The Legacy of Colonialism, Discrimination, and the High Cost of Living: Areas of Improvement for the Canadian Education System

Written by Enes Gisi

Canada is a wealthy country with rich natural resources and one of the highest GDPs in the world. Behind this wealth, however, lie deep inequalities in access to quality education. These barriers to education are not always confined to school buildings, as Indigenous peoples of Canada experience the impacts of Canada’s colonial past today. Other challenges in education include sexual abuse of kids, food insecurity, and lack of housing for post-secondary students. Addressing these challenges proves difficult as the three levels of the government – federal, provincial, and municipal, are each responsible for some of them. Taking effective and quick action, however, is a challenge for the Canadian bureaucracy. Government levels sometimes pass the responsibility for an issue back and forth, causing confusion among Canadians about who is responsible for what.

Children at Fort Simpson Indian Residential School holding letters that spell “Goodbye,” Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories, 1922. Photo by J. F. Moran. Library and Archives Canada on Wikimedia Commons.

Access to Education for Indigenous Peoples of Canada

To understand why the Indigenous education system is especially troubled, it’s essential to investigate the historical injustices they suffered. Indigenous peoples (also referred to as “Aboriginal peoples”) are native to the land that we today call Canada. The colonization of the land began in the 16th century with the arrival of British and French colonizers. Indigenous peoples were called “savages” and were believed to be “less civilized” than the European Canadians (“Lower Education”, 2023). Beginning in the early 17th century, various forms of schooling systems were set up (Gordon & White, 2014). The first systems created by the French settlers aimed to “Francize” the Indigenous peoples. While the British settlers initially formed alliances with the Indigenous peoples against the French and the Americans, later their policy shifted towards the same goal: “civilizing” them. Until 1951, Indigenous children were forcibly separated from their families and placed in residential schools, where they were prohibited from speaking their native languages and practicing their cultures, all to “reclaim” them from “a state of barbarism” (Wilson,1986, p. 66, as cited in Gordon & White, 2014). They received low-quality education and experienced physical, emotional, and sexual abuse (White & Peters, 2009 as cited in Gordon & White, 2014). When they returned home, they could no longer connect with their families or the non-Indigenous society (“What Is The Root Cause Of Indigenous Education Issues”, 2015). The last residential school was shut down in 1996, but the legacy of colonialism and negligence on the part of the federal government are still affecting Indigenous children.


Indigenous people experience a significantly higher rate of homelessness compared to the Canadian average (“Inadequate Housing And Crowded Living Conditions”, 2023). However, the issue of inadequate housing may have a closer connection to student success. Nearly 25 percent of Indigenous children under the age of 15 live in low-income households, which is double the percentage for non-Indigenous children (“Inadequate Housing And Crowded Living Conditions”, 2023). One implication of this situation is that some families are residing in homes that are too small for their needs. Indigenous students living in overcrowded houses may not get enough sleep and be able to study or do their homework in a quiet space. These, in turn, may impact their mental health, school success, and secondary education and employment prospects.

Graduation rates

The rate of high school completion of Indigenous children living on reserves, land reserved exclusively for the First Nations people, is low at 24 percent. This number was initially misrepresented by the Canadian government when it published a report presenting the rate as 46 percent (Coates, 2022). This calculation didn’t account for the students who had dropped out between grades 9 and 11. According to a report by the Auditor General of Canada, the Canadian government had also neglected its reporting responsibilities concerning Indigenous education, reporting on only 6 out of the 23 education results it had committed to report on (Office of the Auditor General of Canada, 2018).

While Indigenous children living off-reserve generally had better educational prospects compared to those on-reserve, their graduation rate from off-reserve provincial schools was still lower than that of non-Indigenous children. According to a 2021 report, the rate of on-time high school graduation from provincial schools in Saskatchewan was 88.7 percent. Among these students, the on-time graduation rate of Indigenous students was 44.7 percent (Clemett, 2023).

When it comes to post-secondary education, the data also highlights disparities. First Nations people, one of the three groups within the Indigenous population, have a post-secondary completion or recent attendance to a post-secondary institution rate of 37 percent, whereas the rate for non-Indigenous individuals is significantly higher at 72 percent (Layton, 2023).

Students, a former premier of British Columbia, a former British Columbia minister, and an Indigenous leader gathered around a bonfire. Image via Flickr by @bchovphotos.

School Funding and Resources

Many Indigenous students go to school in difficult circumstances and need extra support from the education system. Most on-reserve Indigenous students are not able to continue their studies without some, in some cases extensive, school-provided support or direct intervention (Coates, 2022). In most Canadian schools, perhaps 80 percent of students can succeed without school-based services or intervention. A significant number of on-reserve Indigenous students, sometimes one in three or more, however, require extensive support from their schools to succeed.

