Raissa Malu

Four years already! What is the assessment?

How the new science curricula are being implemented in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

September has always been my favorite month (I repeat it to anyone who will listen). Apart from my few forays into the private sector, my life has always been punctuated by academic years (as a pupil, then as a student, then as a teacher, coach, and now as an education consultant) and I have always loved the back-to-school period. The weather is still fine. We reset the counters to zero and everything is possible again (after that, it's not so funny! 😉).

The beginning of the school year is a good time to take stock and define the actions that will take place throughout the year. For this new school year 2019-2020, I would like to review the last four years spent in the Democratic Republic of Congo coordinating the Education Project for the Quality and Relevance of Secondary and University Education, PEQPESU, for the Ministry of Primary, Secondary and Technical Education. I would like to tell you about them as I have experienced them.

Modernizing curricula

Let's start with the aims of the project. My mission is to improve the teaching and learning of science and mathematics in secondary schools. To this end, we are modernizing education programmes by offering alternative pedagogy and revisiting essential knowledge; rehabilitating and equipping model laboratories in 28 secondary schools to be used for the training of future teachers; and accompanying the sector in defining the new strategic framework for secondary education.

When I say "we", I mean my unit and the teams of the Ministry of Primary, Secondary and Technical Education. Indeed, the project only supports the system. It is the departments of the Ministry that we call "Technical Departments" that define, execute and monitor activities (after they have been approved by the donor, of course!). The role of my unit, called the "Technical Support Unit", is to support these Technical Directorates in the definition, programming and execution of activities, to garantee the Government and the donor that the funds allocated are being used for what they are intended to do and to report on the progress of the project in relation to development aims.

Many stakeholders

Reading this, you get the feeling that it can't be easy, can it? Well, as they say: "you think you know, but you have no idea!" The education system in the Democratic Republic of Congo (as everywhere in the world, by the way) is a complex system.

It is characterized by a multiplicity of stakeholders who manage schools, a multiplicity of donors who maintain their influence on the country, a multitude of private initiatives who all think they are doing the right thing, a public opinion for which nothing is going well in the education sector and an administration that tends to believe that division is necessary to rule better, that the reason of the oldest (or the strongest) is the best, and that would not have realized that we are in the XXIst century with all that this implies! To this must be added a demographic growth that puts a high pressure on the education system and a glaring lack of infrastructures.

I know, there is nothing new to you. I will therefore tell you directly how we operate in such a context.

A long but ethical process

There are obviously no quick fixes. Education is a journey. We can win battles, but it is impossible to win the war, because the world keeps changing (and it is changing even faster now). Each experience has the merit of opening up a new field of possibilities.

The process we have adopted to modernize curricula is long, but ethical. First, it was important to set up within the Ministry of Primary, Secondary and Technical Education a team of curriculum designers (experts in administration, inspectors, secondary and higher education teachers, prefect of schools, researchers and thematic specialists) trained with the same pedagogy we use for new curricula, learning with situations. This team is one of the assets of the system that can and should use them to train curriculum developers in other learning areas (I recall that PEQPESU only deals with the field of science learning, FSL for short).

National and provincial Teams

This team of designers forms the national team, to be distinguished from the provincial teams. It is accompanied by an international expert, the eminent Professor Philippe Jonnaert. Before continuing, I would like to say a word about him (I also suggest that you search him on Google Scholar 😉). We are very fortunate to have a specialist of his level to support our process of modernizing curricula.

He is a recognized education specialist, whose greatest quality is humility! His logic is to encourage the Democratic Republic of Congo to develop endogenous programmes in line with our vision and objectives, which take into account our strengths and weaknesses, while aligning itself with the XXIst century. Our curricula do not have to be perfect, they have to be like us.

We (our teachers) must be comfortable enough with them to adopt them, make them live and thus make them evolve. In my opinion, to do this, the new curriculum must respect the famous 80/20 proportion, i.e. 80% well known and 20% new!

Prevalidation stage

As soon as the first drafts of the curricula are completed, we involve provincial experts (for once, fortunately, not everything is concentrated in Kinshasa!) who are independent of the writing process. These are secondary school teachers and Higher Pedagogical Institutes teachers, and provincial inspectors, who prevalidate the new programmes.

