Democratic Republic of Congo: Increasing alternatives to ensure learning continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic

Thanks to support from GPE and partners, Democratic Republic of Congo is providing alternative learning solutions to make sure children and adolescents keep on learning in a safe and protective environment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

December 16, 2021 by Youmna Sfeir, GPE Secretariat
6 minutes read
The start and end of a radio lesson are greeted with shouts of joy by students. Credit: UNICEF DRC
The start and end of a radio lesson are greeted with shouts of joy by students.

The closing of schools by the government on March 19, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 transmission risks, has had a significant impact on the education of close to 27 million students (children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 17) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In support of the COVID-19 response plan developed by the DRC, its partners and through a program implemented by UNICEF with the support of Save the Children and non-governmental organizations, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) provided US$15 million in COVID-19 accelerated financing to the DRC in July 2020.

This program is aimed at ensuring that alternative learning solutions are provided to Congolese children and adolescents in a safe and protective environment. It targets 13.9 million students impacted by the health crisis and 5,894 schools in Kinshasa, Central Congo, Kwilu, Equateur, Tshuapa, Ituri, Central Kasai, West Kasai, South Kivu, North Kivu, High Katanga et Tanganyika provinces.

Maintaining uninterrupted access to inclusive and quality education

In the DRC, one of the innovative initiatives implemented in the context of this program in response to school closings has been the establishment of listening clubs, as evidenced by the comment of Nelvy, a young 10-year old student living in Kikwit, in the province of Kwilu. “We would do our homework after following the lessons on the radio and our parents would drop off our homework at school,” explains the 10-year-old student.

The enthusiasm and work of all the stakeholders (children, parents, the community, the management committee, and the parents' association) clearly demonstrate the desire to ensure educational continuity despite the obstacles faced (shortage and absence of radios, poor transmission network, programming at fixed times, etc.) and reflect the increased demand of communities and children for everyone to have access to more educational resources.

Maman Efoko works with each student individually during the lesson. Credit: UNICEF DRC
Maman Efoko works with each student individually during the lesson.

Radio Okapi and roughly 120 community radio stations broadcast academic programs in national languages on a regular basis, making it possible to reach a greater number of students.

“Listening to a lesson on the radio is a new experience for me,” says 10-year-old Merseivic Lutondele, sitting behind her radio.

Educational television, provided through the EducTV program, has been accessible mainly to students living in urban areas. Support for online classes has also been introduced and can be accessed through the E-class digital platform.

GPE financing has also enabled the World Food Programme (WFP) to provide supplementary nutritious school meals to 36,867 children, 17,623 girls of whom are girls, as a way of encouraging students to return to and stay in school. The result has been a 15 percent and 10 percent increase in the enrollment of girls and boys respectively, and an 88 percent retention rate (2020-2021).

These initiatives have been facilitated through coordination of the collective efforts of all the partners involved with implementation of the program.

Using evidence-based data to strengthen coordination and planning to better respond to the emergency

Ownership of these new practices was facilitated by the awareness-raising campaigns conducted by UNICEF and Save the Children, with the assistance of local NGOs such as CANACU, which works with 723 primary schools in three educational provinces (ProvEd). They have participated in changing the perception of distance learning.

Local NGO interviewers and supervisors carry out multiple activities, including providing information on and promoting distance learning tools, creating listening clubs, raising awareness regarding COVID-19 preventive measures, handling contractual arrangements with community radio stations, and monitoring implementation of all activities foreseen by the program.

This entails, inter alia, finding solutions through the pooling of radio stations, feedback on data and evidence-based information that are essential to measure outcomes, including to assess the effects on student learning, the difficulties encountered, and the solutions proposed by local stakeholders and beneficiaries.

“I embraced distance learning” explains Adolphine, who made sure she invited some of her friends who did not have a radio at home.

Building on the knowledge gained to strengthen the resilience of the education system facing future crises...

Of the 11.5 million children benefiting from the program’s activities, 1.3 million (including 635,000 girls) were direct beneficiaries of back-to-school assistance. This represents more than 5,894 schools that have implemented minimum hygiene standards among which 3,762 have developed a contingency plan.

It is also estimated that through joint work with the Ministry of Primary, Secondary, and Technical Education (MEPST), half of the provinces have received support, in particular with the training of 340 education managers, with the aim of improving the quality of teaching and learning.

Similarly, inspectors were trained in monitoring and evaluation activities and 4,629 teachers in distance learning, remedial instruction, and student tutoring. In addition, 2,275 teachers received training in classroom psychosocial support, hygiene, health, nutrition, and COVID-19 prevention.

These outcomes are helping strengthen the resilience of the Congolese education system and are boosting the country’s capacity to better prevent and respond to future crises.

The MEPST has an institutional framework to promote distance learning, evidenced by the mobilization of the Directorate of School Programs and Teaching Materials (DIPROMAD), the General Inspectorate, educational television, the Information Technology Directorate, and the School Reform Directorate, which work in a coordinated and complementary manner.

Furthermore, one focal point coordinates educational programs on television, radio, and the exercise book program. Teachers and inspectors are tapped to write and design lessons and exercises.

To date, 1,302,615 exercise books for home-based learning and 802,500 school supply kits have been provided to students in grades one through eight.

Seventy-two lessons have also been developed and are available in the four national languages and in French, with television and radio recordings. Exercise books have proven to be one of the most effective ways of providing distance education, despite the fact that demand exceeds supply.

Claire EKutshu and her father. Credit: UNICEF DRC
"Daddy, school at home is good because nobody asks me to stand by the backboard and if I forget I am myself and nobody makes fun of me". Claire Ekutshu, student in grade 2 in a primary school in the educational province of Bonkena.

The ministry has responded to the preliminary evidence-based information by setting up a technical committee to conduct a rigorous assessment, identify and pool the initiatives implemented by the different school networks, coordinate efforts, and outline a strategy along with an operational roadmap.

School and educational province initiatives have been greatly expanded, with the support of other partners (ECW, UNESCO, UNICEF), international NGOs (War Child Canada, AVSI), and the private sector (Vodacom, Orange, Airtel).

By way of example, two digital platforms provide lessons: Vodaeduc and Schoolap; the MEPST’s “Ma Classe” and the Digital School with Orange.

… despite the difficulties encountered

Different problems were encountered with the project, particularly in the areas of resources (insufficient radios and exercise books), infrastructure (poor radio broadcast coverage, power cuts, bad weather), supervision by schools’ academic directors, and the economic priorities of the most disadvantaged (children engaged in agricultural and household tasks).

These are all factors to be taken into account to promote equitable access to distance learning resources.

The mobilization of the Congolese authorities and its partners should be continued beyond the action plan to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and within the framework of the DRC’s Education and Training Sector Strategy (SSEF), in response to the new approaches that have developed with the support of UNICEF and other partners.

This blog was written in collaboration with the UNICEF office in Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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