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Politicity of education: education in Sudan during different ruling systems.


The relation between state politics and the educational system takes an economic perspective, focusing more on the labor market and financial investments on education (Checchi 2006). Nevertheless, a more critical perspective of the relation between politics and education reveals forces that are more sociologically based such as power relations and ideological influences. For instance, Freire 1985 does not relate politics and education in economic terms, but refers to the subjective nature of educators as human being and speaks of the political involvement of the practice of schooling on a social level. On the same note, Freire (in Morrow & Torres, 1995) introduced the term "politicity", derived from the term politics, and described the political polarity of education. Hence the linking of politics and education is not only an interdisciplinary phenomenon that resembles an atypical combination of fields. These two concepts influence and affect each other greatly. In this paper the author tries to discuss the relationship between education and politics by analyzing the influence of the different political systems in Sudan in the education systems.

"Schools play as agencies of moral and political regulations" (Aronowitz & Giroux 1991, p. 87). One of the political roles played by schools is the use of education as a means by which the government addresses its people. In Sudan, the development of a national curriculum, taught in all public schools and some private, is managed by the National Centre for Curriculum Development and Educational Research (NCCDER) which is under the authority of the Ministry of Education. The curriculum, then represents one of the means by which the government communicates with the people and a space in which the government's educational objectives are enacted. With this perspective, the curriculum is an area in which the power relations between the people and the state can be articulated. This relation might seem obvious: Nationalized services, like education, are commonly provided by governments. The revision of the history of educational "politicity" is central to understand the relation between politics and education in Sudan. The case of Sudan might be common, but every complexity has its uniqueness. For a contextualized comprehension of politics in education:

It requires an understanding of the sociological-historical conditioning of knowledge and it requires an investigation of the content under study and other dimensions of knowledge (Freire 1985, p. 2).

This paper aims at exploring the educational objectives in Sudan and how these objectives have evolved through the years according to political changes that took place. This will be arrived at through a historical review of the changes in political regimes governing Sudan (1). This series of changes is viewed with regard to reforms of educational objectives that came along. In this paper, the researcher will challenge the impact of political ideologies on general educational advancement.

The method adopted in this paper is that of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is an interpretivism approach that centralizes meaning in the subject of discussion. "Hermeneutics provides a theoretical framework for interpretative understanding, or meaning, with special attention to context and original purpose" (Patton 2002, p. 114). Interpretation in hermeneutics aims at explaining: To form an understanding. The historic policy documents analyzed here vary in political details. Some only propose strategies and some set out a plan, while others show historical reviews that explain their present objectives. Hence, while doing an interpretive analysis, the researcher will also include some description. All these documents were collected from the cultural library at the NCCDER, previously known as Bakht er Ruda. This center has been the main institute in Sudan responsible for curricular developments since its establishment in 1934.

First, a review of the political situation in Sudan since independence is going to be displayed. Next, a summary of the political situation of different eras along with quotes, lists of the educational objectives of each era will be reviewed in order of their occurrence with reference to the political status of the nation, ranging from 1969 until the latest change of educational objectives in 1990 which is adopted until this day.

After the independence period (1956-1968)

Sudan gained independence on the 1st of January 1956. Since its first decades of independence Sudan experienced complex governmental ruling and suffered political unrest. It was pendent between a parliamentary and a military rule. The departure of the British brought joy to the Sudanese people. Yet, the suffering began with their own rulers. Less than six months after the raising of the Sudanese flag, parties started to take on opposing views of the ruling government, taking down the first prime minister and forming the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and Ummah Party coalitions. The coalition government only lasted two years, to be followed by Sudan's first coup d'etat lead by General Abbud 1958-1964. The country was then in military hands. The political unrest continued and several other cops were attempted, but with the failing end (Collins 2008).

The conversion of the teaching language and specification of a religious orientation in the educational system started during the early years after independence. The Arabization of all mission schools established before independence took place by an order from Abdalla Khalil the prime minister in 1957 (Collins 2008). Islamization followed, but in a tactical manner. First, Islamic schools were established, followed by the changing of the weekly holiday from Sunday to Friday, the holy day of prayer in Islam, in the South (2). These transformations came in line with developments in the industrial sector, which helped in maintaining "the good guys" image of the government, and in turn keeping the public pleased with their rulers. Still, in the South, these changes were followed by demonstrations and strikes, which led to the closing down of schools and deteriorating the educational system there (Collins 2008, p. 78). The focus during this time was on reconstruction projects in schools rather than specific policy-based or curriculum centered proposals.

