On February 10, 2014, I was in a village outside of Gemena in the Equateur province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with Maker Mwangu Famba, the Minister of Education, laying the first stone of Kanzi Primary School. A little more than a year later, at the Minister’s invitation, I went back to Gemena to inaugurate the new school with him. The community was extremely welcoming and had prepared a wonderful celebration for the occasion.
Unfortunately, this type of celebration doesn’t make international news. When the DRC is talked about, the news is often negative: conflict, disaster, rape, crisis, displacement, poverty… The list is long. There’s no denying that the DRC has a long way to go before reaching satisfactory levels of development, giving its population of 70 million reliable access to basic necessities like a sturdy place to live, clean running water, electricity or reliable health care. But what is clear also is the strong intent of both the government and the population to improve their lot.
Over the three days I was in the DRC, I spent a lot of time with the Minister of Education and his staff. I met with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance. I heard what representatives of teacher unions and parent associations had to say. I met with the group of donors and development partners who support education in the country. I met with the governor of North Kivu and provincial school authorities. And finally I was able to visit two schools, Kanzi primary school in Gemena and Mboga primary school in Goma. All this gave me a good 360° view of the state of education in the country.
There are many challenges, but I think the two most important ones are costs and quality.
Free education must be a reality
Access to a free, quality education for all Congolese children was introduced in 2010, but in many towns and villages, parents still contribute to school costs. These help to cover the maintenance of school infrastructure, administration of provincial offices, and even supplies, like chalk, and teachers’ salaries. The government is aware of the situation and is rapidly increasing the share of its budget allocated to education, from 9% in 2010 to 16% in 2013. At our replenishment conference last June, the country pledged to increase this share to 18% by 2018. The next step for the DRC will be to ensure that this share is reflected in actual disbursements to the provincial education authorities, who in turn will need to make sure the money reaches the schools.
At the Global Partnership, we support free basic education for all children. No child should be denied his or her right to receive an education for lack of money. This was a founding principle of the Dakar Education for All framework for action adopted in 2000: “No countries seriously committed to education for all will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by a lack of resources.”
Supporting the DRC with one of our largest grants
Our board approved a first US$100 million grant in 2012, signed into an agreement with the DRC government in 2013. It will run until August 2016 and has already disbursed more than half of the funds ($55 million). Last December, our Board approved a second allocation of US$100 million for the period 2016-2018, which the country is preparing to access. The ministry of education has led the work to prepare a new 10-year education sector plan, and with support from partners, it is now turning this strategy into a medium-term action plan.
The second GPE grant will follow our new funding model, which means the country would be able to access the first $70 million if the board approves its grant application next spring, but the remaining $30 million would be granted based on performance results identified by the government on three dimensions of equity, efficiency and learning.
It may seem obvious that a large country needs large resources from its partners, but not all donors are willing to take the risk in a huge country, still considered fragile, where infrastructure is sorely lacking and without a proper banking system. The Global Partnership is taking the risk, and hopes that in turn other partners will follow suit and provide much needed support.
Improving the quality of learning
The second key challenge of education in the DRC is quality. During our visits to the two schools, it was obvious that much progress is required to reach acceptable levels of learning. Too many children still drop out before finishing primary school, and for those who complete primary school, too few go on to secondary school. Our first grant is supporting the procurement and distribution of 20 million textbooks in 4 subjects: French, math, science, and civic education. The grant also supports teacher training activities because textbooks alone can’t be the solution to the learning gap.
The numbers show progress: the repetition rate decreased from 14% in 2010 to 11.4% in 2013. There are also 2 children fewer per classroom nowadays (37 against 39), which also contributes to better learning. This is a good start, which will need the government’s full attention in the coming months to ensure the right policies and reforms are defined and implemented.
The Minister of Education asked that the Global Partnership help him with examples of learning solutions used elsewhere. We will do so, as this is exactly the reason for being of our partnership: gathering experiences and lessons, ensuring that all stakeholders are around the same table, and agree on the best course to support a country.
Huge challenges, huge potential
The Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Education of the DRC are strongly committed to keeping education a priority. The Global Partnership is also strongly committed to continuing its support and to rally other partners around us to help further. The challenges are enormous, therefore our support must be commensurate. We can’t afford not to help the DRC. I promised the Minister that I’ll come back in the fall to check on progress and to make sure that our support is making a difference.