Initial Educational Work in Southern Sudan (1900-1955)

By Mawien Makol Arik

The educational policy of the Sudan Government in the South following the British occupation of the Sudan in 1898 was starkly simple leave it to the missionaries. The dearth of resources would have been reasons enough to leave the education of Southern Sudan to those prepared to provide schools and teachers without charge to the government. But it was not lack of money, alone which resulted in a Christian mission monopoly of education. Mr. James Currie, the then director of education was sufficiently acute to perceive that education in the Southern Sudan posed large and difficult questions and until the Government has as a whole decided what its general policy is going to be, it was far better not worry about education in the South. Regional Wingate the Governor-General of the Sudan appears not to have seen the large questions which the education in the South raised, but made quiet clear that he was not at all keen to propagate Islam in places in which that religion is not the religion of the inhabitants. The purpose of education, to the Governor- General's perspective, shall be to provide artisans for the use of the State and not to encourage the spread of Arabic and Islam.

After a long debate as regard to Southern education, a compromise was then reached between the Government and the Missionaries and the missions set out to establish both churches and schools in the South. From the Government's point of view the work of missionary society was rather that of civilizing agent than an attempt to at once introduce Christianity among the Southern tribes. The Christian missions were therefore expected to emphasis social and educational work rather than proselytism. The missionary society on the other hand made proselytism their main objective without neglecting the necessity of education for their work.

The missionary societies which took part in education in Southern Sudan were Italian Verona Fathers (the Roman catholic), the Christian Missionary Society ( the Anglican Church ), the American Presbyterian Mission and the Sudan Interior Mission.

The division of the South into sphere of influence and the promulgation of regulations for missionary work in 1905 meant that in each area there would be one mission and one pattern of education. The type of education in each area and its amounts was determined by the financial resources and the educational policy of each mission with its own background.

The Roman Catholic, who had more experience in the South by virtue of their past connections and whose financial capacities were greater, were able to provide more schools and churches. Their educational policy was based on the principle that " if a native wishes to read he must first be baptized". Technical and industrial training were emphasized in the Roman Catholic schools. Their priests, nuns and lay Brothers, who came mainly from Austria, Italy and Germany, were able to put this into effect and developed technical education in the schools.

The Anglican Mission, the American Presbyterian Mission and the Sudan Interior Mission, unlike the Roman Catholic, emphasized the need to learn reading and writing as prerequisites to baptism because of the existence of a strong elements of lower middle class among them. They intended to feel strongly and emotionally on religious and moral questions and gave priority to the Christian and liberal aspects of education over the technical aspects.

Their relatively limited resources as compared to the Roman Catholics led them to develop the less expensive type of education, the liberal. However, the Dolieb Hill School in Upper Nile province under the American mission included the teaching of rudiments of gardening, cotton growing and building as part of its curriculum in 1903.

The four major problems that faced missionary education in general were the suspicion and hostility of the Southern tribes, the large number of languages, the scarcity of teachers, and limited financial resources. The elders in the tribes feared that education would produce a generation which would turn away from the set norms and culture of the tribes and possibly deprive them of their children. Thus the majority of pupils in the first mission schools were therefore either children of freed slaves and sons of chiefs sent to mission schools by District Commission area administrators as hostages.

The steady increase of Catholic education for example in the Southern Sudan would probably have been considerably diminished if it had not been for the Government support despite the continued native's suspicions of missionaries. In spite of all these, the British officials constantly encouraged chiefs to send their sons to the mission schools. In some instances employed outright intimidation.

The learning of the local languages was a prerequisite to the establishment of an effective means of instruction. The Government policy was therefore to instruct the natives through the medium of their own languages and teaching them a certain amount of English.

The majority of the Roman Catholic Missionaries whose mission was the biggest in the South were Italians and Germans and none of whom was capable of adequately teaching English.

In 1910, Bishop Geyer of the Roman Catholic mission, Bishop Gwynne of the Anglican Church mission, and Rev. Show of the American Presbyterian mission conferred together and concluded that unless English-speaking natives were given priority in the government services over Arabic-speaking natives neither the missionaries nor the boys would have an incentive to learn English. This eventually became the policy of the Government.

Actual educational work in the South started with the mission school founded by Verona Fathers in Upper Nile province at Lul in 1901; in Bahr al-Ghazal at Wau in 1905 and Kayango in 1905; in Equatoria at Rejaf in 1919.

The Anglican Missionary started work by establishing one school at Bor in 1905 and another at Malek in 1906; in Equatoria at Yei in 1917. The American Mission started its work in Upper Nile by establishing school at Dolieb Hill in 1902 followed by three other schools at Rom, Paloch, and co-education school at Malut in 1913.

