Democratic Republic of Congo: New classrooms keep children learning despite crises
- In the DRC, multiple crises have affected all the regions of the country, impacting access to education for thousands of children.
- Since 2020, GPE emergency support has helped to rebuild and equip child-friendly schools in eight of the most affected provinces.
- Thanks to new schools, community sensitization and new learning materials, more than 218,000 children are now learning in better conditions.
This story was written in collaboration with UNICEF DRC.
Eleven-year-old Aridja attends Esinumbi Primary School in Kindu, Maniema province. She describes what she and many other children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been experiencing as they try to learn: damaged or destroyed schools due to heavy rains and floods. How can they learn in such conditions?
Multiple crises plague the DRC
Natural disasters affecting education and other sectors are just some of the crises that the DRC has faced. All 26 provinces of the country are dealing with one or more of the following crises :
- Health emergencies: As a result of COVID-19, schools were closed from March to November 2020, and again in early 2021 , and another outbreak of the Ebola virus in the eastern provinces has killed close to 2,300 people.
- Natural disasters: Since October 2019, floods have affected 16 of the country’s 26 provinces, interrupting schooling for more than 155,000 children. Floods continued to affect the country in 2020, with the provinces of Haut-Lomami, Maniema, Sud-Kivu and Tanganyika facing significant material damage and increased risk of outbreaks of water-borne diseases, such as cholera. The eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano near Goma in May 2021 has also sowed destruction.
- Armed conflict: The DRC has been plagued by conflicts since the 1990s, with the death toll estimated to be as high as 6 million people.
- Population displacement: Fleeing violence and natural disasters, up to 5.5 million Congolese people are displaced in their own country—the largest proportion in Africa. The country also hosts about half a million refugees from neighboring countries.
- Food insecurity: In 2019, it was estimated that 62 million Congolese lived in extreme poverty, on less than US$1.90 per day . As a result of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people in need of basic food support is likely to grow.
GPE response: $20 million in accelerated funding
To support the DRC Ministry of Education in ensuring that as many children as possible have access to school, GPE has granted more than $212 million to the country since 2012.
In 2020, GPE gave the DRC $20 million in accelerated funding to ensure that more than 217,000 children in the eight provinces most affected by crises (Équateur, Bas-Uélé, Sankuru, Maniema, Tanganyika, Kasaï, Tshuapa and Nord-Ubangi) could continue to learn. UNICEF oversees implementation of the grant, working with local partners in the different provinces.
New schools and better learning conditions
The program focuses on rebuilding schools destroyed by floods and heavy rains and equipping them with furniture; providing hand washing kits to schools and hygiene kits for girls; giving children school supplies; providing meals in 35 schools with the help of the World Food Programme; and training teachers in psychosocial support, peace education and gender equity issues.
The program also helps strengthen coordination among humanitarian and development actors and between national and regional education officials, and supports the development of contingency plans to build resilience to future crises.
Thanks to GPE support, Aridja’s school has been rebuilt. Now, Esinumbi School has durable walls made of cement blocks and a solid metal roof that will keep the rain out, and it is equipped with a new blackboard and desks for students.
So far, 162 new classrooms have been built and equipped, and construction is well underway on all 276 of the classrooms that were planned initially, which will allow close to 17,000 children to study in a safe and sturdy learning environment.
School construction can be completed in as little as three months using the UNICEF modular classroom model. The model is designed to be adaptable to the local materials available in each region.
The GPE-supported program has been extended to end 2022 and an additional 168 classrooms added, to reach a total of 444 classrooms renovated or rebuilt by December.
The new constructions include separate toilet blocks for girls and boys and equipped offices for school directors.
All 700 schools have received learning and recreation kits benefiting more than 218,000 children. The recreation kits are suitcases filled with board games, skipping ropes and balls for basketball, volleyball and football.
They also include guides on how to help children with disabilities to take part in play activities. Schools have also received menstrual hygiene kits for adolescent girls. More than 4,300 teachers and school personnel have been trained on gender-sensitive pedagogy, peace education and psychosocial support.
Raising community awareness
At the project sites, close to 20,000 adults and children have taken part in awareness-raising sessions on gender-based violence and the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse. The sessions covered basic concepts, definitions, reporting and assistance. Parent associations participated and a referral system was created.
Additionally, approximately 1.5 million people benefited from campaigns to strengthen demand for schooling. These activities were carried out via a variety of community resources (community animation cells, and community and religious leaders) to ensure the messages were efficiently shared.
Continuing support of education in the DRC
Thanks to the GPE accelerated grant, thousands of 6- to 17-year-old Congolese students are now able to study in good conditions. Enrollment in the supported schools has increased and children are more eager to come to school, which is now a friendlier environment more conducive to learning.
The study materials they have received have caught their interest. Importantly, gender sensitization activities ensure that schools are more inclusive of the needs of all children.
The program has also supported the preparation of 16 contingency plans, which will increase the resilience of the education system in the face of future crises.
Additional support from GPE is forthcoming, as the country is one of six partner countries piloting the new GPE 2025 approach, including developing a partnership compact that identifies one priority reform that has the capacity to unlock systemic transformation.