50 Years after the Independence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, how is its Educational System Doing?
by Marie Rose Mukeni Beya, MRMB, Ph. D.
Over time the Congolese school system has changed face completely. Its original educational mission is hardly recognizable any more.
In the beginning, the school system was designed for the reproduction of the public office of the colonizer. During the first ten years after Independence, the Congolese school system played a fundamentally positive role in producing competent managerial staff who still administers the educational facilities well today.
While recognizing the school system's undeniable assets, we must ask ourselves, fifty years after Independence, if through the programs developed at primary level up to university and in the academic subjects the school still counts as a place of culture, and of the construction of a society of initiative, creation and development.
No one is accusing the school over the last twenty years of producing a race of “degenerates”, deprived of the necessary knowledge, analytic abilities and creative and logical intelligence.
“The very pragmatic spirits” have simply refused to attend the school system they have rejected and attached a very negative attitude towards it considering that: to simply be able to read, write, and count has no implications of superiority either legal or cultural. The illiterates they say, have knowledge not suspected by those with qualifications, a.k.a. “the learned”.
There is no need to pursue school matters relentlessly. Papers can be obtained there through many “short cuts”. In computer language the term “short cut” contains, as we may see, content for the detractors of the school.
To deal with the educational stakes in the face of corruption comes down to asking the following questions:
Can the Congolese school system still fulfill its noble mission to educate in a society marked by multiple crises?
What is to be done? Given that corruption has penetrated the whole system in a very short time even though the school has attempted to resist. Actually the government has chosen the new leitmotif of “zero tolerance” indicating that corruption is no longer an acceptable style in business. But so what?
It is absolutely false to consider that this problem is incurable, and to declare that the professors, students, parents, and communities all are affected by “the corruption”; this is simply a dishonest, defeatist attitude knowing that one found palliatives for AIDS and certain cancers that are nevertheless dreaded diseases. We remain convinced that it is possible to eradicate corruption, not by declarations of “zero tolerance”, but by adopting healthier and more durable practices.
There is therefore a glaring and permanent urgency. A choice is to be made both immediate and radical.
It is necessary for us, says Professor Joseph Kizerbo in a context other than corruption, to “educate or perish”.
But in reality there is no other choice than to ‘educate’ and to ‘do it well and quickly’.
Rather than bemoan the internal and external inefficiencies of the educational system in the Democratic Republic of the Congo already criticized in many forums, we have assigned ourselves as the major objective of this analysis:
It is imperative to open some channels of reflection on the changes to be brought to our educational system in the programs, nor in their conception, something already done at the congress on education, but rather in the behavior and attitudes towards the educational. All the partners (the professors, students, parents, and the communities) are called upon to remedy shameful practices such as corruption;
To rethink a new school which from the present and for the future brings legitimate hope, a school which presides over its commitment towards the education of positive values and constraint of the educated, the instructors and the whole result of the educational community.
For this we will proceed in the following manner:
1. To analyze the Congolese’s educational system and the political choices that have been made in educational matters in order to see how these choices have opened the doors to corruption. This amounts to outlining the diagnosis and the prognosis
2. To examine the paths
3. Strategies to save the school
1. Diagnosis of the Congolese Educational System
Them is no point in reiterating what has already been said about the Congolese educational system by the CNS (Conference Nationale Souveraine) Congress on education
The diagnosis has been made and stays the same to this day fifty years after the Independence:
The Congolese educational system is ineffective and inefficient. Its downfall is the result of a long process of interaction of structural and economic factors. To clarify: the combined regression of the political and economic systems over a long period (19702002) have put and are still exerting permanent pressure on the educational system weakening it and by consequence lowering the level of performance at all levels (primary, secondary, advanced).
For the last four years, the "reason” evoked is this interminable war which mobilizes enormous financial recourses to the detriment of the social sector. The allocated budget for education is notoriously insufficient at 0.02%
In a context of crisis the performances are both poor and mediocre. Such a context favors the emergence of deviance, lack of value, smacks of spiritual and material poverty, violence, corruption, heinous crimes being committed everywhere: starting from pre-school and going through primary school, high school up to college and graduate level.
What are these crimes?
The school gives diplomas to deficient students who are devoid of the minimum of knowledge and know-how. These students arrive at the end of the educational cycle because their colluding parents have “bought” their academic achievements; the school hands out qualifications to people who have never attended academic establishments. Diplomas are bought; the price is fixed to the head of the client.