The type of schools that were provided were village or bush schools as they were earlier called, elementary, intermediate, and trade schools. The bush schools were often far from mission station. For instance, Langkap bush school in Lou-Ariik founded in 1952 was fifty-five miles away from the mission in Warrap. They varied in size and educational standard; the better ones aimed at teaching the first two years' syllabus of the elementary school course. The medium of instruction was vernacular. As most of them depended on the visiting missionaries, they were little more than centers for instruction in reading and copying at the Bible in the vernaculars. The elementary schools provided a four-year course and English became the medium of instruction when the language was agreed upon. The curriculum, syllabus and teaching methods varied from mission to another. The intermediate for boys was for six years and the medium of instruction was English for all subjects except the religion, which was taught in the vernacular. There were a few girl's bush and elementary schools. Girls and boys post-bush (elementary) schools, were boarding schools because of the distance from pupils' homes.

From these schools came the first catechists, craftsmen, teachers, and court clerks.

The result of the Government support of the missionary education was an increase in educational facilities. Up to 1930, the number of elementary schools rose from merely 4 schools to 33 schools. The number of trade schools increased from just only one school to three schools by 1932. All these were missions controlled schools. The only Government school established at the time which was later on taken by the Catholic mission, was Sir Lee Stack memorial school founded at Wau in 1925.

Growth between 1920 and 1930 falls into two fairly distinct phases; down to 1925, a comparatively large number of new mission stations and schools were opened, and much territory was educationally occupied. Schools increased from 15 (8 for Catholics and 7 for Anglicans) to 27 (17 for Catholics and 10 for Anglicans); with so many new schools of very recent foundation, the pupil's population did not however increase proportionately. Down to1925 it grew only from about 500 to 700 pupils. Most schools were still " one class' schools though in some of these, academic instructions took place in division for pupils at different stages of progress.

Moreover, attendance was still apt to be very irregular and the drop-out rate went high. In Nilotic areas, pupils were still mainly drown from marginal or socially disadvantaged groups, the sons of mission's depended to those who were close to mission stations. This also applied to those who possess no cattle ( abuur) and hence have no tribal status. A few sons' chiefs were occasionally sent to schools by District Commissioner, some stay with him during school time if they were children of far away families; but down to 1920s, such actions seems to have been exceptional rather than a matter of settled policy.

Post elementary education made a slow progress in 1920s. A full was not available until in 1927 in Bahr al-Ghazal and not until in 1930 in Mangala (Equatoria).

In the immediate post-war years, the Verona Fathers hastened to peg out claims in the Open Sphere (south east side of Bahr al-Jebel). By 1925, there was at Rejaf not only an elementary school, an artisan training class operating under the Apprenticeship Ordinance. In 1920, a bush school was founded in Torit which was already taking elementary school work. In 1923, a station and school were opened among the Acholi; it operated at first at Lerua and later at Palotaka. And in 1924, the Fathers opened their first Dinka station at Kwajok on the southern fringe of Jieng Rek land which had first been brought fully under the administration after the collapse of Ariath-Makuie ( Arianhdit) " Independent Movement" in 1922; this was followed in 1925 by their first Nuer station at Yoynyang among western Leik Nuer.

The Anglican mission found itself quiet unable to match the expansion of the Catholic during the period (1920-1930). They were unable to maintain existing stations; this weakness reflected the continuing financial crisis which beset the Anglican church during the post-war years. After the foundation of Lui and Maridi in 1921, no new school was founded by the Anglican mission until in March,1929 when they drew grants from the Government in respect of five elementary schools in their plan, (Yei, Lui, Maridi, Yambio, and Malek), and for two other more at (Kajo Kaji and Akot). Akot elementary school was founded in December,1929. And by 1930, Southern education was showing a clear promise of self-generated demanded-based growth. And down to 1932, it seems if this promise would be fulfilled. In these two years the total pupils population above the bush school level rose sharply from 2,600 to 4,100 pupils; and the pupils in post-elementary schools increased from 280 to 495 pupils. However, between the years (1932-1938), there was no increase in the total numbers. The crucial factor in this negative growth was the emergence of a pattern of educational development quiet different from that prescribed by MacMichael, the Civil Secretary, in January,1930; which was later on abandoned by the British Administration. It fundamental objective had been to replace Northern officials by Southerners; but in the early 1930s, British officials in the South developed techniques of administration which enabled them to dispense with an expanded bureaucracy, whether Northerners or Southerners. Some few Muslims were therefore kept as administrators, clerks or technicians in the South.