The ability of reserve schools to provide services to their students is, however, limited due to insufficient funding from the federal government. First Nations schools receive 30 percent less funding per student compared to other schools (Dart, n.d.). This leads to one obvious thing: Indigenous children are disadvantaged. They don’t have access to as many social workers, mental health professionals, and special education instructors. Alethea Wallace, a (former) principal of the Alexis School, a First Nation school, describes how inadequate funding impacts the school (Hampshire, n.d.). She says that the school is not able to offer art, drama, and music programs due to lack of funding. It also does not have a science lab or a computer lab. Parts of the school are utilized for unrelated purposes: the library and the janitor’s office as classrooms. Kristina Alexis, a student from the school, says her classroom hosts two classes at the same time where two teachers teach different subjects. Classes are overcrowded, and most classrooms are split among two grade levels.

Evan Taypotat, a former principal of Chief Kahkewistahaw Community School, and the current chief of the Kahkewistahaw First Nation, says “The average funding for a reserve kid is about $6,800 (Dart, n.d.). The funding for a kid in Broadview, which is about 10 minutes away, is $11,000.” Federal funding increases for reserve schools are capped at an annual 2 percent, which is lower than the inflation rate in Canada. There are two main issues that Indigenous leaders are currently seeking to resolve: gaining control over how federal education funding is allocated and advocating for more funding to match the funding other schools receive. Granting First Nations control over how the money is spent may allow them to implement more culturally appropriate systems.

A student bullying a classmate who’s sitting at her desk. Photo by RDNE Stock project from Pexels.

Racism, Exclusion, and Violence in School

A comprehensive 2023 report published by Children First Canada shows that bullying and violence among Canadian children have become serious threats to children’s well-being (Children First Canada, 2023). Students avoid visiting washrooms where they would get bullied, even if it means soiling themselves. Bullying mainly occurs at school or in online environments. The report highlights that 7 in 10 students between the ages of 15 and 17 experience bullying. Violence and hate speech remain pervasive problems in school and sports settings.

Most disabled students experience discrimination and exclusion. According to a 2022 report from the New Brunswick Office of the Child, Youth, and Seniors’ Advocate, only 1 in 5 disabled students feel like they belong, and they often feel unsafe at school (“Advocate Releases Office of the Child Report, 2022). Their participation in sports is also lower compared to their peers.

Jacqueline, a Jewish-Canadian high school student in Toronto says she experiences antisemitism as some people make references to Hitler or draw swastikas (Wong, 2023). She says that these acts are seen as funny among these people. She finds the Holocaust education at school insufficient in countering the hateful content that young people share online.

Sexual violence statistics are alarming. According to the 2022 report by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, between 2017 and 2021, “at least 548 children and youth” in kindergarten to grade 12 “experienced an act of sexual nature made by 252 school personnel”, and 38 school personnel were criminally charged for offences related to illicit digital content involving minors (Children First Canada, 2023).

Religious students from Quebec who practice their faith face a discriminatory challenge due to a directive from the Quebec Education Minister, Bernard Drainville. This directive prohibited “any practice of religious activity” in schools and other education centres (Feith, 2023). According to a legal challenge in response to the ban, Muslim students had been praying in a designated area in a school for months with no issues. The father of a Muslim student in Quebec says that his child is now forced to pray in secret, without knowing the consequences if he’s found praying at school.

Workers handling food hampers. Image via Flickr, by @bcgovphotos.

Food Insecurity

Canada is the only G7 country that doesn’t have a national school food program (Alphonso, 2023). Many Canadian students rely on food programs that are funded by provinces and charities. One in five, or roughly a million students, are receiving assistance in the form of meals and snacks. An educational assistant in an Ontario school says that some students would not be able to come to school if the school didn’t provide food hampers. The charity working with the school says the increasing demand strains their budget. Black and off-reserve Indigenous children are more likely to live in food-insecure households than their White counterparts (Children First Canada, 2023).

Post-secondary affordability

The rising cost of living is leaving university students unable to afford food and rent. More than 60% of university students reported earning less than 20,000 dollars a year, and almost 3 in 4 students (72%) reported allocating 30% or more of their income to paying rent (Cameron, 2023). Centre for Addiction and Mental Health states that there’s a “critical” lack of affordable housing in Canada (“Housing and Mental Health Policy Framework”, 2022). Mateusz, a University of Calgary Student’s Union representative, says that the university is being irresponsible by admitting too many students without supplying housing (Tran, 2023). He says that rents are skyrocketing and argues there’s a housing crisis (Kaufmann, 2023). There have been students who lived in their cars in Calgary due to the housing shortage, he adds. Some students were only able to find housing in remote areas, where commuting to the campus became an issue (Derworiz, 2023). In addition, two in five university students experience food insecurity, more than half of them reported they could only afford low-quality food, and 1 in 6 students said they had days where they couldn’t eat at all.

