50 Years after Independence ...
How are the Congo's Schools Doing?
In the beginning, the Congolese 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 produced competent staff who still administer the educational facilities well today. Yet are schools constructing a society of initiative, creation, and development? The author was the head of the Psychology Department of the University of Kinshasa, the capital of the Congo, and now heads the French Department of the Henry George School in New York City.
by Marie Rose Mukeni Beya, MRMB, Ph. D., 22 June 2010In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, not only do we “take turns eating”, we also take turns studying! Children see their education interrupted as parents decide to abandon the schooling of an older sibling who must support the family. Older siblings do feel obliged to suspend their studies due to the excessive costs compared with those of brothers and sisters still at primary and secondary levels.
An interrupted schooling is not only costly in energy to relearn, but also in readmission to school establishments; it is necessary to bribe, to lie about the age of the candidate, and to obtain false medical records.
“The very pragmatic spirits” refuse to even attend school. The illiterates say that to be able to read, write, and count implies no superiority either legal or cultural. They have knowledge not suspected by those with qualifications -- “the learned”.
Legal papers can be obtained there through many “short cuts”. Given that corruption penetrates the whole system, what is to be done? Ironically, the government has chosen the new leitmotif of “zero tolerance” toward corruption in business.
It is possible to eradicate corruption, not by declarations of “zero tolerance”, but by teaching positive values.
For the last four years, the "reason” evoked for the Congolese educational system being ineffective is this interminable war. From it has emerged not just violence, corruption, and heinous crimes but also deviance, lack of value, and spiritual and material poverty. The civil war mobilizes enormous financial resourses; the allocated budget for education is 0.02%.
In this context, schools give diplomas to students lacking the minimum of knowledge and know-how. 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).
Evaluations do not reflect the capacities of the learners (at various schools and institutions) but their ability to pay. Tribal, social, and economic status evaluations of parents are made. It is a veritable market place as percentages are discussed. Relations between teachers, students, parents, and the community are tense, each exerting pressure. “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 violent crimes is very long, indeed!
Success is conditioned by payments made at all levels of the system, from the ushers to the head of the establishment and the teachers.
To create equity, the government has tried a quota system to give sons coming from different regions equal access to education. It has become a strategy to promote the tribal or ethnic group, and eliminate or weaken those who don’t conform to the ruling faction. Alert spirits have been quick to change their identities and regions in order to he counted in a regional quota.
The regional quota system has often refused educational access to the best candidates in favor of the mediocre because they were the rare representatives of their region. These mediocre students now occupy positions of responsibility that demand high levels of intelligence and expertise, qualifications they lack. The management of public matters by mediocre people can only result in complete mediocrity!
Filling in for the Congolese state, parents pay schools. Schools select students whose parents are financially capable. The under privileged parents become less and less able to pay (yet long months of unpaid salaries are insignificant compared to the voracious demands from teachers). Their children must use illicit means in order to stay at school!
Knowing themselves to be useless to society, the failed graduates of a broken system 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 survive.
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.
Paths to salvage the educational system
Inform parents of classroom regulations, of their responsibility to encourage their children's regular attendance, and to follow their academic evolution. Multiply the number of school days.
Engage students in regular work, teaching them to “learn how to learn”, and to “learn for life”, molding personality, character, and the spirit of enterprise, as well as instilling moral values.
Select the teachers on the basis of intellectual and moral qualities. Give back to the teaching profession its lost dignity. Regularly retrain teachers. Making them responsible for all the deviancies at school, applying sanctions to those who corrupt the youth or allow them to become corrupted.
Educate principals in academic administration. Make them responsible for maintaining peace and order in their establishments. Incite them to be more rigorous and open. Choose managers on the criteria of competence, but above all on the criterion of moral conscience! Stop the nominations based on tribal and ethnic affiliation immediately.
Re-establish orientation tests to permit each learner to make a judicious career choice based on self-knowledge and professional demands, rather than do the tour of all the schools and sectors. Embittered, they incite violence in those who progress normally. They’re the ones identified as the biggest enticers and corrupters.
The communities, industries, enterprises, NGOs, and bureaucracies should integrate education into the dynamics of economic, social, and cultural progress.
A state which neglects to equip its youth with the necessary tools for maximum success, buries its own future. It is nothing but a suicidal state. Such is the threat to Congolese society. We must educate or perish!
The complete version of this paper can be read at
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