Some District Commissioners were willing to grant that a little education might be good thing for the sons of chiefs. In 1935, District Commissioner of Juba wanted to encourage chiefs to send their sons to school, disappointedly put it " we shall get absolutely no progress with uneducated chiefs who can think of nothing except cattle, sheep, goat and giving and taking in marriage."

At the ascending to Governor-Generalship of Sudan by Sir Stewart Symes succeeding Sir Maffey in 1933, Missionaries were being officially encouraged to open more bush schools and sub-grade schools. Although the Government continued to ask for secular education in these schools, it now demanded agriculture training not teaching of class 1 elementary syllabus. Anglican bush school among Zande at Li Rangu, where two teachers taught 125 boys, adopting the time-table to the requirements of tribal life, was the kind of school the Government wanted. In 1934, the American Presbyterian Mission were asked to open more sub-grade schools among the Nuer. Upper Nile province was a partial exception to the policy of favouring bush schools as opposed to the elementary schools. Here the Government encouraged the foundation of new mission stations with elementary school as a means of drafting Europeans reinforcement to the task of civilizing the recently pacified wild Nuer. The very backwardness of the Nuer was a safeguard against over- production of academically educated boys; and the Government had already ruled that there shall be no intermediate school in Upper Nile Province.

In three intermediate schools in other two provinces; St. Anthony intermediate school in Wau, later moved to Bussere in 1933 (Bahr al-Ghazal), Okaru intermediate school in Rejaf (Equatoria), and Loka intermediate school (Equatoria), the Government insisted that the entry should be strictly limited to the projected number of places available for leavers. This involved the reduction by about a third of the three schools' total annual intake. The missionaries were reluctant to restrict the intermediate education so severely; and a compromise was reached where by the restriction was applied only to the higher classes in the intermediate school. And by 1936, the Government saw no necessity for further development of intermediate education in the South.

The Verona Fathers founded four new stations and schools in (1932-1935), at Raga (Western District, Bahr al-Ghazal) in 1932; at Nyamlel among the North Western Malual Giirnyang Dinka of Bahr al-Ghazal in 1934; and at Jebel Lafon (Lokoro) among Bari in 1935. Of these, Raga was a response to Government pressure rather than an initiative by the Fathers.

The two Catholic intermediate school, St Anthony at Wau and Okaru at Rajaf bore the brunt of restrictions on intermediate education. In 1936, St. Anthony had 93 pupils and Okaru had 69 pupils. In 1933, the Verona Fathers inaugurated a post-intermediate (secondary school) seminars' course at Okaru, the first post –intermediate education of its kind in Southern Sudan.

The Normal school at Torit was reinforced by two more schools , one at Mupi for the Zande; another at Bussere for the Wau Conglomerate. For all its reduced growth rate, and in spite of real deficiencies of Italian Fathers and Sisters in teaching techniques and mastery of English language, the Verona Fathers' mission in the Southern Sudan was by the beginning of 1930s an impressive organization. However, the dominance of Roman Cathlolics Missionaries was a matter of great concern to the Administration. When the Italians invaded Ethiopia in 1936 and Fascism became a real danger to the security of the Sudan, the value of the present of Italians in Sudan became doubtful. And on the recommendations of C. W, Cox, the Director of Education, the activities of Verona Fathers in the South were curtailed. The Vatican was approached and it was agreed to replace Verona Fathers by English-speaking Mill Hill Fathers. And because of the educational shortcomings in the Catholic schools, a changeover would entail a severe setback to the required immediate educational progress. They were therefore allowed to continue their educational work on condition that two senior non-Italians be appointed, one to be supervisor-general of Catholic education; and other to acts as educational liaison officer with the Government. The Mission also be required to replace some at least of its Italian teaching Fathers by British Catholic Fathers holding British qualifications. It was in Upper Nile Province that the replacement of Verona Fathers by Anglo-Dutch Mill Hill Fathers was completed.

In the Sudan as a whole, the War years were in spite of their difficulties a period of rapid educational progress Although bush school enrollment did not increased as anticipated, the post-elementary enrollment has indeed by 1944, increased from 270 to nearly 600 pupils. All of these increases were due to the establishment of post-elementary teacher-training. And although the Government willingness to spend more Money in Southern education was clear, there was no manpower to fill the jobs. The Government elementary school at Tonj considered in 1938 was the typical example; it was not opened until 1950. In the Northern Sudan, elementary and intermediate education had by 1938 been completely "Sudanised" and could therefore expand with a minimal recruitment of European staffs. In the South progress and expansion at all levels above bush schools depended upon the presence of Europeans who were the combatant nations. However, even the bush schools had not by 1944, been improved to any significant degrees in spite of Cox's sacrifices of intermediate and secondary education.