Concluding Remarks and Recommendations

Indigenous peoples’ rights are protected by international law, most prominently under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was an important step in the right direction. It was a government initiative that was mandated to collect testimonies from the victims of the Residential School System. It helped create public awareness and encouraged further action to reconcile with the Indigenous peoples. Jack Harris, a former National Democratic Party Member of Parliament, cites Canada’s poor Indigenous rights record as one of the potential reasons why Canada lost its 2020 bid for a temporary seat at the United Nations Security Council (Harris, 2020). Providing Indigenous communities with the necessary legal and material tools to offer culture-appropriate and high-quality education should be Canada’s priority.

Another significant challenge seems to be the increasing cost of living. More post-secondary students experience food and housing insecurity, two things people shouldn’t have to worry about when pursuing higher education. From students living in their cars to students living in overcrowded houses, the high cost of living in Canada is taking a toll on students’ well-being. Better student loans and grants and more student residences provided by the universities can help.

  • Alphonso, C. (2023, March 15). With food costs soaring and no national program, Canadian schools struggle to feed students. The Globe and Mail.
  • Cameron, A. C., Grant, R., Kemle, A. (2023, August 16). Living in the Red. Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.
  • Center for Addiction and Mental Health. (2022, February). Housing and Mental Health Policy Framework. Center for Addiction and Mental Health.—public-policy-submissions/housing-policy-framework-pdf.pdf
  • Children First Canada. (2023, August). Top 10 Threats to Childhood in Canada. Children First Canada.
  • Clemett, T. (2023, June). Report of the Provincial Auditor to the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan. Provincial Auditor of Saskatchewan.
  • Coates, K. (2022, May 18). Indigenous education can and must be fixed: Ken Coates for Inside Policy. Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
  • Dart, C. First Nations Schools Are Chronically Underfunded. CBC Docs.
  • Derworiz, C. (2023, August 26). University students struggling to find housing amid affordability crisis. Global News.
  • Feith, J. (2023, June 13). Quebec’s school prayer ban infringes on religious rights, groups argue. Montreal Gazette.
  • Gordon, C. E., White, J. P. (2014). Indigenous Educational Attainment in Canada. The International Indigenous Policy Journal, 5(3). DOI:10.18584/iipj.2014.5.3.6
  • Hampshire, G. Alexis School. CBC News.
  • Harris, K. (2020, June 18). Canada loses its bid for seat on UN Security Council. CBC News.
  • Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. (2015, April 8). What Is The Root Cause Of Indigenous Education Issues. Indigenous Corporate Training Inc.
  • Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. (2023, February 28). Inadequate Housing And Crowded Living Conditions – #3 Of 8 Key Issues. Indigenous Corporate Training Inc.
  • Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. (2023, January 31). Lower Education – #2 Of 8 Key Issues For Indigenous Peoples In Canada. Indigenous Corporate Training Inc.
  • Kaufmann, B. (2023, July 12). ‘Living in cars’: U of C students face worsening housing shortage. Calgary Herald.
  • Layton, J. (2023, June 21). First Nations youth: Experiences and outcomes in secondary and postsecondary learning. Statistics Canada.
  • Office of the Auditor General of Canada. (2018, April 11). Report 5—Socio-economic Gaps on First Nations Reserves—Indigenous Services Canada. Office of the Auditor General of Canada.
  • Office of the Child, Youth and Seniors’ Advocate. (2022, 21 June). Advocate Releases Office of the Child Report. New Brunswick Canada.
  • Tran, P. (2023, July 12). University of Calgary Students’ Union pushes for affordable housing as rents rise. Global News.
  • Wong, J. (2022, November 3). Antisemitic conspiracies are rampant online. Students, experts share how to combat them. CBC News.

Educational Challenges in Brazil

Written by Daniel Ordoñez

Brazil stands out as the most biodiverse country on planet Earth, and with a territory covering more than 8.51 million km² is the largest country on the South American continent. Since its independence as a colony of Portugal, its territorial extension and political systems have directly influenced the development of the population, particularly in how the education system has been structured and designed. The constant socio-political changes and economic circumstances have been factors that have directly influenced the education system in the country.

This article will outline the different mechanics and factors that have influenced education in Brazil, as well as the different modifications it has undergone throughout the federal administrations, the projects underway and the challenges facing the system.

