|© UNICEF DRC/2009/ Marinovich|
|Marie Rose Mbimba is the headmistress of EP1 school in Kinsasha, where low enrolment and completion rates for children are often tied to the financial hardships of their parents.|
By Shantha Bloeman
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman has just completed a five-day visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to assess the situation of women and children amidst what is widely seen as Africa's worst humanitarian crisis. Here is one in a series of related reports.
KINSASHA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1 September 2009 – Low attendance rates continue to plague DR Congo’s schools, adversely affecting the country’s development.
Gross enrolment rates in primary school are extremely low. According to the latest data, half of all children do not go to school. Of those that do, most are boys and only half will reach the fifth grade.
Marie Rose Mbimba, the headmistress of the EP1 Inkisi Primary School in Kinshasa, is well aware of the problem. At the beginning of the school year, her school had 754 students. Just three months later, only 516 of them remained enrolled.
“The problem is the financial difficulties that parents are facing,” says Ms. Mbimba. “They can’t afford the education fees because a lot of them are out of a job.”
School fees a heavy burden
Currently, the Government of DR Congo allocates around 8 per cent of its gross domestic product to supporting education, which is insufficient to cover all of the country’s educational operating expenses. The remaining funding burden falls heavily on parents, who are expected to pay an average of $65 a year, per child, to supplement teacher salaries, maintenance expenses and other operating costs.
|© UNICEF DRC/2009/ Marinovich|
|UNICEF provides textbooks, copy books, writing boards and desks to help improve conditions in classrooms across DR Congo.|
For the typical Congolese family earning, on average, only $140 per year, these costs can make it impossible for parents to send all of their children to school.
Schoolteachers with their own children also struggle. Marie Clarence Malala teaches sixth grade at EP1 and earns a monthly salary that barely covers her living expenses. One of Ms. Malala’s four children recently dropped out of secondary school. Ms. Malala has taught at EPI for almost 25 years and has seen how financial necessities often keep children from attending class.
“One boy wakes up at 5 a.m. and works at a bakery,” she says. “He then goes back home to give the bread to his mother to sell, and then he goes to school.”
Movement to abolish school fees
A coalition of organizations has been promoting a movement to abolish school fees across Africa in order to ensure that all children have their right to an education met.
“The future of any country is its children, and I think in many countries it has been an uphill struggle to convince governments that investing in children is an investment in the future,” says UNICEF Representative in DR Congo Pierrette Vu Thi.
Ms. Vu Thi adds that UNICEF has advocated abolishing school fees to the government, but budgetary issues have thus far been difficult to overcome. “We have been advocating, and we slowly but surely are making some progress,” she says.
To help improve the current situation, UNICEF has been providing some 25,000 primary schools in DR Congo – including EP1 Inkisi – with copy books, writing boards and desks to help improve conditions in the classroom. UNICEF is also providing teachers with materials and training.
Humanitarian crisis in DR Congo
Press release: Veneman visits Dungu, a community terrorized by the LRA
Press release: Executive Director calls for peace and security for eastern DRC
Children and families in DR Congo face multiple crises
Reaching out to mothers to prevent HIV
'Back on Track' website