Following this, political dissatisfaction of the Sudanese people sets off. With the increased corruption and the growing problems in the South, people were becoming less tolerant. While Abbud, the military Head of State from 1958 until 1964, thought that giving the public an opportunity to discuss political matters would help him solve these issues, it only turned the people against him. The government's failure to resolve the problems in the South "opened the floodgates of suppressed hostility against the regime" (Collins 2008, p. 80). In October 1964, a massive people's revolution succeeded in bringing down the first military regime. The first demonstrations were organized by students of the University of Khartoum and soon citizens from various other professions and trades joined. This revolution is remembered by the Sudanese until this day as an occasion where the people's voice was heard for the first time after independence. It is an obvious event in which "the culture of silence" (3) was broken.

This political drama was not very prominent in the educational objectives, as observed from the collected conference papers. The governors were not too concerned with imposing a specific philosophy with regards to schooling. Despite that, the students were the ones to start up a revolution. Nevertheless, the UNESCO had started some educational work in Sudan during the country's first years of independence (UNESCO Expert, 1961). Funding was the focal point for the UNESCO projects. Although from the report by UNESCO (1961), the Ministry of Education in Sudan seemed active and cooperative; nonetheless, these proposed changes were not directly influenced by the inner politics of the country.

Economic concentration on education was still the case, as was the focus during the Anglo-Egyptian condominium (see Beshir 1969). However, after the independence of Sudan and until the recent secession of the country, unity and a sense of loyalty to the nation became a major focus:

Education in the Sudan should aim at producing a loyal citizen, strong in body and mind, sound in character, deep in his religious convictions, willing to defend the unity of his country, knowing his right and duties as a citizen, ... (Beshir 1969, p. viii)

These dynamisms defined the major objectives in 1959, but not much change has been done since then. As will be expressed later on, this statement described more-or-less the educational objectives of Sudan until this day. It is ironic that after having adopted an educational objective, such as the one quoted above, to end up with separation rather than "unity". Thus, during this period the political situation in Sudan was unsettled. Even so, this did not hinder the economic development of the country. However, a particular philosophical impact on education was absent. Imposing a solid ideology was not an aim of these governing rulers at least not through developing a curriculum with an outlined philosophy. The government at the time was not occupied with inserting a particular way of thought or belief, which is an output that follows the politicization of education. "Education itself is an arena in which these ideological conflicts work themselves out" (Apple 1993, p.17). As the researcher shall argue, a strong ideological position can be made very clear through educational objectives.

An overnight coup d'etat ended this era and started the new era of Colonel Ja'fer Nimeiry's revolutionary rule in May of 1969.

The second military era (May 1969--April 1985)

The second military regime appeared at first as something the Sudanese had long awaited. The leadership of the era was characterized by intellectual, young leader with military experience. His political views seemed clear at first. He believed in his revolutionary regime and emphasized in his speeches that the Sudanese were the people of the thawra, i.e. the revolution. Collins 2008 refers to the first years of Nimeiry's rule as "the heroic years". Five months following the revolutionary coup, an educational conference took place 1969 establishing a new educational policy. The conference was introduced by the president himself where he expressed that the time has come for radical changes in the nation (Nimeiry 1969). This conference report focused mostly on specifying an educational ladder, justifying the use of Arabic as an educational language, and other rather general topics. So, no specific educational objectives were found in this report. However, the report states that the objectives of the conference include:

Setting the general policy which includes the formulation of a citizen that is vocationally capable, nationally integral, and socially interactive. This is achieved by presenting the guidelines found suitable by the ministry of education in translating the principles of the socialist revolution to projects that aim at fulfilling the nation's need for a democratic education provided for all citizens ... in following a socialist orientation, a humane trend and a liberal capacity. (Ministry of Education 1969, p. iii).

The link between the political strategy and philosophy of the governing regime and its educational policy is well expressed in this report. The discourse of Nimeiry and the reports of the conference centralized "man" and "knowledge". The "citizen" was the main focus. Furthermore, through the above quote, the use of terms such as "socialist", "democratic" and "humane" express an attempt to specify the ideological orientation of the educational system.

On another note, the fact that the president's of the country held this conference after such a short period of coming into power reflects some degree of radicalism to his governing strategy. Education is a space where various political, economic and social objectives can be exercised. Hence an action, such as education-related activity and as it will be discussed later also done by contemporary system of government, reflects a way of wanting to immediately impose a form of absolute control that includes the educational system.

