DR Congo: GPE supports teaching in national languages in the early grades

With support from a US$100 million GPE grant, DRC is taken steps to ensure more children are better prepared for primary school by improving early reading in the children’s mother tongue.

February 21, 2020 by GPE Secretariat
3 minutes read
Mboga primary school, Nyiragongo Kanyarushinya, Goma (North Kivu), Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: GPE/Federico Scoppa
Mboga primary school, Nyiragongo Kanyarushinya, Goma (North Kivu), Democratic Republic of Congo.
Credit: GPE/Federico Scoppa

In 2009, the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) developed a policy for the use of national languages (Stratégie nationale d’utilisation des langues nationales), which prescribes that, for grades 1 through 4, a national language will be the language of instruction, in addition to being a stand-alone subject.

The policy states that no single language will apply across the country, but rather each of the four national languages (Lingala, Kiswahili, Chiluba, Kikongo) will be used in the geographic area where it is most commonly spoken. The policy just started being piloted across the country, with an emphasis on early grades. It is progressively rolled out throughout the country with a strong support from various partners and GPE. 

A new policy to promote national languages

The policy for language of instruction, developed by the Ministry of Primary, Secondary Education and Initiation to Citizenship, includes the following:

  • From grades 1 to 4, one of the four designated national languages is a stand-alone subject and the language of instruction. French is a subject.
  • Grades 3 and 4 are considered transition years, where French will be used more as the oral language of instruction in the classroom. 
  • In grades 5 and 6, French is both a subject and the primary language of instruction. The national languages remain as a subject.
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Children learn better in their mother tongue

This is in line with research that demonstrates that teaching and learning with textbooks in a child’s native language are critical for improved learning outcomes, particularly in the early grades, during which the acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills lays a foundation for future educational achievement. 

Introducing the four national languages of instruction in place of French the first four years of primary school constitutes a major reform for DRC, with far reaching implications for teacher management and training, the role of parents and communities, and orthography and vocabulary research for manuscript development.

The Government is aware of the scale of the challenge and is currently implementing a framework to accompany the shift in policy through gradual generalization, training additional teachers and expanding the distribution of textbooks beyond the 9 initial provinces.

Support through training teachers and developing new textbooks

The goal of the GPE-funded Education Quality Improvement Project (EQUIP) is to improve the quality of learning in primary education by increasing early grade reading scores of 2nd and 4th grade students in French and in the national languages. 

To achieve this goal, GPE is supporting in-service teacher training: Decentralized levels of education will have the opportunity to adapt the national plan to the particular needs of their area, and to existing teacher capacity, particularly with regard to the use of national languages.

Curricula and training programs will ensure that graduates effectively master the content of the basic education curriculum, including the four national languages, and the methods for teaching them (including the efficient use of learning and teaching materials).

To date close to 29,000 teachers have been trained in the new mother tongue policy for reading, including over 19,000 grades 1 and 2 teachers.
Children write on the blackboard at a makeshift school in Goma, North Kivu. The school welcomes a hundred children from zero to fourteen years.
Children write on the blackboard at a makeshift school in Goma, North Kivu. The school welcomes a hundred children from zero to fourteen years.
MONUSCO / Myriam Asmani

In addition, GPE is supporting the provision of learning and teaching materials nationwide. The new curriculum and textbooks were developed as part of previous initiatives with the support of USAID and AFD. The program will finance the publishing, printing and nation-wide distribution of approximately 5 million student books and 250,000 teacher guides for the “reading-writing” subject in four national languages in grades 1, 2 and 3. Delivery to schools is expected before the end of the 2019-20 school year.  

EQUIP also supports improved data collection procedures to ensure accurate enrollment numbers, textbook needs, and instruction in French and national languages. 

Education inspectors and school directors are receiving training in line with the national strategy on the use of national languages. To date, close to 10,000 school directors have been trained. 

Finally, in order to assess the impact of the new language policy, EQUIP is working closely with USAID to assess learning in French and national languages for students in grades 2 and 4. 

The Government of DRC has taken a bold step with the new language policy, and GPE will continue to support the country to give more children the ability to learn in a language they understand. 


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