The sociocultural context and the education system

With the arrival of the Portuguese colonisers to the South American continent, Brazil would change its historical destiny forever, becoming the most important colony and the future of the Portuguese kingdom, as well as influencing politics, the structuring of the modern Brazilian state and its socio-economic evolution. The Catholic Church strongly influenced Brazilian society due to its past as a Portuguese colony. Unlike many European nations, Brazil was not affected by the various changes brought about by the Reformation movement in Europe.

During its early years of colonisation, Brazil was the destination of numerous Jesuit missions. These missionaries established the first colleges and educational centres in the country. However, in the 18th century, during the burgeoning Enlightenment movements, the Jesuit missions were expelled from the country. This period also brought about reforms in the Brazilian political system, according to Schwartzman (2006). These Enlightenment reforms led to the creation of Brazil’s national primary education system, which meant dismantling much of Catholic education in the country. Finally, it is worth mentioning that in 1838 Pedro II College was founded as the first primary school in Rio de Janeiro and marked an important milestone in the country’s educational system’s evolution.

Children attend school near Manaus, Brazil in the Amazon region. Brazil. Photo: Julio Pantoja / World Bank

By the 19th century, Brazil was a predominantly rural society with a highly centralised government that tried to adapt to ideas from Europe’s nation-states. In addition, most of the population was in a precarious economic state, with multiple disconnected provinces and economic models focused solely on mining and sugar exploitation (Schwartzman 11, 2006). A small white elite of Portuguese descent headed most of the decision-making, followed by a mixed majority of slave descendants, Native Americans and Portuguese settlers.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the demography of the country changed considerably, receiving an influx of immigrants from all continents and countries in the same hemisphere in order to replace the slave labour that worked in the coffee, tobacco and corn plantations and with the industrial revolution, a considerable part of the rural population moved to the big cities, with the promise of better-payed jobs and better life quality. By the mid-20th century, an estimated 25% of the population was literate, with primary and secondary education being the responsibility of the local state. German, Japanese and Italian immigrants formed their private schools, with a strong influence from their native countries.

On 15 November 1889, the Empire was replaced by the Republican regime, which fostered an even more modern state that could more coherently integrate the national community, and established the first public schools. During the process of industrialisation of the country, which began at the end of the 19th century, schools had no system to unify and regulate them, which in a way, it promoted the implementation of modernisation policies, focusing on the creation of “school groups”, using the most advanced architectural technologies for the construction of schools; organising students according to their age and proficiency, following a multi-serial and sequential programme. Likewise, schools for training professional teachers called “escoltas normais” were founded, introducing new teaching and training techniques.

With the government of Getulio Vargas, from 1930 to 1945 and 1951 to 1954, the first fundamental reforms in the educational system were created, promoting a more centralised methodology and creating the Ministry of Education and Culture. During this era, the provision of elementary or primary education, which was expected to be compulsory and universally accessible, spanned four years, accommodating children between the ages of 7 to 10. The gymnasium succeeded in this initial phase, perceived as secondary education, which, too, lasted four years. Lastly, the “college” stage was in place, extending for two to three years, and was designed as a precursor to university education. A vital characteristic that would mark the future of education in the country was the lack of governmental interest in training students and teachers in technical and industrial careers, which left the door open to the private sector to meet this demand. By 1931, the first legislation to promote universities was created with the “Manifest of the Pioneers of the New Education”, implementing a French educational model and an Italian one for the faculties of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters.

After the military dictatorship, which ended in 1988, the new constitution established the right to education for all citizens of Brazil, allowing universities autonomy in research and teaching and promoting free public education from primary to secondary school. Subsequently, in 1996, Congress approved a new reform that would give educational institutions greater freedom and flexibility in setting up courses and programmes.

Challenges of the Education System

The attempt to comprehend and interpret why education in Brazil did not progress as swiftly as in other countries hinges on historical context. In brief, the main reason is the absence of factors in Brazilian society that would encourage its citizens to establish and nurture their academic institutions. Further, at both the national and regional scale, the Brazilian government needed more human and financial resources and the necessary drive to integrate its population into a uniform, top-down educational system. Sources for the development of the educational system, two strong trends marked its evolution, the first was the proliferation of primary and secondary education, and the second was the establishment of institutions for conferring professional competencies and official certifications.

In his 2006 paper entitled “The Challenges of Education in Brazil”, Simon Schwartzman states that the country did not have a properly developed education system due to several factors that hampered its evolution. The domain of teacher education was demoted to less prestigious components of higher educational establishments and the private sector. It did not cultivate robust postgraduate and research programs like those in the more scholarly social sciences such as economics, sociology, political science, and the natural sciences.