Four years later, another conference was held where more precise objectives were set, but similarly the major goals were defined as "liberty, democracy, and socialism" (Ministry of Education 1973, p. 22). Education, in this report, was said to be derived from the Sudanese culture and values. No strict affiliation is made to the one united nation as was the case before and will be displayed in many other educational objectives to come. His strong democratic objective was clear; however the second military regime took a different stand and changed after 1984, resulting in a new era.

The second military regime during 1984

The second phase of this rule was described as "the years of dismay" by Collins (2008) and is led by president Nimeiry. After being in rule for fifteen years, the leadership wanted to take a different path in the ruling strategy. A failing attempt to assassinate the president contributed to changes in the leadership's perceptions. The president introduced Article 28 to the constitution allowing him 'to "take such action and make such decisions as he deems fit and his decisions in this respect shall be binding valid in accordance with these provisions"' (Collins 2008 p. 127). With the rise of his popularity, he became overly selfish in his decision making. Nimeiry's philosophy changed completely from a democratic, socialist one into a strictly Islamic ideology. This is not to say that the Islamic and democratic ideologies are antonyms, but democracy was no longer the prime goal of the era. The president had clarified in his speech for the second educational conference in the early 80s (Zaki 2009), that the main objective was rethinking education within an Islamic orientation. Knowledge became a joint unity making science and faith inseparable. With the political emergence of Islamism, goals of liberty and democracy were lost.

The main objectives, namely "the main goals and aims of Sudanese education in the context of Islamic orientation" as stated in the conference paper, include:

* Building a Sudanese citizen righteous to his people and his nation that is committed to the worship of Allah Almighty in all aspects of his life, beliefs and laws... to believe that religion is the main way of living and a call for all human beings; to believe that education is the means by which human beings gain superiority over other creatures and that knowledge is a complete structure that makes education and religion inseparable.

* Developing the citizens' mental, moral and physical skills in a way that enables him to recognize the truth and do good and appreciate beauty; and raising the youth on basis of curiosity, forethought, independence of thought, and instilling the spirit of creativity; in addition to embracing the high morals adopted from our true religion.

* Improving the social life built on faith in human dignity and liberty, and of equality and brotherhood among people; committed to advising and cooperation, as well as spreading a call for tolerance and mercy among the sons of the nation ...

* Preparing the youth academically and occupationally to fulfill the needs of the society, which lead to the security of the nation and building on its land.

* Instilling patriotism and loyalty to the nation, sacrifice in its name, pride in its history, authentic culture and Arabic language, and preserving its African Islamic identity. (Ministry of Education and Guidance 1984, pp. 6-7).

During the conference of 1969, the focus was on the citizen; here, it shifted to be based on religion. Moreover, in this report, there is greater emphasis on serving the nation and other patriotic acts than in the previous ones.

It is obvious through the document reflecting the policies of these years that the call for the 1984 National Education Conference came to the start of the Islamization of the policies of the nation and particularly adding an Islamic orientation to education. Although as mentioned earlier, some Islamic changes took place during the sixties, they were not as bold as the ones that took place during this era. The conference paper was introduced and concluded by a verse from the holy Quran. Furthermore, the Hijri calendar (4) was used in addition to the known Gregorian calendar. Prior to this stage, refer to the "spiritual nature" of the Sudanese population was present, without specification of a religion which is now specified as Islam. On the other hand, the selection of Arabic as the official language of education used to be justified based on the popularity of the language; but hereafter, Arabic was referred to as "the language of the Quran and Islam basically" (Ministry of Education and Guidance 1984, p. 8).

To argue this shift from democracy to Islam from a critical perspective, Apple 1993 stated
   The movement away from social democratic principles and an
   acceptance of more right wing positions in social and educational
   policy occur precisely because conservative groups have been able
   to work on popular sentiments, to recognize genuine feelings, and
   in the process to win adherents. (p. 20)

Adopting a religious ideology is very similar to the above described conservative one. Hence, this shift from a democratic to Islamist stand is less concerned with pleasing the majority, but rather more focused on convincing the majority of a certain ideology. However, while the second military ruling system (1969-1984) might express some degree of imposition of a strict ideology on its people. The era can specifically be described as hegemonic, since the way by which it was ended was not too aggressive or violent. Being hegemony would require a desire to hold on to power so tightly even if that requires desperate measures.

The democratic period 1987

During the last years of the second military rule, Sudan suffered a famine in Darfur that influenced the entire country economically and politically. In April 1985, while the president of the second regime was out of the country, strikes and demonstrations broke out against his regime. The military was not too keen on stopping it. Following the citizens' uprising, the president of the second military rule did not return home and settled in Egypt, leaving the situation in Sudan as it is (Beshir 1969). A transitional military council took power until the new president (Alsadig Almahdi) of the Umma Party (national Sudanese party) was elected prime minister in 1986. The government of Almahdi did not last long. His years included multiple and mixed political decisions, most of which were related to resolving the issues in the South.

