Education in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been dealt another huge blow.
Recent clashes in the North Kivu province has more than doubled the total number of schools affected by conflict this year to over 600, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reports, painting a bleak picture of the state of education in the mineral-rich country.
“In past weeks, many of those fleeing the violence found refuge in schools that were used as kitchens, canteens, dormitories, military barracks or ammunition storage places,” the New York-based UN agency says.
“In almost all conflict-affected classrooms, school furniture has been partially damaged or totally destroyed. Textbooks and school benches have even been used as firewood.” The conflict since April this year has resulted to at least 240 000 students missing weeks of schooling, according to UNICEF DRC chief Barbara Bentein.
Bentein explains: “Last month access to education in eastern DRC has gone from bad to worse. In the aftermath of the recent fighting that led to the displacement of more than 130 000 people, families and parties involved in the conflict have since September occupied or looted some 250 additional schools in North and South Kivu province.” Although some children and teachers were slowly returning to school, and learners were receiving new school kits from UNICEF and its local partners, Barbara says some schools have not fully recovered yet.
UNICEF says bringing learners back to school was vital to their protection, especially in these troubled times. “When not at school, children from North Kivu are more at risk of being exploited, abused and even recruited,” Barbara says.
Analysts believe the Congolese education sector, already suffering from decades of negligence, lack of reforms and investments, deterioration of infrastructure, massive drops in standards and corruption, will unlikely recover in the next 10 to 15 years even if peace and stability returned to the war-torn nation of 80 million people.
“It will take many years for things to go back to normal, meaning to the level it was in the 70s and 80s. Education in the DRC has been massively neglected, and it’s very unfortunate for a country of such dedicated people,” Ezekiel Mboso, a Dakar-based education consultant, tells Moon of the South. “First of all, the sector needs a huge dose of political will, and on top of that, huge financial resources and strong mechanisms must be put in place to make things work once again.”
UNICEF education partners in eastern DR Congo include:
- Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
- AVSI Foundation
- Catholic Relief Services (CRS)
- Handicap International
- International Rescue Committee (IRC)
- Save the Children
- World Vision
- War Child Holland
- Alpha Ujuvi
- Observatoire des Droits Humains (ODH)
- Réseau des Associations Congolaises des Jeunes contre le SIDA (RACOJ)
- The national Ministry of Primary, Secondary and Professional Education of DRC (EPSP)
*PIC: SUSILA DHARMA INTERNATIONAL. Schoolchildren in the DRC.