This is an important step in the process. The advice of these independent provincial experts is crucial. They can make us write again our entire copy (make it or break it). They are the ones who give us the "go" to send the new curricula in real situations for the testing phase.

Pilot schools

With this green light, the new curricula are transferred to the relevant classes in the pilot schools of the provinces targeted by the project, where they will live a full school year with all its hazards. In our case, these are public schools of several coordinations that organize the scientific section.

In each pilot school, we install a FSL Focal Point. It is a teacher from the school who will coordinate the testing process with the principal and other teachers involved, and report any difficulties and successes. The FSL Focal Point of the institution reports to a Provincial Focal Point who coordinates all the focal points of the pilot schools in his province. It is the Provincial Focal Point that reports to the National Team.

Workshop and validation committee

The testing phase is evaluated by the national team, the curricula are amended, a testing report is completed, proposals are made and a formal validation workshop for new curricula is held. This validation workshop brings together the national coordinators, other directorates of the Ministry, other teachers and heads of the Higher Pedagogical Institutes and the National Pedagogical University, other inspectors, the Secretary General and the Inspector General for Primary, Secondary and Technical Education, and the Minister's Office.

If this board approves the new curricula, they become the official curricula that will be used in all schools starting in the following school year. To this end, one or more ministerial decrees (according to the proposals adopted) are signed by the Minister of Primary, Secondary and Technical Education and distributed to all the provinces.

A gradual implementation

This process is repeated in the same way for all curricula from the 7th year of Basic Education (1st secondary) to the 4th year of Scientific Humanities (6th secondary). Today, as shown in the table below, we have generalized the curricula of the Terminal Cycle of Basic Education (7th and 8th years of Basic Education), the curricula of the 1st and 2nd years of Scientific Humanities (3rd and 4th secondary) are currently being tested in pilot schools, the curricula of the 3rd and 4th years of Scientific Humanities (5th and 6th secondary) will be tested in the following school year 2020-2021.


The difficult learning of digital technology

This is a great process, isn't it? Then, what are we complaining about? As they say, "the devil hides in the details!" There is sand in the mechanics. For example, teams, whether national or provincial, are not yet fully comfortable with digital (just using WhatsApp to coordinate them and facilitate information sharing has been quite a challenge!).

There is a word recommended by the Commission d'Enrichissement de la Langue Française that describes the situation well: "Illectronisme: digital disability, digital illiteracy, or electronic illiteracy, is the difficulty or even inability that a person encounters in using digital devices and computer tools because of a total lack or absence of knowledge about how they work." We found three kinds of difficulties: the perception of utility (after all, their world has worked as well without digital!), those related to the practice and manipulation of these new tools (it's for young people!) and those related to the content and verification of the information conveyed (if Youtube said so or it was shared via WhatsApp, it's necessarily true!). Sigh....

Money matters

The second grain of sand that undermines efforts is the budget issue. Projects funded by Technical and Financial Partners only support the system. Even if they made all the budget available to us, the system should not accept it. The Democratic Republic of Congo would lose its sovereignty. Schools, management offices, inspectorates, educational provinces, administrative services need the operating costs of the Government to enable them to do the work they are asked to do.

That being said, it won't hurt this whole little world to question their processes and habits. Money is necessary, but there are things that can be done with fewer resources if we rationalize them, if we know how to mobilize our collective intelligence and if we use digital technology!

An appreciated pedagogical approach

There is still so much to share, but I will stop there for now. I enjoy my job and I appreciate all the people I work with. They also teach me humility and push me to surpass myself. In addition, the evaluations we have conducted so far show us that teachers, students in the classroom and parents appreciate the new pedagogical approach of the curricula.

The latter live in the classrooms, the teachers discuss them and make proposals. That's very good. The "perfect curriculum" is the one that the teacher has appropriated and developed.

The problem that continues to concern me is whether we are preparing our children in the Democratic Republic of Congo well for the challenges of the XXIst century. Will they be able to live, work and cooperate in a machine-dominated world? To be continued...

Science is fun, join us! 😊

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




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