Alsadig Almahdi is known as a spiritual leader of the Ansar, a Sudanese Sufi- religious group. However, he is also famous for his philosophical and political thinking. The reports of his period in office (1986-1989) laid out the social, economic and political challenges facing the nation during that time. Hence a quote from education documents at the time states, "if there were to exist serious attempts to solve these problems rationally, the beginning point is found in the creation of major Sudanese educational objectives" (Haboob 1987, p. 5). Unlike many other policy papers, this one sheds light on specific developmental goals, such as "improving the quality of life" (Faculty of Education, University of Khartoum & Ministry of Education, 1987, p. 2).

Since Almahdi was an elected president, it was only expected that a conference laying out a new educational strategy would be held less than a year after he came into power. Hence, my argument here on what the motives behind this conference were, differs from that I had expressed earlier in the 1969-1985 era argument and will do with the discussion of the third military rule (1989-to present). The main educational objectives of Almahdi's time were:

* Since the reform of a nation begins with an individual, education in Sudan should aim at creating a just, discerning Sudanese citizen with a distinct personality, an emotionally and morally integrates mind and body; as well as enable the citizen to adapt to a changing society due to science and advancement in technologies ...

* Authenticate Sudanese heritage and culture with its true meaning in the course of the Arabic, Islamic and African belonging

* Stress the principle of good citizenship and establish a patriotic sense and feeling secured with loyalty to the land of the one nation

* Immerse all the principles of democracy in the minds of the students at all levels of the school curriculum

* Every student must receive, as much as possible, a sufficient amount of Islamic education. This, implies the guarantee of freedom of belief and space for other religious educations for those with other beliefs than Islam

* Arabic language and literature must receive a large share in the school curriculum and be given great attention considering it is the main language of communication among the people of Sudan. Moreover, this attention must include encouragement of indigenous and foreign languages ... (Haboob 1987, pp. 6-8).

Power imposing agendas appeared to be the characteristics of the era. Despite his strong religious beliefs, this ruling era did not prioritize Islamization as was the case during the last years of (May 1969-April 1985) rule. Notice in the above quote how the fifth objective regarding religion is followed by the statement "freedom of belief', which clarifies that Islam is not an imposed ideology. It is possible that his government did not feel the need to enforce Islam, but it is also possible that the attempts to solve the issue of the South had an influence. However, while the era (May 1969- April 1985) started off with a democratic position and then shifted to the Islamist one, the 1984 ruling system included both in his educational objectives. Almahdi's objectives seem to be trying to balance out each objective with the next. For example, while acknowledging the influences of globalization and scientific advancement, the following objective is a reminder of the "Sudanese heritage and culture'.

The 1984 era was too short to possess evident political objectives. Hence, what can be concluded here is the difference between a military-based government and an elected one. The first is more objective, while the latter seems to be more flexible. The final era, the government of Sudan until this day is also a military rule. More than half of the Sudanese independence has been under an army force rule.

The third military era 1989

The third military era was ruled by Omer Albeshir came next in force through a coup d'etat in 1989 ending Almahdi's (1984-1989) short era. This ruling era took an aggressive beginning. Immediately after the coup, all other political parties were banned and total control was taken over the media: radio, televisions and newspapers. The new non-elected government seemed strategically based to gain absolute power. Following this, a scheme to purge all professionals and intellectuals who could possibly be against this regime took place. Although previous political regimes have been Islamically oriented, this one came with a stronger Islamic ideology. A strict Islamist political figure, Alturabi the head of the National Islamic Front (NIF), was Albeshir's right-arm for almost a decade.

Less than a year after being in power an educational conference was held defining the educational objectives that are still adopted until this day. These include:

* Working on establishing religious beliefs in the youths, and establishing individual and collective behaviors based on religious teachings to enable social, economic and political values and morals based on virtuous behavior focused on heavenly teachings.

* Spreading the spirit of nationalism unity, strengthening the sense of belonging to the one nation and sacrifice for its prosperity and the protection of its land

* Building a self-dependent community, working on employing the potential energy within the nation and igniting the sense of the importance of our modern role as a leading nation carrying a message

* Developing individuals skills and abilities to enable the individual to make best use of his mental and physical abilities, and employ them to fulfill overall development (Mahmood & Salman, 1990 pp. 81-82).

