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South Sudan is targeting thousands of out-of-school children under a new national education campaign as the government looks to improve socio-economic conditions after a devastating five-year civil war.

Jointly organized with multilateral partners, the campaign is expected to see some 709,002 children sent back to school, specifically early childhood education and primary or alternative education programs, a statement from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says.

This figure is only a fraction of the total amount of children currently without access to education in South Sudan. Reports indicate that an estimated 2.2 million children were forced to quit school during the conflict that also left thousands dead and millions displaced.

“The campaign is part of the national Back to Learning initiative, providing learning opportunities to children currently out of school,” the statement reads. But the UN agency noted that while access to free quality education is a basic child right, the campaign is especially focused on reaching the most vulnerable children who are less likely to access education services without support.

Prior to the collaboration with the government, the UN had called for increased public spending on education in South Sudan, where about 800 primary schools are either non-functional or partially functional. Juba needs 23,000 primary school teachers by 2021, yet more than 75 percent of national teacher training institutes and county education centres are either not operating or partly operating.

Private development organizations have contributed over time to rebuilding post-conflict South Sudan, especially concerning basic education and children’s access to it. Last year, Nigeria-based oil firm, Oranto Petroleum Limited in partnered with Juba’s Ministry of Petroleum to fund a five-year educational program in the country meant to provide quality training for 25 teachers and 60,000 children.

Similarly, in September, the African Development Bank (AfDB) approved a proposal of $17.7 million to fund a comprehensive social project in Juba which would improve access to primary education for 30,000 children via the rehabilitation and expansion of 35 primary schools; enhance the capacity of 2,000 teachers; and rehabilitate two national teacher training institutes and 10 county education centres.

Meanwhile, South Sudan may hold a national survey in March to ascertain its population, Isaiah Chol, Head of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), said. But the agency is still seeking approval and funding to conduct the population survey, which would be an update on the 2008 census that estimated the country’s population at eight million.

“The reason is that we had a population census in 2008 and whatever data that was collected at the time is outdated and not much useful,” Chol said in Juba, adding that the planned census would help in the post-conflict planning and development.

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