Broken Chalk is a non-profit organisation with one main goal – To protect human rights in education. The organisation started with a website and articles and is currently working on multiple projects, each aiming to fight human rights violations in the educational sphere. As the UPR is related to human rights violations, inequalities, human trafficking, and other violations, Broken Chalk prepares this article for the fourth Cycle and the specific country – the Congo.
During the last Cycle, the delegation put forward 194 recommendations. The Republic of Congo supported 188 recommendations, and the rest they noted. At the adoption of its UPR outcome at Human Rights Council 40 in March 2019 (an increase of 15% concerning the 2nd cycle). Supported recommendations related to Legal and general framework of implementation, universal and cross-cutting issues, civil and political rights, economic, social, and cultural rights, women’s rights, and rights of other vulnerable groups and persons.
The Republic of Congo (Congo) – not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo – is sparsely populated, with over half its population concentrated in the two largest cities and almost half its population under 18 (World Bank, 2019). Child rights in Congo (also known as Congo-Brazzaville) are improving, with good access to education and many legal mechanisms to protect child rights. Significant concerns remain as children who labour, girls, and indigenous children continue to experience serious rights violations and often have difficulty meeting their basic needs.
The education system in the Republic of Congo (Congo Brazzaville) is a kaleidoscope of realities, shortcomings and consequences of colonialism. At the same time, with an incredible potential to provide new generations with opportunities for development, sustainability and new socio-political and cultural challenges.
This article will present various aspects of the education system in the Republic of Congo, exploring its characteristics, historical contexts, current challenges, international and internal initiatives to improve and develop education in the country. In addition, it will be imperative to analyse the academic paper presented by Dzanvoula Cheri Thibaut Gael, entitled “Promoting Teacher Retention in the Republic of the Congo: Case Study of Primary Schools” (2019).
Furthermore, it is essential to note the connection of the development of the educational system over the years with the different countries in Equatorial Africa, related by the strong influence of France on the region, also marking the national language with administrative systems linked to a colonial past, something that would damage the future of the Congo and its neighbouring countries.
This article will focus on presenting an objective and comprehensive view of the challenges and opportunities in the Congolese education system. An in-depth analysis will highlight the efforts and progress made by the country, as well as the areas where work and attention are still needed to achieve a more inclusive and effective education system.
Context of the country
The Republic of Congo presents different contexts which directly influence the development of the education system. These contexts are political, social, economic and, above all, its colonial past.
Historical context (with colonial past):
David E. Gardinier posits that Equatorial Africa’s French colonial rule substantially influenced Congo’s current educational structure. From the mid-19th to the 20th century, Protestant and Catholic missions were vital in initiating education along the Gabon Estuary. These centres aimed to prepare clergy, catechists, and teachers within a religious framework.
The French colonial government promoted the French language and culture while curtailing the rise of the liberally educated intelligentsia, which could trigger anti-colonial movements. Instead, the administration prioritised grooming practically trained primary school graduates intended to serve as European auxiliaries and intermediaries.
Meanwhile, the Congo Basin experienced several exploitative policies for natural resource extraction, leading to grave environmental and societal repercussions. Following WWII decolonisation, Congo was left with a basic economy heavily reliant on farming. French remained the central language of instruction, and education was intensely focused on French culture, with further educational advancement considered unreachable.
In 1934, Congo dedicated less than 1% of its budget to education, leading to under-equipped schools. Independence was achieved by 1960, yet Congo continued to rely on France for higher education progress. Towards the 20th century latter half, Congo managed to establish a universal primary education system, but this was tightly tethered to the French system. Institutions for higher education were predominantly in France. Post-independence Congo grappled with inadequate educational infrastructure, overpopulated classrooms, and a significant attrition rate among students and teachers.
Since 2021, Anatle Collinet has been democratically elected as the new prime minister, and his policies focus on institutional, economic, social and educational promotion and growth. Congo has a human capital index of 0.42%. It has lagged for decades in progress in health and education, with statistics showing that only 30% of children attend primary school, and only 40% achieve high proficiency in mathematics and French. The country is also in a severe crisis regarding infant mortality, with more than 33 deaths per 1,000 births. Similarly, the infrastructure of public services, such as electricity, is only 66% in urban areas and only 15% in rural areas. On the other hand, access to clean and potable water is below 74% in urban areas and 46% in rural areas, placing it below its hydrological potential.
According to World Bank reports for the Republic of Congo, the country presents extreme poverty, with 52% of the population in 2021, with an economic contraction between 2020 and 2021. These indicators show an economic dependence on oil prices, which fell sharply during the Covid-19 pandemic. The country also has a stable inflation rate of 2% in 2021 and 3.2% in 2022. The GTP’s economic growth is estimated at 4.% in 2023 and 2024, directly linked to risks in international oil price variations. This could positively or negatively affect the development and implementation of education policies.
Education of the Republic of the Congo:
The education system in the country, structured after its independence as a French colony, has undergone several changes and approaches over the decades. Currently, the Republic of Congo has a free and compulsory education system for young people aged 6 to 16. It is classified into two levels: primary education starts at the age of 6 and lasts for six years. During this time, they are taught agricultural techniques, domestic science and manual skills. Then there is secondary-level education, which has two cycles, with four and three years of study; courses are offered in vocational training, academic and technical training, general education, and teacher training.
It is important to note that the country has consolidated higher education institutions over the decades. The university that stands out the most is Marien Ngouabi University, and it has also managed to structure colleges and centres for specialised and technical training.
During the last decades of the Republic of Congo’s socio-economic, political and cultural development, the country has presented challenges in its education system, which have remained constant until today.
