Story and Photography: Tom Willcox
Eleven-year-old Anna Adyero, a student at Magwi Central Primary School in South Sudan, likes coming to school. But until recently, she struggled to learn. Not because she lacked a teacher, though teachers are scarce in the world’s newest country. But because she lacked what many assume is standard operating equipment — a desk.
Before the USAID-funded Room to Learn (RtL) project, the 1,000 enrolled students of Maqwi Central Primary School would often sit on the ground or, if they were lucky, on a pile of rocks or an old tin can (if they could find these and bring them to school). Many children injure themselves on the unstable stacks of sharp rocks and stones.
Adyero was one of them. “Sitting on the stones is not good, it hurts,” she says, pointing to a cut on her ankle. “I get injured on the stones all the time.”
Achiro Grace, Magwi Primary’s PTA chairperson, agrees: “Pupils sitting on the floor and on rocks is a major problem. It often harms the children. Recently, a young girl fell when a heap of rocks she was sitting on toppled, and she seriously injured her leg.”
Inappropriate seating has a negative impact on learning and teaching. It affects students’ health, hygiene and cognition. Poor posture can hamper blood supply to the brain and impede attention.
“It takes less than an hour for the children to become uncomfortable and tired in the classroom. If the children have a good place to work, the learning will improve,” says Onex James Peter, a head teacher at the school.
Now, for the first time, they do. RtL, implemented by Winrock International, is building and distributing approximately 8,000 desk and chair sets to 66 primary-level schools across 11 counties of South Sudan, providing seating for up to 30,000 children. The idea is to help schools create effective learning environments, ones that promote discussion, interaction and attentiveness.
The desk and chair sets are designed in collaboration with South Sudan’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, and are being produced in two different sizes for the different age groups within the target schools. Crafted by local carpenters, the desks are also helping to support local businesses.
Says Grace: “Children struggle to work when sitting on the stones. The new desks will help them to work better and learn better.”
Adyero knows this first-hand. “I like coming to school, and I feel very happy to have a new desk,” she says. “I will be able to write better, and my handwriting will definitely improve.”