Democratic Republic of Congo: pay to learn

In the resource rich area of Kisangani, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the local population attempts to scrape a living and forget the recent past of conflict and destruction.

To alleviate the situation, JRS supports a number of primary schools in the area. Assistance is provided to reconstruct the buildings, train the teachers and promote girls' participation. In this difficult post-conflict situation, attention is paid not to upset sensitive ethnic relationships. The schools cater for all, locals and displaced alike. However, the situation is not without obstacles.

"Poorly and unpaid teachers look to make a living. State funding for essential equipment and investment does not arrive or is insufficient. Unfortunately, parents are forced to make up the difference. On average, parents must pay one US dollar per month. For families earning between 25 and 30 US dollars a month, this charge is often too much", stated Mr Clemesac.

It is clearly stated in national and international law that children have the right to primary education. But the state lacks the resources to fulfil its commitments. JRS staff have seen how this situation has affected the relationship between pupils and teachers. Those who can pay are favoured and consider their teachers as the sellers of knowledge. The introduction of parental contributions has transformed the teacher-pupil relationship into an economic one.

Nevertheless, this is not the only obstacle. JRS staff also speak of the difficulties of establishing and receiving state recognition for new schools, a process fraught with bureaucracy. In the meantime, teachers are not being paid the full state salary of between 40 and 70 US dollars per month.

"We know a school that has been waiting eight years for this recognition. When a state obviously lacks the skills and resources to establish a public education system, what are the responsibilities of the international community? In Kisangani there are hardly any international organisations or NGOs. JRS is the only partner of the UN children's agency, UNICEF. Do there have to be armed groups in the area before Kisangani can be assisted?" added Mr Clemesac.