Within the report presented by UNICEF for 2020 to 2022, one of the most pressing issues confronting the country is the underdevelopment of pre-primary education possibilities. This issue has far-reaching repercussions for the country’s educational environment and residents’ prospects. The quality of primary education is also inadequate, resulting in only 60% of children attending secondary education, and in the case of higher education, the percentage is even higher. On the other hand, the country has a very high repetition rate per class in primary schools. In the case of vocational education, more is needed to meet the needs of the market and the country’s economy. Another critical challenge is the long list of inequalities that still exist in the country’s regions, according to geography or ethnicity.
Despite these challenges, one situation threatens the future and the capacity for development in the education system. This is the retention of teachers in primary schools, which are one of the fundamental pillars of the education system and the academic preparation of children.
According to a study presented in 2019 with the title “Promoting Teacher Retention in the Republic of the Congo: Case Study of Primary Schools” by the Zhejiang Normal University of China, most teachers in the country become teachers by accident rather than as vocation, with a very high rate of teachers resigning from their jobs in primary schools. Within the study, the teachers who took part in the surveys had all failed their entry exams as secondary school teachers, showing several factors that encouraged career change and resignations. It is estimated that the country has approximately 23,000 teachers, and to achieve adequate coverage of the education sector, 48,000 teachers would be needed, with primary education being the most affected sector. In a 2015 UNICEF report, Congo has more than 529,000 pupils compared to 15,000 teachers, which means that the workload and quality of education are very low.
The study conducted by the Zhejiang Normal University of China found that the motivating elements influence teachers to enter and remain in the primary school teaching business. Most teachers entered the field due to a lack of alternative job possibilities after graduating from university and failing the admission test for secondary teacher training institutes. Although some instructors saw teaching as a passion, most teachers noted a lack of motivating elements for staying in the primary school sector for a lengthy period.
Poor working conditions, poor compensation, and a lack of resources all led to low job satisfaction, which resulted in significant teacher turnover. According to the findings, intrinsic variables such as personal worth, respect, and reputation are more important than extrinsic criteria such as money and promotions in determining teacher turnover and attrition. Finally, intrinsic and extrinsic variables influence teacher turnover and attrition in the primary school sector.
Ambitions, expectations and plans
According to UNICEF, in its report presented for 2020-2022, the Republic of Congo seeks to use education as a lever to develop the economy’s future, diversify it and integrate it into the global economy. Its main objective is to train and educate its population to become a highly skilled and competitive workforce. The report details the strategies the country will have between 2015 and 2025, developed with the full participation of three ministries in charge of the country’s education system. It sets three essential points, focusing on the actions of the education system.
The first point of this strategy is to provide and guarantee a 10-year education for all Congolese children. This strategy would focus on primary education, with essential competencies, and include a first level of secondary education, with all vocational and technical options. Also, as an alternative to general education, the creation of technical schools to provide more significant employment and economic opportunities for rural or underprivileged areas to attend formal education. Similarly, this strategy seeks to provide non-formal literacy programmes for children or young adults who have dropped out of school.
Science education to develop a mathematic and scientific culture. As a second strategy, it seeks to ensure a good match between education and the country’s economic needs by developing high school programmes that prepare students for more advanced academic and professional work demands. On the other hand, it aims for technical high schools to produce and generate competencies relevant to the economic needs of the Republic of Congo. Furthermore, education should have a social development focus.
As a third strategy, the Republic of Congo seeks to strengthen and enable the development of the education sector through two programmes, “Information & Steering” and “management”. These are aimed at enabling the government to have good tools to implement different strategies.
For the development and support of these strategies, the government has a budget of about US $10 million, which will also allow it to establish the main components of these strategies, which are structured in three sections.
As a first area of the programme, it seeks to increase equity in primary education through packages of activities to improve the conditions of schools in Cuvette-Ouest and Plateau. In these places, the percentage of repetition among students is high, and the attendance ratio by gender of students is lower for girls compared to other regions and departments of the country. According to the UNICEF report, the programme would support the construction of classrooms, teaching materials, drinking water and sanitation infrastructure, as well as support the development of school feeding programmes and the distribution of school kits.
As a second component, the programme aims to improve and enhance the quality of learning through in-service teacher training for volunteer teachers and the distribution of teaching materials, including books and exercises. The program activities will supplement efforts covered by other funding sources in the education sector plan, including IDA-financed programs, and will assist volunteer instructors nationally.
The third component seeks an increase in efficiency through measures that contribute to lower repeat rates. The initiative will fund an investigation into the reasons for repetition and modifying government policies that control how schools choose promotion and repetition. Technical assistance will be offered to facilitate the organisation and administration of curriculum updates, which encompasses the incorporation of pre-primary education, examination and pinpointing of educational methods that can be expanded, enhanced alignment between fundamental education and vocational or technical training, as well as the implementation of a 10-year foundational education period. The latter component also includes support in renewing the system for managing databases, which support the yearbooks.
World Bank Report
Furthermore, in a report presented in January 2022 by the World Bank, the government of the Republic of Congo developed a new National Development Plan for 2022 to 2026. It emphasises economic diversification to diminish vulnerabilities and steer the nation towards robust, resilient, and all-encompassing growth. It also established a partnership between the World Bank and the country until 2025, called the Country Partnership Framework (CPF). In line with the government’s goals, the CPF seeks to assist the country in improving economic governance, fostering a business climate that encourages economic diversification, fortifying its human resources, and improving the delivery of essential public services, particularly in the areas of health, education, and social welfare. As of September 2, 2022, the World Bank’s portfolio included 14 domestic projects and two regional projects totalling $788.96 million in commitments supported by IDA, IBRD, and Trust Funds.