By Amini Kajunju*
Early in 2019 during a maiden visit to neighboring countries, a newly-elected President Felix Antoine Tshisekedi announced in Brazzaville that his government will provide free primary education to all Congolese children starting the beginning of the next school. This is great news—in a country with so much untapped wealth, parents should not have to pay for public primary education fees.
The budget allocation would be $2.6B about 40% of the country’s budget of about $7B with 50,000 state primary schools possibly receiving $52,000 per capita. Many schools are in total physical decay and academically inadequate. For President Tshisekedi’s offer to have any real value, his government must further commit to fundamental reforms and pledge a significant financial investment.
The DRC is famous for its vast wealth of natural resources including minerals, timber, and rivers. But the new government has a responsibility to turn its focus to another untapped resource: its human capital.
From the age of three to 30 years of age, young citizens are a captive audience, eager to learn and to innovate. We need to give them a good start for their future so that the country can experience high productivity and wealth creation through massive investment.
If one is looking for an excellent example of how investments in education transformed a poor country into a wealthy one, we need only look to South Korea. In the 50s, South Korea was a poor country. Through visionary leaders and actions, it made education, industrialization, manufacturing, and trade the pillars of their economy. At the height of this investment, the country spent 22% of its budget on education. These investments paid off. Today, South Korea has one of the most educated populaces and the 11th largest economy in the world and currently spends about $20.9B on education about 5% of the country’s budget. DRC’s economy is ranked number 99 today.
Despite DRC’s struggling economy, there is hope. Citizens are ready for a government that is committed to undoing a history of economic disinvestment and mismanagement, to restoring democracy, and to the provision of public goods. To assist with these aspirations, I propose seven fundamental reforms that will create thousands of jobs, accelerate economic development, and meaningfully reduce poverty. It is important to note that these actions will be doubly successful if coupled with substantial investments in energy, water, healthcare, transportation, and agriculture. The following seven reforms are the building blocks of a successful educational system:
DRC’s one number asset is its people and the strong and productive institutions that it creates and sustains
a. Every government has three key jobs: collect enough taxes and fees to fund public goods, protect the citizens from internal and external threats and create an enabling environment for prosperity.
b. Currently, the DRC government collects about $5.6B to $7B per year to fund its operations for a country with a population of 85M people.
c. No real impact can be made from this low tax base to educate millions of youth
d. The individual and collective efforts of Congolese nationals working in the education is important and valuable and must be celebrated.
e. And, we will not be able to educate the masses without government investment and vision.
f. Bring in the private sector as partners and investors in the training and the preparation of the world of work.
g. No country has ever made it into the G20 or the G7 without a productive government and an educated populace.
Train teachers for the 21st-century classroom to increase the quality of learning in elementary and secondary schools.
a. Teachers are the backbone of any educational system. Without adequate training , professional development and pay, teachers will not have the motivation or skills to teach.
b. Build and maintain at least two teacher training colleges in every province of DRC
c. Disseminate these newly trained teachers in all elementary and secondary schools
Implement a 21st-century curriculum from primary to university.
a. A 21st-century curriculum is rooted in the following principles: technology, upgraded learning tools and concepts, a culture of inquiry and research, and the development of problem-solvers and leaders among all participants within the system
b. Set the standards and focus on achieving the required competencies and learning at every grade level
c. Upgrade and increase STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) education
d. At the university level, fund R&D and entrepreneurial investments with the aim of eradicating tropical diseases such as malaria
e. Increase learning and action around climate change and environmental studies as Congo is known as the 2nd lung of the world
f. Upgrade and increase access to learning materials by securing the latest books, online resources, and other educational tools
g. Increase history, civic education, and social responsibility courses
h. Replace rote learning with dialogue, inquiry, and critical thinking at every grade
i. Introduce key soft skills like teamwork, initiative, and ethical leadership
Infuse technology into every aspect of the education system.
a. Every public school from primary to university should have the most updated computer labs for experimentation and learning
b. Provide free 24-hour internet service to all public schools from primary to university
Require age-appropriate entrepreneurial education for every student.
a. Small businesses are the backbone of a thriving economy and the creators of jobs
b. Providing entrepreneurial education will motivate those who are inclined to use this education to found companies and create jobs
Renovate and expand the physical facilities of all existing public education institutions from primary to university.
a. It is very difficult to learn in classrooms and buildings that are collapsing or destroyed
b. Public educational facilities and buildings must represent the goals and dreams of a nation
c. A 21st-century curriculum requires upgraded and functioning physical facilities
Build 26 technical institutions—one in each province.
a. Manufacturing and industrialization are requirements of a modern economy
b. Technical colleges teach the competencies and skills required for industrialization and manufacturing
c. A modern economy needs electricians, plumbers, and health technicians as well as experts in HVAC, aviation, construction, automation, technology, tourism and much more
For a country to advance and reach its full potential, the education system must aspire to improve and join the 21st century. Congo should use its resource-rich environment to propel its economy forward. However, the most valuable of all of Congo’s resources is its people. Therefore, the single most important area for the country to invest in is education. Free primary education is a great place to start, but now is the time to commit to more.
*Ms. Kajunju, a Congolese national, is the executive director of the IUGB Foundation and formerly the President and CEO of Africa-America Institute.Culled from LinkedIn