High school inspectors “bleed the parents”, demanding supplementary fees from the top students, without which the school establishment will see success rates reduced or performances reviewed by reduction (the 50% rule).
The evaluations do not reflect upon the real capacities of the learners (at various schools and institutions) but upon their “ability to buy” success. Tribal, social and economic status evaluations of parents are made. It is a veritable market place: percentages are discussed, evaluations made... Relations between teachers, students, parents and the community are tense. Each as it were are exerting pressure, maintaining a power struggle. “If you do not pay, lessons will be suspended,” maintain the teachers. “If you increase the costs, you will suffer the consequences,” rebut the students.
The list of violence and crimes is very long, indeed!
The status report is bitter ‑ the educational dimension has simply been evacuated by the educators. Can we still believe in our school system today?
The myth of the school that gives to the children, youths and adults who attend a particular “superior” quality over those who have never been is simply wrong and unjust! Everyone is entitled to go to school, but as success depends on the promises of certain people, no continued effort of learning is attempted.
Success is conditioned by payments made at all levels of the system, from the ushers to the head of the establishment and the teachers.
2. Valid but Absurd Political Choices
Problems of equity have made the government make some very valid political choices regarding education.
We will look at three of them:
1. The regional quota system
2. The parental participation/contribution in financing the school
3. Education for all
Let's examine each of them separately:
2.1 The quota system
The quota system, originally conceived to give sons coming from different regions equal opportunities of access to education, has very quickly become a strategy to promote the tribal or ethnic group, and eliminate or weaken the nonconformist element of the political governance in place.
Those alert spirits having perceived the maneuver have been quick to change their identities and regions in order to he counted in a regional quota. With the quota, cheating, corruption, and many other deviancies were born.
The regional quota system has often refused educational access to the best candidates in favor of the mediocre. We have often seen success forced upon the inferior student because they were the rare representatives of their region. These mediocre students now occupy important positions of responsibility which demand high levels of intelligence and expertise, in other words real qualifications which they are generally not able to handle.
Failing to meet these conditions, we will further corruption in systems of eligibility and recruitment at all levels.
The consequence: The management of public matters in the hands of the mediocre people can only result in complete mediocrity!
2.2 From parental participation in the financing of school and academic establishments, to the motivation of teachers
In normal times this arrangement would be commendable. It's an innovation under the skies of Africa and the world.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work in times of crises. In light of the flagrant abdication of the Congolese state, the parents, conscious of their responsibility in the education of their offspring, were ready to do anything for the survival of the school system. They did not realize that they would quickly overextend themselves.
The under privileged parents were less and less able to pursue this charitable undertaking (long months of unpaid salaries insignificant in the face of voracious demands from school teachers).
The selection is made along the lines of teaching only those students whose parents are financially “capable”. The others must use illicit means in order to stay at school!
“A state which neglects to take charge of its youth, to equip them with the necessary tools for optimum success, buries its own future”.
It is a suicidal society. This is the threat facing Congolese society today.
Consequences for the educational system: Studying is expensive. Failure is not an option for the students. “Success is a right” because according to the parents and their children, we are the ones to finance the school.
The heads of the establishments and teachers finding themselves caught between a rock and a hard place, subjected to pressures from all sides, will become very amenable. The criterion of deliberation would be attenuated to such an extent that rankings formerly considered mediocre could be acceptably excluded.
Discussions to the effect that “we must understand the students”, that “these are hard times”, that “it is necessary to humanize the debate” reflect the pure and simple resignation on the part of the teachers. They sacrifice the quality of education because they are caught in a moral quandary. They are obliged to the parents who support them financially.
What the teachers forget is that they are doing a disservice to the parents and the beneficiaries of the education in allowing the system to be corrupted! As a result of their generosity they send out into the workforce each year mediocre employees who are unable to fulfill their job descriptions and who lack the social and analytical skills to respond adequately to the needs of the Congolese society.
Further the participation in the process of globalization is compromised.
Knowing themselves to be useless to society, the failed graduates of a broken system will turn to drugs, to the illicit trafficking of materials and people and more. They have become the ‘handlers of vice’ without ethics other than to get by, to survive.
2.3. Education for all
This option raised at Jomtien in March 1990 is a commitment by non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations as well as individuals to campaign for the fundamental right of education for all, to be concretized in the decades that follow.
Education for all by the year 2000, we have already reached the year 2010!
