Raissa Malu

Free fees vs. quality

The start of the school year is in about 3 weeks and at the Ministry of Primary, Secondary and Vocational Education (EPSP), it is the excitement. The 2019-2020 school year is being prepared under the following theme: "Good governance of the education system and effective leadership for the implementation of free basic education". A whole program!

Formerly, it was "quality". Today, the words you will hear on everyone's lips is "free fees". We hope for it, we dread it and we don't care about it either: "Can we afford to set up free education in the DRC?"

Be comforted (or disappointed), I will not answer this question here. No. Because all education stakeholders and specialists are meeting in Kinshasa next week to discuss it at the second national forum on free basic education. And directly after, from 21st to 24th August, the national and provincial executives of the Ministry of Primary, Secondary and Vocational Education will participate in the 2019 National School Promotion Forum (an event organized every year) to put this programme into action.

Deprived schools and teachers

Instead, I suggest once again an exploration into the heart of the Congolese education system, to discover its many facets. This was the programme I had set for the dry season (or summer) months. 😉

Recently, a friend shared with me a report on a primary school located in a certain village in the North of the country, built of forest materials (as they say in the documentary). The school is modestly equipped (that's an understatement). The six "classes" have a kind of blackboard.

Most children come here barefoot. Many miss because their parents are unable to pay the school fees of CF 1,000 and CF 1,500 depending on the level (about US$0.59 and US$0.89). In these places, teachers spend a significant portion of their salary (less than $100) travelling to reach the "nearest" centre. And I don't talk about many problems of insecurity if the village has the misfortune of being located in a strategic area (rich with some natural resources for example).

And ultra-modern schools

The day before, I had a work meeting where my colleagues told me about their visit to an ultra-modern school complex recently opened in another province in the south of the country. They were impressed, because on school premises, WiFi is available free of charge to everyone. The school offers digital classes.

The different sections and optional subjects are all provided with didactic material. The school has access to water and electricity (should I mention it?). And teachers receive a bag of flour at the end of each month in addition to their salary (in our regions, this is a definite advantage).

Large gaps

Nationally, the first situation is much more common than the second (for the moment). You also have a large number of schools, mainly in urban and semi-urban areas, that are in the range of intermediate situations. This gives you an idea of the large gaps that the agents and actors of the Ministry of EPSP have to deal with on a daily basis.

In such situations, the common reaction is sadness, indignation and anger. "Who are the people responsible? What is the Government doing? What is the purpose of education funding?" do we ask. Yet school is not a system isolated from society. If society has difficulties, schools have difficulties. If society thrives, well, imagine that schools can still have difficulties. Let me explain.

Change the school

The problem that "let me awake all night" is that parents entrust us with millions of children every year (and they will entrust us with even more if the free fees are put into practice) and many of these children, when they leave our education system, have learned little more than if they had chosen to stay at home. Sickening, isn't it?

Seeking to get back to sleep, I immersed myself in the book by Sir Ken Robinson, a renowned English specialist in education, Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education. And as I finally began to relax, I come across this: "If you manage an education system based on standardization and conformity, which aims to repress individuality, imagination and creativity, do not be surprised that it succeeds".

Factory education

It had the effect of a bomb on me. It's like he said to me, "Auntie. You there are getting agitated to improve the quality of science and mathematics education thinking that you will train super Congolese, but you can't do it! Perhaps you will reach the level of the industrialized countries, but it will be to better endure the setbacks of their own system." At that moment, you know, I started to turn frantically the pages of the book to assess the extent of the damage (Doctor, will I die?).

The education system that we have all widely adopted is based on the mass production model, the factory model: the same curriculum, the same pedagogy and the students are assessed against a single standard. It's funny, isn't it? We have taken a system based on a model that for the moment is still almost non-existent in our African societies (59 years after independence). It is as if we had put the cart before the horse.

Training entrepreneurs

A standardized system has no other purpose than to standardize (but what were we thinking about?) And when we want one thing and its opposite, here is what we get: an alarming rate of non-graduates, students' disinterest in certain subjects (science and mathematics for example), teachers' demotivation (or even suicide), a drop in the value of university degrees, an increase in the cost of studies, an increase in unemployment among both graduates and non-graduates. That fits African countries, doesn't it? Yet these are the problems found in countries where standardized education systems have been invented and work best overall....

In Africa, we worship (exaggerated) diplomas (university) and success on standardized tests, such as the State Examination that our students take at the end of secondary school. However, specialists note that "a country's entrepreneurial qualities are inversely proportional to its success on standardized tests." Ah, ah ! Entrepreneurial qualities are those that we would all like to teach our young people in Africa. "But let them all stop wanting to become civil servants and please make them create their own jobs." While they are important in our countries' contexts, there is something even more important.

All countries are concerned

Let us forget for a moment this distinction between industrialized and developing countries. Today, the major challenges facing our societies are the same: climate change, resource conservation, data protection, artificial intelligence, etc. Rich and poor countries, multinationals and SMEs, we all need men and women today who are able to adapt quickly to change and generate new ideas.

To do this, Sir Ken Robinson is hammering us not to seek to fix, but to change, not to seek to reform, but to transform our education systems. How? "To change the education system, it is important to know its nature" (that is why I am knocking you out with articles 😉) and to know that "the education system has a strong potential for innovation". "It's not about doing better than before. We have to do it differently."

The young people (girls and boys) I meet in the Democratic Republic of Congo are ready for innovation. And are we, administrations, teachers, politicians, civil society, the private sector, technical and financial partners, willing to innovate?

Epilogue

Do I malange to sleep now? Yes and no. The new curricula in the field of science developed by the Ministry of Primary, Secondary and Vocational Education offer a pedagogical approach that aims to enhance what children, teachers and communities know and possess. The aim is to make students want to learn. The approach is to work with those within the education system to change it.

But it is also useful for us to keep in mind Sir Ken Robinson's words: "Education is not done in hemicycles or through the rhetoric of politicians. It results from what happens between students and teachers at school."

Science is fun, join us! 😊

This post has first been published on LinkedIn. It has been translated in English by Afriscitech.

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