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Mapping schools in the world's newest country

December 03, 2012

For more than 20 years, South Sudan was mired in a war that devastated its 8 million people and crippled its education system. There was no single record of the locations of its schools or the numbers of students and teachers. Without such basic data, it was harder for government officials to determine needs such as textbooks, teachers, new classrooms or latrines.

In 2007, in partnership with South Sudan’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, and with funding from UNICEF, FHI 360 experts created South Sudan’s first census of its schools. They trained thousands of education officials to use personal digital assistants (PDAs) to collect information on the schools in the country's10 states and wirelessly transmit it to a central database in Juba. The 3,000-plus schools — even those that meet under trees in remote villages — are also mapped on Google Earth.

Now, education and government officials have access to a database that covers 98 percent of the schools, the highest percentage than any other country in Africa. “Keeping track of information on students, teachers and schools in a country the size of Texas and projecting future education demands are much more efficient and accurate now,” said Kurt D. Moses, FHI 360 director of the school-tracking project.

FHI 360 updates the census annually. Shortly after South Sudan celebrated its independence in July 2011, FHI 360 began using smartphones to update and verify information, take photographs of the facilities and record schools’ GPS coordinates, all at the same time.

The task has been challenging. South Sudan has only five kilometers of paved road, and they are all located in the capital city of Juba. That made traveling to various schools difficult.

“In post-crisis environments, you have to build up slowly and steadily to establish these kinds of tools,” said Moses. “We’re not just rebuilding education, we’re rebuilding civil society.”