Central African Republic: Promising progress in education despite many challenges

GPE is helping the most vulnerable regions in Central African Republic by providing learning opportunities to 50,000 primary school and 3,500 pre-primary school children.

April 22, 2020 by Naoko Hosaka, UNICEF Haiti
5 minutes read
A classroom in the Central African Republic.
A temporary classroom under a tent in Bossangoa, Central African Republic
Credit: GPE/Naoko Hosaka and Youmna Sfeir

When I got out of a small WFP flight in Bossangoa, an hour away from the capital city Bangui, the scenery had changed completely: before me was a vast empty area used as an airport with dusty roads leading us to the town of Bossangoa. 

Yet, when I approached one of the schools, my impression changed again. Standing outside of a pre-primary classroom built under a tent, I heard children singing loudly in French. When I entered, I saw children singing and dancing in a nicely decorated space, equipped with educational toys, just like what I’m used to seeing in my country.

GPE support: more classrooms, better teaching

One of the teachers told me that he had been specially trained on how to create a conducive learning environment for young children. Obviously he was applying what he had learned! He was proactively asking questions to children. When they responded, he acknowledged the responses by clapping his hands, and then all other children did the same.

In the Central African Republic, which ranks as the second lowest on the UN Human Development Index, the success of this pre-primary classroom is a ray of hope. It was also the first experience of pre-primary education after a major security crisis in 2013 deteriorated the social fabric, destroyed the social service delivery system, and displaced over 25% of the country’s population.

There are more than 600,000 refugees from CAR in neighboring countries and almost the same number is internally displaced. According to UNHCR, 12,400 CAR returnees were supported in 2019, and this number is expected to double in 2020.

A classroom in CAR. Credit: GPE/Naoko Hosaka and Youmna Sfeir
One of 100 new semi-permanent classrooms built with GPE support, with a solid foundation and roof, and half walls to reduce the cost of construction
PME/Naoko Hosaka et Youmna Sfeir

GPE provided emergency funds to respond to the crisis

Pre-primary classrooms are supported by a US$6.32 million GPE grant, approved as accelerated financing to respond quickly to the crisis in 2018. With UNICEF as grant agent, the program supports the implementation of the Education Transitional Plan (2015-2019).

The GPE grant focuses on regions where support is most needed (Ouham Pende, Ouham, Mbomou, Mambere Kadei, Nana-Mambere, Ouaka, Basse Kotto, Mbomou), aiming to provide learning opportunities to 50,000 primary school children and 3,500 pre-primary school children.

A visit to Bossangoa was an opportunity to witness the progress made. Due to the long-lasting conflict, the local economy has slowed down dramatically, which left little capacity to build schools.

First need: new classrooms

CAR is a landlocked country, and therefore quality construction materials often need to be imported through the port of Douala in neighboring Cameroon. The roads are often in bad conditions and the transport needs to be secured by armed convoy due to security concerns.

Despite of these difficult conditions, the construction of 100 classrooms is ongoing. The semi-permanent classrooms (with solid base and a roof, with walls only 1 meter high instead of rising to the roof) were introduced to reduce the cost of construction, making it possible to build more classrooms. The program also involves communities in the construction of classrooms.

To reduce girls’ school dropout, additional latrines for girls were also built. Yet, the demand for education is still very high: there are still over 90 children per classroom despite of ongoing constructions.

Teacher training through e-readers

At the regional training center for teachers, I saw teachers attending a training on e-readers to compensate for the lack of other pedagogical materials. The center has a library, but shelves were empty.

Instead, hundreds of digital learning files are stocked in digital memories and made available through e-readers. There is a limited number of e-readers and thus they are kept at the training center.

This means teachers come to the center to use e-readers to prepare their lesson plans or simply to enjoy reading. Thanks to the GPE grant, more e-readers will be purchased to increase access to these virtual libraries.

E-readers at the regional training center. Credit: GPE/Naoko Hosaka and Youmna Sfeir
A computer and e-readers that teachers used to train and plan lessons at the regional training center
PME/Naoko Hosaka et Youmna Sfeir

Community involvement and girls’ education

There is a strong willingness in the country to reinforce the education system locally: school directors are committed to run their schools even under constraints. Through parents’ association, parents are involved in school activities, such as cleaning school areas.

Staff working at the local academic inspection offices do their best to visit schools and provide support to teachers, even though access to school is difficult in remote areas.

Schooling of girls is particularly challenging due to early marriage and early pregnancy. In such situations, addressing girls’ issues with a multi-sector approach is most promising. In the Bossangoa local administration office, I met Beatrice Namkona who is the deputy prefect.

It is unusual to see a woman holding this level of responsibility in CAR. This young and dynamic administrator originally from Bossangoa is a great example and a boost of hope for all the girls in the area. She is taking a multisector approach, linking social services such as promotion of girls’ nutrition to girls’ education. 

A new sector plan for a brighter future

CAR is finalizing a new education sector plan for 2020 – 2029 with the support of a small GPE grant. The process started in May 2019 and has been challenging. The World Bank as GPE grant agent has ensured a collaborative and participatory process.

A series of technical workshops were held in February in Bangui to bring all actors together. Participants were engaged, so much so that sometimes the discussion went over the scheduled hours.

CAR is still struggling to get out of the humanitarian crisis with limited resources for the education sector (domestic financing of CAR is less than 2 % of GDP) and now has an even harder road ahead in the face of the current pandemic. CAR closed its schools on March 30, leaving almost a million children out of school.

While it is important to set a longer vision to strengthen the education system, there is also a need to have a realistic operational plan in the short term to prioritize not only the most urgent activities, and to be strategic about creating the right leverage to engage the education system towards quality universal primary education.

Lessons from the experience of the GPE-supported programs, from partners, and from the government, should be reflected in this promising sector plan.

New GPE funding is available, including emergency funding to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, to continue to support the country and ensure that more children have access to the schooling they deserve, pulling their country out of the crisis it experienced.

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