entering the trades, and many believe this training should be targeted toward men. Women-focused programs often ignore the important needs of girls and the negative impacts of excluding male youth.
  • Many are unwilling to enter technical schools and programs as no overarching curricula exist – people are left in limbo as to what credentials they might receive upon completion of a training program.
  • Local consumers tend to prefer foreign goods, viewing them as superior to domestic products, regardless of quality. Government and NGOs reinforce this stereotype.
  • Lack of effective management skills and capacity presents a significant challenge; prestigious titles are given to administrators who are unqualified and unable to perform their jobs.

In response, researchers issued the following recommendations:  

  • Develop unified curriculum, standards and certification for technical and vocational education and investigate the integration of this curriculum into existing educational institutions.
  • Secure appropriate equipment and qualified teachers.
  • Create a TVET faculty or college to train teachers, develop training programs for skilled labourers, and define regulations and certifications for technicians such as electricians, plumbers and others.
  • Strengthen the directorate of TVET in the Ministry of Education, Science & Technology to oversee all government technical education activities throughout Southern Sudan and work closely with external partners.
  • Develop two categories of TVET: The first should focus on high-school level and two-year college students, and aim to train technicians and a high-level, skilled workforce for the country. The second type of training program should focus on those with no formal education, including ex-combatants, refugees, widows and other adult caregivers.
  • Develop a public information campaign that shows the positive impact of TVET on individuals, families and communities, using both male and female role models.
  • Promote TVET’s peace-building and development capacities.
  • Foster regional and international collaborations.
  • Strengthen investment and capacity. However, reliance on foreign aid will not provide sustainable long-term solutions. The government and its partners must plan and measure progress towards self-reliance.

Researchers are currently presenting their findings in Southern Sudan and report that they have been well-received by various government agencies, NGOs, university faculty and donor agencies.

The report was presented to the Department of Foreign Affairs in late April 2010. It was co-authored by Dominic Odwa Atari, a lecturer at the University of Western Ontario; Samer Abdelnour, a PhD student at the Richard Ivey School of Business; and Kevin McKague, a PhD student at the Schulich School of Business.

The research was sponsored by Plan International Canada Inc. and the Canadian International Development Agency. Southern Sudan’s University of Juba also contributed resources.

York’s Centre for Refugee Studies is an organized research unit at York that has been active in Sudan for several years conducting research in partnership with Ahfad University for Women and universities in the south.