20 April 2010

Congo-Kinshasa: Primary Education for All - Out of Reach for Children?

Photo: Einberger/argum/EED/IPS
Poverty means many households cannot afford school fees ...

Kinshasa — With only five years to go, Congo is far from reaching the millennium development goal of primary education for all by 2015, with nearly half of Congolese children (more than 3 million) still estimated to be out of school and one in three having never stepped into a classroom.

Universal primary education is one of the key Millennium Development Goals and identified as a priority by the Congolese government, yet funding for education programs remains extremely limited.

"International and government investment in Congo's education sector is grossly insufficient," says Ciaran Donnelly, Regional Director for the International Rescue Committee in Congo. "If we continue with a business as usual approach, basic education will remain an impossible dream for millions of Congolese children."

According to the Congolese government, international donors invested just $150 million in education in 2007 and 2008­only 5% of all foreign assistance to Congo. That amounts to $2 annually in foreign aid for every primary school age child, compared to $19 per Afghan child. Meanwhile, the Congolese government fell short of reaching its own pledge to allocate 16% of its national budget in 2008 to education, allocating only 8%. Doubling that would bring the country in line with the Sub Saharan average.

"We cannot talk of peace, economic development and a future for the Democratic Republic of Congo if the government and donors do not commit in investing in education - the bedrock of human advancement," says Carl Becker, Save the Children's Country Director in Congo.

Congo's education system is largely supported by school fees and that means poor Congolese families, with an average of six children, struggle to keep their kids in school. Monthly fees can amount to $5 per child and a normal wage is about $50 a month. As a result, drop-out rates are high. Half of children who enter first grade never finish primary school.

In a war-torn country like Congo, where close to 2 million people are displaced, education also provides protection.

"Keeping children in school is an important measure to protect children from violence and abuse and give normality to thousands of displaced children," says Ulrika Blom-Mondlane, Country Director for Norwegian Refugee Council in Congo.

"Without adequate funding for the education sector, the quality of education in Congo will continue to suffer." says Jennifer Poidatz, Country Representative for Catholic Relief Services (CRS). "We know that lack of funding prevents the systematic, essential teacher training and support needed to ensure quality learning."

In order to increase enrollment and completion of primary education, lighten the financial burden on poor communities and move closer to meeting the Millennium Development Goals on education, Catholic Relief Services, International Rescue Committee, Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children urge the Congolese government to double its budget for education to 16%. The groups also call on the international community to significantly increase foreign aid spending on Congo's education sector to support multi-year nationwide programs.

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