Last week, I sat in the back of a 6th grade class at Tuyebonso Primary School in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and listened to a dynamic math teacher, as he led his 36 students in a geometry lesson.
He asked them to identify and draw right, acute and obtuse angles, discussing what characteristics define a shape. The children followed along in their textbooks, which have been provided as part of the GPE-financed basic education program (called PROSEB - Projet de Soutien à l’éducation de base).
PROSEB, supported by a $100 million grant from the Global Partnership, implements DRC’s interim sector plan, aiming to increase access and equity at the primary level through rehabilitation and construction of classrooms, improve the quality of learning through teacher training and learning material provision, and strengthen sector management.
The program focuses primarily on the two most deprived provinces in terms of schooling, Equateur and Kasai West, which have the lowest gender parity index and least funding from both domestic and external sources.
New textbooks and new classrooms show progress
Twenty million textbooks have been distributed across the country. It sounds like a lot, but it's not enough. There are an estimated 12 million primary school-age children in DRC. The average textbook lasts about four years because of wear and tear.
Tuyebonso Primary School is located in Kananga in Kasai West. There, I also visited Kamilabi Primary School, where six of the 14 classrooms in the school have been renovated through PROSEB. This rehabilitation is the first time the school has been improved since it was built in 1956, four years before DRC became an independent republic.
It’s amazing to see the progress over the past six months.
While only 12 classrooms had been completed when I last visited the DRC in April, now over 400 have been completed in 75 different schools.
Teachers are engaged and participate in the policy process
Over 10,000 inspectors and school directors have been trained and the “réseaux de proximité” are up and running.
Teachers are much more engaged in the policy process than they were two years ago. During my first visit back in 2013, the teacher union representatives I met with knew little about the Global Partnership and had only some awareness of the country’s education sector plan.
But last week, I found them engaged, knowledgeable and informed about the sector. Distance training programs for teachers are currently under development and I look forward during my next visit to learning directly from teachers how this training has impacted their work.
Defining the education roadmap for the next 10 years
The union representatives I met, including members of Education International, have been involved in the development of the new education sector plan and are planning to endorse it.
However, there remain challenges with the level and payment of teachers’ salaries. One area of improvement as teachers are increasingly part of the formal system, is that they have access to banking services across the country. The country is finalizing a new 10-year education sector plan (2016-2025) and is gearing up, with strong engagement of teachers and other partners, to prepare an application for another major grant from the Global Partnership.
Parents want better education for their children
What struck me most during the school visits last week and back in April was the community’s level of engagement.
Parents’ resilience and commitment to their children's education in the DRC is profound.
When teachers’ salaries were slashed in the 1980s, parent coalitions formed to support the payment of teachers’ salaries.
Despite a policy guaranteeing free primary education to all children, the payment or supplementation of teacher salaries by families persists. A recent World Bank report estimated that households carry on average 73% of the financial burden of educating a child. The government and the donors account for 23% and 4% respectively of total spending on education.
It is this type of challenge that the third component of the current GPE-funded program has tried to support. But reform in a country the size of the DRC takes time, and I am hopeful that the new grant application currently under preparation will continue this important work.
GPE funding incentivizes results
Under our funding model adopted last year, 70% of a GPE implementation grant is disbursed to support a costed, evidence-based sector plan that partners have committed to implement.
In order to receive the remaining 30%, a country must identify key strategies that would lead to accelerated progress in equity, efficiency and learning outcomes. The disbursement of the 30% is linked to achievement of performance indicators, which demonstrate that such progress has been made. I believe it is exactly countries like the DRC that stand to benefit the most from our funding model.
Financing needs are vast in the DRC
The education sector in DRC suffers from chronic underfunding. While the government has almost doubled the share of its budget going to education over the past 5 years, the amount it spends on education is far below the needs of the sector.
Financing is important but we also need to make the best possible use of the resources available. Core to that is strengthening the public financial management system and improving governance of the sector.
Gathering all partners around a shared vision for education
I am heartened that the DRC recognizes the importance of education and that it has made it “the priority of all priorities.” During my visit Prime Minister Augustin Ponyo Matata hosted a special event, bringing together all partners to discuss the future of education in DRC.
The Minister of Primary Education, Maker Mwangu Famba, moderated a discussion with the three other ministers responsible for the education sector, representatives from civil society, universities, the private sector, donors, teachers and students. Perhaps the most remarkable speaker was a sixteen-year old girl who said that when girls are given access to school they outperform boys.
Nothing is more important than educating the next generation. Schools are places for learning, but they are also places in which we impart on the next generation the knowledge and values that will guide them throughout their lives.
And this country that has captured my imagination will only become strong if the government and all development partners retain their commitment to funding the education sector and ensuring equitable and inclusive quality education for all children.