KINSHASA, April 29, 2010—“Finally, school is going to be like school again,” a parent sighed with relief at the highly anticipated distribution of textbooks to first and second year elementary school students in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Backed by US$150 million in funding from the World Bank, this initiative of the Government of DRC is part of a larger push to rehabilitate the country’s educational system. Curriculum guides were also provided to teachers. The unexpected but welcome gesture will enable eight million young beneficiaries to start school with a solid foundation.
The textbooks were acquired through the Education Sector Project, which aims to prevent further deterioration in the delivery of essential services for primary education and foster a sustainable development and financing of the sector. Launched in January 2008, the five-year project, which also entails coordination of various initiatives funded by donors, is an important first step toward full recovery of DRC’s educational system. The program is very ambitious but commensurate with the scale of the problem at hand.
For a long time textbooks had become a rarity in schools across DRC, a problem that was further compounded by a poorly articulated education sector strategy and a decline in teaching quality at all levels. Decades of generalized disruption have left a legacy of unequal access, particularly at the primary stage. For many parents whose children still attend elementary school, this initiative is very encouraging. “The basic idea is to improve the quality of elementary education by facilitating access and placing an emphasis on equal opportunities for all children of school age,” explained Firmin Seke di Makwala, one of the experts working on the project.
Laying the Foundation for Success
In Kinshasa’s Ligwala district, students at Kobota Elengi Elementary School proudly showed off their new books. This private school with a very good reputation in a densely populated neighborhood is one of the beneficiaries of the textbook distribution program. For Louis Kiboba, who teaches here, this is definitely a good step, given the importance of the first and second year of schooling in terms of laying the foundation for future success. He regretted that such opportunities were not available in previous school years.
To date, over 14 million grammar and math textbooks have been delivered across the 30 educational jurisdictions of the country. The books are distributed in all registered public and private elementary schools. “These textbooks were crafted by Congolese educators taking into account the cultural dynamics of the country,” said Firmin Seke di Makwala. “As such they facilitate learning because they make references to an environment Congolese students are familiar with.”
Pene Wangozi, an academic inspector in Maniema province, expressed the same feeling of satisfaction felt by the parents of school age children. “For a beginning, this is very encouraging, but we cannot stop after the first two years of elementary school,” he says.
Outside Kinshasa, the distribution has even reached areas that still suffer from insecurity due to recurring conflict. Such was the case in Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, where World Bank Country Manager for DRC, Marie-Francoise Marie Nelly, personally witnessed the delivery of textbooks.
Access to remote areas was facilitated by considerable improvements of roads as a result of a government-led rehabilitation effort. “In the past we had great difficulty delivering textbooks along the Bukavu-Alungu corridor because travel along that road was almost impossible,” Firmin Seke di Makwala said. “Today, we can travel that same road in less than two hours and the work of the distribution teams has been made much easier.”
Early Signs of Success, despite Lingering Challenges
Although in 2007 gross enrollment rates at the primary level were estimated at 91 percent, the gross rate of student admission in the first year of elementary school remained at only 46 percent. This statistic is indicative of the fact that many children enter late into their first year of elementary school. This results in part from forced displacements due to lingering conflicts in some of the regions, but also from the fact that parents are having a hard time paying for school-related expenses. Added to these causes are the absence of adequate teaching materials, the lack of streamlined policies for teachers and the nonexistence of a comprehensive strategy for education sector.
Yet despite the realization that much remains to be done to rehabilitate DRC’s education sector, Congolese students have begun to reap the early fruits of an investment into the country’s future.