These objectives, like others, are pretty broad and general. However, through other political decisions, signs of hegemonic dominance may perhaps be seen. The military had absolute power in creating a set of laws and punishments under the excuse of following the Islamic law. Starting from this era, changes in the constitution and other laws were imposed that are still not arguable until this day, for example the wearing of the veil for women: "The stronger the ideological foundations of a coup d'etat, the more it is impossible for a society to return afterwards to the same political style that created the very conditions for the coup" (Freire 1985, p. 80). In other words, a solid ideological basis makes the occurring political change more radical, as was the case in this ruling era.

On the educational level, the first educational conference was held in September of 1990, a year after the third military regime came to power. Here again, we may argue that holding an educational conference soon after gaining power indicates aims of intellectual control. This could imply some form of hegemonic intentions. As mentioned earlier, education is one very critical field through which ideologies can be transmitted and hegemonies imposed. The conference of 1990 expressed that the Sudanese education system as a whole was in need of a complete reform derived strictly from its nationalist-religious values. A conference paper titled "Public Education Curriculums: the past and the present" blames the British colonizers for the Western, foreign biases, shortcomings, still upheld in the current curriculums (Salman 1990). Further analysis on general education and curricular policies proposed that all these colonial ideas were to be radically changed. This reform has given the curriculum the final shape it is in today.

The latest official educational policy document produced was in 2005. It is a document that includes all the details about the school subjects or themes and their textbooks. Still, the objectives followed throughout it and to this day is the same as the ones listed above. While the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was followed by some changes in the constitution, I did not find any document that shows changes in educational policies.


Schooling in Sudan has gone through multiple phases, each with its own influence shaping the education system today. Education was, and still is, used as a medium for distributing political thoughts. In this paper I discussed the changes in educational strategy that took place to fit the governing regime's ideology. I employed the methodological approach of hermeneutics to take a deeper look into the policy documents from the NCCDER. The main focus of this paper was on the political involvement in Sudan's education, through the display a timeline of events showing the points at which major changes, such as the linguistic and religious changes, took place. Furthermore, a historic review of the political complications in Sudan is significant and necessary to reflect on the country's ideological confusion and educational complexity. Each governing regime changed educational objectives to fit their political objectives, starting with the first military regime 1958 -1964 until 1989 till the present ruling period today. The current situation in Sudan has not significantly changed with regard to the educational system. Therefore, it is important to take a deeper look into the impact of political ideologies on general educational advancement.

Note on contributor

Yasmin Mahgoub Hassan Abdel Gadir was a Master Degree graduate enrolled in Norad's Program for Master Studies funded by: The Norwegian Program for Development, Research and Education (North) and hosted by Ahfad University for Women in collaboration with the University of Cape Town and University of Zambia as partners from the (South).


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Collins, O. 2008. A history of modern Sudan,. Cambridge University Press.

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Haboob, A. 1987. Philosophies and objectives of education in Sudan,. Presented at the conference on Public Education Issues: Ministry of Education.

Mahmood, A. & Salman, A. 1990. Policies and curricula paper. Presented at the Educational Policies Conference: Ministry of Education.

Ministry of Education (Ed.). 1969. Conference report. Presented at the National Education Conference.

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Ministry of Education and Guidance (Ed.). 1984. Final statement report. Presented at the Conference of Educational Curricula, Khartoum.

Freire in Morrow, A., & Torres, A. 1995. Social theory and education: A critique of theories of social and cultural reproduction. SUNY Press.

Nimeiry, M. 1969. Speech by General Ja'fer Mohamed Nimeiry. Presented at the National Education Conference.

Patton, Q. 2002. Qualitative research and evaluation methods. SAGE.

Salman, A. 1990. Public School Curriculum: The past and present. Presented at the Educational Policies Conference, The Ministry of Education--Sudan.

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(1) Taking the recent secession of the country into consideration, it is noteworthy that the researcher refers to Sudan here as the northern part of the country. Nevertheless, the history of Sudan before 2011 includes the history of the nation as a whole with the South included.

(2) The public weekly holiday was always Friday in the northern part of Sudan, but the enforcement of Islam was made apparent through the changing of the holiday in the southern part of the country, that is now succeeded.

(3) The culture of silence is a concept introduced by Freire referring to the oppressive situation masses put in by the superior powers.

(4) The Hijri calendar is a lunar calendar used in some Muslim countries to mark the basic Islamic occasions such as the religious festivals and pilgrimage to Mekka.
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Author:Gadir, Yasmin Mahgoub Hassan Abdel
Publication:Ahfad Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:6SUDA
Date:Jun 1, 2015
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