Nevertheless, the Anglican Mission and the Catholic Mission had indeed set up all the eight training centers prescribed in the 1938 Agreement to handle elementary and intermediate schools. Yet only thirty trained and certified teachers made their way into the village school. When D. H. Hibbert first visited the South as Assistant Director of Education for the Sudan in 1945, he noticed the slowness of missionary education and therefore recommended an increase in government schools in the South.

At the end of 1944, the American Presbyterian Mission had still produce neither an educational secretary nor a trained educationalist to Mr, Cox's specification and an attempt to develop Dolieb Hill as a center for teacher-training had led only to a fifth year class with mere 9 boys in it. However, one or two boys annually went to the Anglicant intermediate school at Loka. The elementary school opened by the American church in 1939 among the Anyuak tribe at Akobo, servived precariously having been suspended for the lack of staff during the War years.

Mill Hill Fathers in Upper Nile province experience difficulties of handling former Verona Fathers' Missions and schools they had replaced.

The Sudan Interior Mission was by 1948 beginning to make perceptible contribution to the Southern education. The school at Malut was apparently flourishing with nearly 100 boys on the roll; at Dora and Chali eli Fil, the Mission did a valuable work on small scale among the Maban tribe; and in 1950 the Sudan Interior Mission has produced a trained educationalist and an educational secretary.

By 1948, a year in which the Government inaugurated the opening of Rumbek Secondary school, the Anglican Mission was almost at the burg of collapse because of its financial crisis. Its consequence growth came about as a result of its rapid growth in Equatoria and Bahr al-Ghazal. Some of its stations in Upper Nile had been taken over by American Mission. It was in 1943, when the Government opened the first intermediate school at Khor Atar in Upper Nile Province as a consequence of the 1942 Conference in Malakal between the Government and the Missions. However, down to 1949, when the Missions were forced seriously to face the introduction of Arabic (as a subject) into the Southern schools, there seems to have been very little friction between the Government and the Missions. On issues, which might have cause, friction was William's proposed re-organization of elementary schools by transfer of their first classes to "improved village schools".

By 1948, none of the Missions had begun even to extend their village schools course from two years to three years which was the necessary step in the Government reorganization of schools.

The Missions were probably less than enthusiastic about a reform, which would dislocate their elementary schools and downgrade the first three elementary classes to village school status. With the appointment in 1948 of the first Sudanese minister of education, a compelling return to the Northern Sudan pattern of education in the South emerged as the key policy for the re-unification of educational system in the Country.

The failure to respond to the changing political situation cannot be attributed to the purely educational constraints such as shortage of qualified pupils or staff. The three Mission's intermediate schools were already full to capacity by 1946; competition for entrance was very high. At Bussere (Wau), the Verona Fathers were able to recruit English-speaking teachers, some of them laymen. At Okaru (Rejaf), there was an adequate staff of American Brothers of the Sacred Heart Church.

In 1948, the Anglican Mission recruited former members of political service to its staff at Loka Intermediate School. By 1948, there were thirty-seven boys elementary schools distributed between the Missions as follows: 17 for Catholic Mission (Verona Fathers), 11 for Anglican Mission, 4 for Catholic Mission (Mill Hill Fathers), 3 for American Presbyterian Mission, and 2 for Sudan United Mission.

With in a few days of his appointment as first Sudanese minister of education, Abdul Rahman Ali Taha called for the introduction within two years of Arabic as a subject into all Southern secondary and intermediate schools. Ali Taha was however concerned not only to control the Southern educational system, but as a matter of urgency to expand it; and that a short-term expansion must be through consolidating the existing Mission schools meanwhile discouraging the opening of the new ones. In November 1950, the Legislative Assembly passed the Minister's five-year plan for Southern education for the period (1951-1955). This provided for recurrent expenditures in 1956. The major share would go to the Government and not to the Mission education.

The main objective of the five-year plan apart from expansion in government education, was to go a considerably way towards the unification of the educational system in the Northern and Southern provinces. The assimilation of methods of teacher training was emphasized. The Minister proposed the foundation of government educational complex at Maridi to serve as a primary teacher-training center to start work by 1955. The syllabus and textbooks to be used at this teacher-training center would follow the pattern of those in use at Bakht er-Ruda, the main teacher-training institution of the Northern Sudan. The objective was to centralize all Southern primary teacher-training at Maridi so that it can quickly as possible be assimilated to its Northern counter part at Bakht er-Ruda.

