Cursed by conflict: Education in DRC

The combination of a youth bulge and failures in education represent a serious threat to the future development of many African countries. Education systems are simply not providing the youth with the skills they need to escape poverty – worse still, many are left out of the system altogether. And the situation in countries affected by conflict is even worse.

Former Education Programme Manager

May 5th, 2012

The combination of a youth bulge and failures in education represent a serious threat to the future development of many African countries. Education systems are simply not providing the youth with the skills they need to escape poverty – worse still, many are left out of the system altogether. And the situation in countries affected by conflict is even worse.

Take the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for example, where years of armed conflict have left an education system that is shattered – with large numbers of children and youths out of school. A recent study by Save the Children DRC, which was funded by OSISA, shows that close to 7 million children are out of school.

The net primary school attendance rate is 75 percent – plummeting to just 32 percent at secondary level. There seems little chance that DRC will achieve the education targets set out in both the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Education for all Goals (EFA).

The deliberate targeting of schools during the conflict has left an indelible mark and many children are afraid to go to school and many parents fear sending their children to school especially in areas where clashes can still flare up.

Compounded by economic factors the situation is bleak for many children and youth. Unless there are deliberate efforts to target children out the school system either through enrolment or alternative non-formal education provision, the conflict will continue to limit the possibilities for children and youth in the DRC – long after the guns have actually fallen silent.

According to the 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report (GMR), conflict has the most devastating effect on children. Those directly affected suffer displacement, physical injury, psychological trauma and stigmatisation, which are sources of profound and lasting disadvantage in education. Only a radical shift at the systemic level can address this.

To achieve this, there is an urgent need for a targeted policy and financial investment to reach these children. Sadly, there is no sign of this. Although the DRC government has made efforts to increase enrolment and improve education services, through the introduction of free and compulsory primary education, little has been done to match this policy with investment in the sector.

Budgetary allocation to the sector has actually decreased to 10 percent of the national budget in 2011, down from 25 percent in the 1960s. In any case such budgetary allocation is further marred by late disbursements and high incidences of corruption.

For example, according to the DRC Civil Society National Education coalition, of the 7.2 percent of the national budget allocated to the education sector in 2010, less than 6 percent was actually disbursed by the end of the year. The result has been the introduction of illegal forms of ‘fees’ by schools, which many parents cannot afford. The study by Save the Children shows that this is the biggest barrier to accessing education for many children given that the conflict has already seriously undermined the economic status of many households.

After years of prolonged conflict, many households in the Congo have been left with nothing but the daily struggle for survival, where basic needs like food security and health are of the utmost concern. Where resources and means are limited, many households are less concerned with education especially when they have to pay to access the service.

Households are therefore opting for whatever available means including engaging children in child labour to raise resources for survival. This is much more prominent in areas where conflict still persists due to destruction of the agriculture sector and limited opportunities for economic activity.

It is clear – unless the government ensures that education is indeed free as is guaranteed by the constitution, many children will continue to miss out.

The study also indicates that another major impediment to education is the impunity in relation to human rights violations – with youths being forced into armed conflict, girls being raped and schools becoming targets of violent attacks. In 2010, more than 9 schools were attacked in North Kivu alone.

For many children, the chances of returning to school under such circumstances are very slim. Worse still, the non-formal education sector – where children who have missed out on the opportunity of schooling can get a second chance at education – are either non-existent or dysfunctional. This means that the number of uneducated youths with no skills for economic and social survival continues to swell and swell. The implications for a country like the DRC are clearly devastating.

Therefore, it is critical that the DRC government prioritises education in its reconstruction agenda. Most importantly, access to education must be increased by removing all barriers – with both legal and illegal school fees being the top priority.

But there is also an urgent need to address the impunity associated with targeting of schools in conflict prone areas – since schools need to be safe places for children to learn.

And finally, there is a need to invest in both formal and informal education if DRC. For the formal sector, extra funds will reverse the trends and enable many more children to attend class, while a better-resourced informal sector would provide a remedy for children who have ‘missed’ the opportunity of a formal education.

If these recommendations are taken on board, then the out-of-school children and youth in DRC will have the chance of an education – and DRC will have the chance of a brighter future.

About the author(s)

Wongani Grace Nkhoma is the Education Programme Manager. Wongani has over 10 years experience working in the development sector. Before joining OSISA, Wongani worked with ActionAid International - Malawi as Regional Manager and Education Policy Coordinator

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