DR Congo

To school, not to the mines: Investing in primary education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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By Cornelia Walther

Investment in primary education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo will ensure that girls and boys go to school, not to the mines, carrying books, not water.

LIKASI, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 18 March 2013 – Every day, Aurelie and her brother carry water to the mine, a two-hour walk, to sell to the miners for a meagre income of some 100 francs (US$0.10) per glass.

“I know that it is bad to drop out of school,” says Aurelie, 9. “It is important to learn how to read and give good answers.”

“But, if I don’t work,” she adds, “there is not enough food.”

Education at a price

Aurelie and her brother live in Likasi, a city located in Katanga province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Leaving school was unavoidable when her grandparents couldn’t pay the monthly ‘minerval’ – a payment of 4,500 francs (US$5) per child to cover the cost of incentives for teachers, a school uniform and learning materials.

In 2010, the Congolese Government decreed a gradual transition towards free primary education. But the elimination of school fees is yet to become operational in many provinces, and payment of other costs, the minerval, is still a major barrier for many families.

Study finds enrolment low

Today, more than one in four children aged 5–17 is missing out on the fundamental right to education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This figure is one of the findings of a study on out-of-school children carried out under the leadership of the Ministry of Primary, Secondary and Vocational Education. The study was conducted by the Higher Institute of Population Sciences at the University of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on behalf of the Ministry of Primary, Secondary and Vocational Education, Democratic Republic of the Congo. It received technical and financial support from UNICEF and the Department for International Development (DfID) of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The study indicates that nearly 7.4 million children aged 5–17 are currently not in school. Girls account for more than half of those who are not enrolled, just under 3.9 million. This figure is even greater, when taking into account secondary school rates.

The study also found that the number of children who are not in school is three times higher in rural areas than in urban areas. The province of Katanga, which, rich with minerals, would seem an unlikely place for the figures to spike, has the largest number of children aged 5–17 who are out of school – over 1.3 million.

Urgent action necessary

School exclusion and late enrolment are caused by insufficient funding for the education sector and low capacity of educational structures. Exclusion can also be the result of family influence, such as the low income or educational level of parents, early child marriage, and child labour, particularly in agriculture and mining.

The figures show that, in order to achieve universal primary education and the Millennium Development Goals, urgent action is necessary.

And the study provides orientation for decision-makers, civil society, communities and stakeholders, inviting these players to invest more in the education of children in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Funding the present and the future

“We are delighted to announce that the Government of the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] will immediately invest an additional US$40 million in the construction of schools, in addition to the funds raised by technical and financial partners,” stressed the Minister of Primary, Secondary and Vocational Education Maker Mwangu at an event validating and presenting the findings of the study.

“This study is a point of departure for further discussions and research in different areas,” said UNICEF Representative Barbara Bentein. “Stakeholders should continue to ensure that all children in the [Democratic Republic of the Congo], whether rich or poor, in North Kivu or Kinshasa, girl or boy, with or without disabilities, have equal access to a quality education.”

She added, “Children are the present and the future of Congo; the future of the country depends on the education they receive today.”

During the new programming cycle (2013–2017), UNICEF will invest more than US $98 million in primary education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – to make sure that girls and boys like Aurelie and her brother go to school, not to the mines, carrying books, not water.