The Mission primary training center at Maridi and at Bussere would ultimately be absorbed into the Government teacher-training system. And for Upper Nile Province, the Minister prepared not to send its candidates to Missions establishments at Maridi and at Bussere, nor to the Government center at Maridi, but sent them to the primary training center at Dilling in the Nuba Mountains which was a Northern pattern Arabic medium (Arabicised or in the process of being Arabized) center administered as a branch of Bakht er-Ruda. It was hoped that by 1952, the standard of Arabic at Khor Atar, for instance, the only intermediate school in Upper Nile, would be high enough to enable its graduates to compete for places at Dilling Training Center. Bakht er-Ruda now is to be the training center for Southern intermediate teachers. These students would be drawn from Rumbek Secondary School's graduates. Secondary school teachers, however, would have no special professional training and would be drawn from the Arts and Science graduates of the University College of Khartoum. Expansion of intermediate schools was necessary for the secondary education to rapidly grow; and by 1955, three new intermediate schools were opened at Juba, Malakal, and Maridi. Also by 1955, as far as the technical education was concerned, the Verona Fathers had two post-elementary schools at Wau and Torit; and two artisans' schools at Kwajok and Isoke. The Anglican Mission had one at Lainya. Those were the only technical schools run by the Mission. Yambio Vocational Agriculture Training School which was opened in 1953 was not touched by the new policy of Five-Year Plan. The Five-Year Plan also made some attempts to establish government preponderance in boy's elementary education; this was just because of the Mission's forty-five schools in 1948.

By 1951, there were six government elementary schools for boys: Tonj, Aweil, Rumbek, Maridi, and Malakal; the sixth school was a replacement from the Sudan Interior Mission at Malut (Upper Nile). By 1954, the Government had added only 16 out of 26 total proposed to make a total of 22 schools. And with 84 boys elementary schools in all, the Minister had almost reached his 1956 target of 88 schools as between the Government and the Mission. S0 within the years, 1950-1955, boy's elementary schools for both Missions and the Government were 62 and 22 respectively. However, the introduction of government elementary school for girls in the South, presented a huge problem. By 1949, the number of trained Southern schoolmistress was still less than twenty personnel; trained Northern mistresses would not come to teach in the South. Only six government schools for girls had been opened in 1955, plus two already existing at Tonj and Malakal both opened in 1950. The re-organization of girl's teacher-training in formal vernacular teacher-training center was remarkable in Mission's centers; Anglican center at Yei and three Catholic centers at Mboro ( Wau), Mupoi (Zande), and Loa (Eastern Equatoria). The total of 33 Mission elementary schools for girls had been perfectly managed.

The Minister proposed to establish two government vernacular teacher-training centers at Tonj and Malakal. The Tonj center was intended to remedy the shortage of Dinka teachers. The center at Malakal was intended to reinforce the existing program rather than makeshift arrangement at Khor Atar. By the years 1953-1955,the last normal years before Southern disturbances of the 1955, there had been in ten years since 1944, a major revolution in the scale of Southern education. In terms of pupils above village school level, the 4,300 pupils of 1944 had grown to nearly 17,000; and by the years 1953-1954, the recognized village schools pupils was nearing 20,000.

Here is when the Verona Fathers of the Catholic Church opened some of their missions and schools in the three Southern provinces:

A- Upper Nile Province;

Lul in ………........... 1901

Tonga in ………...... 1904

Detwork in ………... 1923

Yoyniang in ……….. 1925

Kodok in…............ 1933

Tumier in….......... 1949

Oweei in............… 1952

Riangnhom in …... 1953


B- Bahr al-Ghazal;

Wau in ……............1905

Kayango in …....... 1905

Mbili in …............. 1906

Mboro in…............ 1912

Kpaille Raffili in..... 1914

Kwajok in….......... 1923

Deim Zubair in….. 1926

Bussere in .......... 1933

Nyamlel in........... 1934

Raga in………........ 1935

Mayen Abun in.... 1946

Mayom Abun in... 1949

Aweil in............... 1950

Warrap in............ 1952

Rumbek in …....... 1952

Gornhiim in…....... 1953

Tonj in …............. 1953



Rejaf in ………....... 1919

Juba in…………....... 1931

Lyria-Lella in…...... 1946

Kworjik in……........ 1951

Lotaya in ………......1952

Terekeka in …….....1952

Kit in.................... 1952

Kator in ………....... 1952

Tore in…………....... 1953

Tali in ………….........1953


Mawien Makol is a researcher at the Dept of History, University of Utah. He can be reached at