In the Democratic Republic of Congo, primary education is neither free nor compulsory. But that is not the biggest problem. A six-year-long civil war that plagued the country between the late 1990s and the early 2000s wreaked havoc on the nation’s education, especially where it concerns children. In the six years of the war, more than 5.2 million children did not receive any form of education in the country. This is not farfetched. There is little to be learnt when fear dominates the heart, and the brain is always in the apprehension of imminent danger.
However, there has been a tremendous improvement in education in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the civil war ended. The number of enrolment in the primary schools increased from what it used to be, rising from 5.5 million in 2002 to a whopping 13.5 million in 2014. As for secondary school enrolment, the number of children enrolled rose from the initial 2.8 million of 2007 to about 4.4 million in 2014. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, about fifty-three percent of female children between the ages of five and seventeen are out of school. These data are reported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, and the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund, UNICEF.
Currently, the education system in the Democratic Republic of Congo is facing the problems of poor quality and low coverage. According to the data available on the webpage of USAID, 3.5 million children of primary school age in the Democratic Republic of Congo are currently out of school. Of the population of children in school, about forty-four percent started school late, after they have attained the age of six. The National data of the Democratic Republic of Congo indicate that only about sixty-seven percent of the children that start from the first grade will complete to the sixth grade. And of the population that reaches the sixth grade, only about seventy-five will pass the final exit examination.
Given that education gives children a chance to climb out of poverty, as it offers them a promising future, it is surprising that nearly seven million children between the ages of five and seventeen are out of school in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is not an incumbent problem. Over time, economic sluggishness has brought about a drastic fall in the cost of raw. In addition to this, natural disasters and political fragility that continuously result in social crisis and ethnic clashes upsurges have contributed their quota to the challenges facing basic universal primary education in the country. To worsen the situation, the schools are free, but this law by the government is not enforced. This situation means that the direct and indirect expenses of attending schools are for the parents to bear. These costs include the teacher bonuses and the operating costs that the government is not paying or paying late.
The schools and infrastructures are unevenly distributed. Other social barriers and vulnerabilities like early (unplanned) pregnancy, marriage, disability, and child labour contribute to the challenges facing education in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many government programs like basic education are grossly underdeveloped and underfunded in DRC, with only 2.5% of GDP spent on education in 2010. These have overreaching effects on even the children in school, as an analysis of students in school has shown that there are high rates of repetition and dropouts. The schools in the public sector are not state-organized but rather organized by different social and ideological groups. The major noticeable ones are the unsubsidized schools, the catholic, protestant, and Islamic schools, the Kimbanguist and Salutist schools, and the Brotherhood schools. The unsubsidised schools, the catholic schools, and the protestant schools make up about eighty percent of the available primary schools and seventy-five percent of the available secondary schools in the country. Of the total schools in the Democratic Republic of Congo, twelve percent are private, with sixty-five percent of the available preschools are privately owned.
The biggest single challenge facing education in DRC is the fact that most families and children are afraid of the arms that may befall them while going to or in school. The rebel armies in DRC are quite feared and known for their infamous tendency to force children into being trained as child soldiers. Correctly so, schools are one of the major means through which these army groups abduct and enslave children.
What is being done?
There is a unanimous global agreement that every child need to complete quality and relevant basic education, as stated on the website of UNICEF. There are a number of intervention programs that are being carried out by international organizations like the United Nations, UNICEF, USAID, and the IRC. The IRC is particularly focused on the education of marginalized girls. The IRC has programs that focus on enrolling and supporting female and male children through school, training teachers, and developing accelerating programs for youths.
What do we do?
At ASBL LEF, we have made it a part of our responsibilities to join the fight for better education for children in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Through our various fundraising events across the fields of art, sport, and entertainment, we would raise donations for NGOs in the Democratic Republic of Congo to support education in a three-prong approach.
The first prong is geared towards the provision of educational infrastructures by building schools and learning centres across the rural areas in the country. A part of this approach will also involve supporting the existing schools to erect and maintain better school rooms and facilities. The provision of writing materials, textbooks, and teaching materials are also part of the intervention programs of the ASBL LEF. The second approach is to develop and fund awareness programs on the need for better education while also funding research that seeks to find a way to ensure the safety and security of children while in school and while they commute to and fro school.
The third and final approach will be to train better and qualified teachers towards improving the quality of education in the country. These efforts will yield results when deployed in tandem with the intervention programs that are already available in the country. It is our hope that the donations of our esteemed donors at ASBL LEF will ensure that more children in the Democratic Republic of Congo are educated and given a better chance at an improved life.