When he took office last year, the Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi promised to allocate about 40% of the national budget to primary education.
The promise will go a long way in achieving greater enrolment numbers at more than 50,000 state primary schools. Millions of children deprived of education due to poverty will benefit from the initiative.
Primary and secondary school enrollment has remained a serious issue in the DRC since the nation gained its independence over five decades ago, largely because public education ha not been free. Though Congolese civil law has provided for compulsory, free education, most citizens either lack access to competent schools or the funds to utilize them. Enrollment rates remain dismal, at 40% overall for primary and secondary schools. The attendance is far worse in rural areas of the east where ethnic conflict persists.
“Last year, parents were paying 104,000 Congolese francs (57 euros, $63), but with free education, attendance has doubled,” the headmaster said.
Whilst cutting the symbolic ribbon to inaugurate a new primary school in central Kinshasa on Monday, Tshisekedi admitted that he could not authoritatively claim that his pledge had been carried out across sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest nation. Even in urban areas such as Kinshasa, public schools only account for 30% of all schools.
“This will be a measure that will be truly definitive and universal in a few months,” the president later told AFP on the sidelines of talks with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
In Kinshasa, the capital city of approximately 10 million people, the AFP reported that some state schools have turned free education into a reality.
“Dear parents, learning is free,” a poster announced at the entrance to the 1 Ngaba primary school in a working-class district.
Parents interviewed by AFP had been expressing their delight in the achievement. Some have claimed to have been refunded on payments they had made.
“I paid nothing and we weren’t asked,” mother Mami Minga said, her children, aged six and 10, in tow.
However, some parents remain sceptical and have remained cautious about sending their kids to school.
A father in Banalia near the northeastern city of Kisangani was cautious. “I’m going to find out if free education is for real before sending my kids to school,” he said.
Meanwhile, the ministry responsible for primary education has announced that classes will be free in schools where budgets have been drawn.
Headmaster Kitemboue was gratified at the prospect of being paid by the state rather than parents. “It will raise standard of education and give worth to the teacher.”
Header Image Credits: Africa News