KINSHASA, 14 November 2011 (IRIN) - Access to basic education in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remains poor, with up to seven million children across the vast country out of school - despite a 2010 government decision to make primary education free.
It said 25 percent of the primary school-aged children and 60 percent of adolescents were not enrolled in classes.
"Even with the announcement of free primary education, parents, many of whom are unemployed and have little means of sustaining themselves, are bearing most of the costs involved in educating their children because of delays in releasing the funds for free education," Ornelie Lelo, communications officer for an education NGO in the capital, SOS Kinshasa, told IRIN.
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Education officials have expressed concern over the severe shortage of teachers in public schools. In primary school, the national average is one teacher for 37 pupils, according to the national statistics, but in marginalized or rural areas, there can be more than 100 pupils per class.
"Many of the public schools in existence are in deplorable conditions; no blackboards in many of them; in some, children sit on the floor due to lack of desks, and the most worrying concern is encroachment on school land by individuals, many of whom are connected politically," Lelo said. "One can find a pharmacy, restaurant or even bar right in the middle of a school compound - it looks like all open spaces in schools are up for grabs.
Tshimbalanga said the average monthly salary for a primary school teacher was $35-40 and since the teachers' salaries are often several months in arrears, parents were forced to chip in.
"Generally, teachers, like other Congolese workers, survive on very little, some even less than $1 a day, yet the cost of education is borne by parents, sometimes even up to 65 percent of the total cost," Tshimbalanga said. "In rural areas, some teachers supplement their earnings by working as casual labourers on farms; those in urban areas end up begging for money from their pupils' parents just to survive."
To improve the quality of education, Tshimbalanga said, the government had to pay teachers properly. He said the teachers’ union entered into an agreement in 2004 with the government for teachers to be paid a minimum of $208 monthly but six years later, this has not been implemented.
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