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FEATURE STORY June 16, 2020

“When I grow up, I’ll be a teacher” – The new ambitions of Congolese schoolchildren now that school is free

World Bank Group


STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Until the start of the 2019 school year, the Democratic Republic of Congo was one of the few countries in the world where primary schools still charged fees.
  • Thanks to the introduction of free primary education, an additional 2.5 million children have been able to go to school and 23 million Congolese could be lifted out of poverty by 2050.
  • The World Bank is helping support the cost of this reform, which is estimated at more than $1 billion per year.

KINSHASA, June 16, 2020— To pass the time, Kandindi Kengela likes to sit outside at his little blue plastic table and leaf through his notebooks. Like all Congolese children, he has been confined to his home for more than three months to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and he is eager to return to school. “Studying is what makes me happy,” says the fifth-year primary school pupil in the city of Kananga, in Kasai Central. “It will allow me to become a driver, a pilot or who knows, even the President of the Republic.”

His mother Victorine Tshibola is happy to have Kandindi’s help tending  their fields occasionally, but she is worried. Time is starting to drag. She is a farmer raising her six children alone since her husband’s death, and she attaches particular importance to their education.

“I lost my parents at a very young age. And I didn’t have the chance to finish my studies because I couldn’t afford it,” she explains. “I want my children to finish school because school opens up their minds, makes them independent, and helps them fulfill their potential in life.” 

Victorine is all the more concerned, because her children were deprived of school last year. “I didn't have enough money to pay the school fees,” she says. “I had to choose between feeding them or sending them to school.”

DR CONGO : Investing in Free Schooling
To pass the time, Kandindi Kengela likes to sit outside at his little blue table and leaf through his notebooks. ©Vincent Tremeau, World Bank.

When parents have to pay for school

Until September 2019 when the last school year started, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was one of the few countries in the world where primary schools still charged fees. Over the past two decades, Congolese households have financed two-thirds of the essential education services that the state could no longer afford, including the salaries of teachers and administrative staff and school operating costs. On average, parents had to spend nearly $65 per year per child for primary school. The most vulnerable families were not always able to afford this amount. Some 64% of households surveyed in 2018 indicated that high fees were the main obstacle to their children’s enrollment in school. In fact, 4 million primary school-aged children were out of school in 2018. 

Investing Today in Free School
Infographic: Investing Today in Free School

As a result, many children attended school sporadically depending on their parents’ ability to pay, and fell significantly behind in their studies.  Some ended up turning to crime. 

“The school is a place of protection for children in general,” says Augustin Tshiko, primary school teacher in Kananga. “It provides a space that helps keep them from getting into trouble, like joining an insurgent group.” He also believes it is essential to pay special attention to girls, who are traditionally disadvantaged when it comes accessing education in the DRC. “Girls must have the same access to school as boys. To educate a girl is to educate a nation.”

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In 2018, the primary school completion rate was 67% (compared with a global average of 90%) and 86% of Congolese 10-year-olds were unable to understand a simple, age-appropriate text. ©Vincent Tremeau, World Bank.


Learning crisis and COVID-19 crisis 

In addition to the difficulties of universal access to education, the Congolese education system has struggled with the low quality of education. In 2018, the primary school completion rate was 67% (compared with a global average of 90%) and 86% of Congolese 10-year-olds were unable to understand a simple, age-appropriate text.

Investing Today in Free School
Infographic: Investing Today in Free School

To tackle these challenges, the DRC launched a sweeping reform, introducing free primary education throughout the country as of September 2019. The aim: to reduce school expenses for the poorest households, increase children’s access to primary education in 10 provinces, and strengthen the education system across the country. The effect was immediate. An additional 2.5 million children from disadvantaged backgrounds were able to attend school. Public school teachers also saw their monthly salaries jump from $80 to $150 and salary arrears paid. However, the global health crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic has led to the sudden closure of schools and is likely to place a heavy burden on public finances.

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Thanks to reforms that introduced free primary education, an additional 2.5 million children have been able to go to school and 23 million Congolese could be lifted out of poverty by 2050. ©Vincent Tremeau, World Bank.

Investing in the future 

With 36 million inhabitants under the age of 14 (46% of the total population), the cost of the reform is estimated at more than $1 billion for the next academic year (2020–2021). To support the reform and help it take hold, the World Bank has mobilized $800 million over four years through the new Emergency Equity and System Strengthening in Education (EESSE) project. 

“The establishment of an integrated, reliable, and inclusive education system is an absolute requirement for development in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” says Jean-Christophe Carret, the World Bank’s Country Director for the DRC. “Free education will contribute to the achievement of this goal.”

Investing today in free education for all will help build a better future for the DRC. It is an essential step in providing young people with the skills they will need to succeed in life and to contribute to the economic transformation of their country.

Even at the age of 7, Joyce Sosongo Litamba has already understood this. This pint-sized pupil from a public primary school in Kinshasa already knows what she wants to do in life: “When I grow up, I’ll be a teacher, so that I can educate children to become intelligent and be able to help their families in the future.”

DR CONGO : Investing in Free Schooling
At the age of 7, Joyce Sosongo Litamba loves attending school and has great ambitions: “I want to be a teacher one day to educate children so that they will be smart too and be able to help their family later in life.” ©Vincent Tremeau, World Bank.

Investing Today in Free School
Infographic: Investing in Free Education Today



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