The object of this aim is very clear, to open access to education to an ever increasing number of children, youths and adults; to reduce disparities and exclusions already stated with regard to rural and suburban populations, women and children in difficult circumstances, and to integrate education into the overall economic, social and cultural progress.
It is utopian to think that the school system can suppress social inequalities. The glaring poverty which has penetrated all layers of society, on the contrary, has only accentuated the prevalent inequalities.
The consequences: certain social and professional groups find themselves privileged enough to be able to opt out of the ruins of the school system and pay the price to put their children into academic institutions which offer more guarantees, at home or (more often) abroad.
“Education for all” is but a pious wish, far from being realized in DRC!
The facts are the following:
Young children see their courses towards degrees being interrupted as parents decide to abandon the schooling of an older sibling who must support the family. On the other hand it is the older sibling who feels obliged to suspend their studies due to the excessive costs compared with those of brothers and sisters still at primary and secondary levels. Not only do we “take turns eating”, we also take turns studying! An interrupted schooling is not only costly in the energy to relearn, but also in the readmission to school establishments. It is necessary to bribe, to lie about the age of the candidate and to obtain false medical records.
All these practices condemn the school system once more to degeneration.
The feeble performance of the Congolese school system will remain irreversible, unless long lasting improvements are envisioned.
The political climate must again become healthy, reassuring, and favorable to the blossoming of the individual and the community at both social and cultural levels. The economic situation must be improved in a manner that allows for a significant budget for the social sector: health, education, employment. With this it will become possible for all citizens to have their basic needs met. The school system must be balanced and cleansed of all the ills which prevent it from fulfilling its educational role.
4. What is to be done? Paths to salvage the educational system
Again, we must “Educate or perish”!
Educate, but quickly and well. Educate all the players: parents, students, the community.
All occasions are favorable to instruct parents on their rights and obligations.
During enrollment it would be an appropriate time to:
Inform parents on the well justified respect of effective regulations by class in order to facilitate the undertaking of educational methods and the follow up of each learner. Make parents aware of their responsibility to encourage their children's regular attendance in school and to follow their academic evolution. The number of day class schools should be multiplied.
Better informed, those parents who know the true capacities of their children will not corrupt the teachers in order to obtain unmerited success.
Here it is a matter of:
What is the Prognosis for the Future?
Engaging them in regular work, motivating them to deploy the necessary efforts to “learn how to learn”, and to “learn for life”, molding and deploying personality, character and the spirit of enterprise, as well as instilling morale values.
Above all it is a matter of:
Judiciously selecting the teachers on the basis of intellectual and moral qualities, the criterion of “knowing how to be” is paramount. Relearning the professional code of ethics of the teacher, Valuing and re-evaluating the teaching profession, giving it back the dignity and positive image that has been lost. Regularly retraining the teachers and reinforcing their capacities in educational methods, and in scientific as well as political domains. Making them responsible for all the deviancies at school as they themselves have failed in their mission as role models, applying sanctions for all those teachers who corrupt the youth or allow them to become corrupted.
4.4. The managers of the school and academic establishments
This is a question of:
Educating them in management and academic administration as well as the management of material resources and people, making them responsible for and. motivating them to maintain peace and order in their establishments, inciting them to be more rigorous and open.
It would be of the utmost importance that the choice of managers be based on the criteria of competence, but above all on the criterion of moral conscience! Stopping the nominations based on tribal and ethnic affiliation immediately.
It would be appropriate to reward educational and academic establishments which mobilize their energies in the pursuit of excellence and fight against all forms of deviance discredited in the school system.
It would be appropriate to re‑establish orientation tests to permit each learner to make a judicious career choice based on self knowledge and professional demands. This is in order that students do not do the tour of all the schools and sectors. Embittered, they will incite violence in those who progress normally. They are equally identified as the biggest enticers and corrupters.
4.5. Diverse human communities
For as much as they are consumers of the products of the school system, the communities, the existing structures (industries, enterprises, NGOs, public administration) should exercise a positive influence upon the school system, support this system; integrating education into a dynamics of economic, social and cultural progression.
Finally, education is imperative in order to save our Congolese society. The state cannot disengage from its obligation whatever the extent of the political and economic issues it faces.
A state which neglects to take charge of its youth, to equip them with the necessary tools for maximum success, buries its own future! It is nothing but a suicidal state. Such is the threat to the educational system and Congolese society in its entirety, despite the considerable efforts invested for its maintenance.
Educate or perish!