The isolation of teacher education and traditional “teaching” social sciences has resulted in some unintended outcomes. This has led to a new generation of well-organised and politically driven teachers who often need more teaching skills or subject matter expertise. They often need clarification about teaching methodologies or content; shockingly, they dismiss these aspects as insignificant. They perceive society as unjust, with exploitation rampant and governments showing apathy towards educators and education. They believe meaningful change can only occur through substantial social transformation or revolution.

According to Schwartzman, another factor was the rapid and uncontrolled expansion of the education system without clear guidance and the early retirement of many retired teachers, with two clear consequences. First, the financial burden of public higher education escalated dramatically, which constrained the government’s capacity to meet the rising demand for higher education and maintain salaries that outpace inflation. As a second point, only a fraction of the appointed individuals possessed the education and skills required for advanced academic tasks. To enhance the quality of education, new laws were enacted, with the objective of promotions and salary hikes with higher educational degrees, resulting in an inflated growth of specialisation and master’s programs.

Another essential aspect to highlight is the rate of young people who drop out of primary education in Brazil, many students lose the motivation to finish their primary or secondary studies because of the low quality of teachers and classes, or they have to work to earn money for themselves or their families. This is due to the expansion of the academic system without proper structuring, with irrelevant courses for young people or teachers who need to be more motivated.

A school in the Northeast region of Brazil (Escola Duarte Coelho) Photo by: Passarinho/Pref.Olinda

During the OECD’s economic report for 2020 and 2021, during the Covid-19 era, several aspects of the education system that Brazil lacks were highlighted, and challenges about its future and evolution were presented. According to the report, the governmental composition of the country and its bilevel bureaucracy between states and municipalities means that no national system allows the harmonious functioning of roles and responsibilities in the guidelines of how to manage schools and present a coherent education policy. Considering Brazil’s devolved education structure, which places federal, state, and municipal bodies equally, establishing a National Education System is complex. This issue, along with the numerous proposals previously mentioned, continues to be a hot topic of discussion among government bodies, civil society, and the public.

Another aspect highlighted by the OECD report is the growing disparity between the public and private education systems. While the public system covers more than 81% of the youth population, the private system meets the demand for tertiary education, technology and university training. In Brazil, over 75% of undergraduate students are enrolled in private universities, contrasting to less than a third in OECD countries. The previous decades have seen a surge in private sector enrollments and the number of private higher education institutions due to relaxed regulations since the late 1990s. Government funding programs such as the Student Financing Fund (FIES) and the “University for All” Program (ProUni) have facilitated access for underprivileged students to private institutions. However, a more significant proportion of less affluent individuals are enrolled in the public higher education network compared to private institutions (9.7% versus 5.5%). In general, higher education is primarily accessed by the more advantaged individuals.

These figures are also supported by the report presented by the US Department of Commerce in 2023, which shows how private institutions represent the majority of the education system, while public institutions are shown to be small bodies, unable to meet the demand for higher education. Public higher education institutions are positioned as hubs of high-quality learning and research, having extremely selective admission procedures and constrained expansion capabilities. On the other hand, private higher education institutions have crafted a distinct role, primarily addressing the professional demands of the job market. Consequently, they have formulated adaptive programs to cater to the requirements of the working demographic.

Latest projects and policies

Within the report presented by UNICEF in 2018, Brazil introduced a programme for developing the education system for the year 2021. Under national priorities and following the guidelines established in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the country focused its education projects on promoting and “facilitating the generation and knowledge exchange to identify the most excluded children and to monitor and measure the progress of actions in the fulfilment of their rights” (UNICEF 4, 2018). Using the ‘Theory of Change’, Brazil focused on creating partnerships between public and private entities, encompassing civil society, media and private sectors, on ensuring quality education access for all Brazil’s children, regardless of their strata, ethnicity or social conditions.

These UNICEF-driven policies had four fundamental components. Firstly, “Enhanced policies for excluded children”. Secondly, “Quality social policies for vulnerable children”. Thirdly, “Prevention of and response to extreme forms of violence”. Moreover, as a fourth and final component, “Engaged citizenship and participation”.

UNICEF’s final report showed results and progress in several facets of education in Brazil. In the first instance, more evidence was gathered on the causes of the increased exclusion of children through the development of the School Active Search strategy (SAS) and the Successful School Path (SSP) programmes, using the SAS system to monitor and measure the identification and reintegration of out-of-school children.

As a second development, specialised programmes for the most excluded children were created at national and subnational levels; “by the implementation of the SAS, through intersectoral articulation, population engagement, dialogue with families and school involvement and exchange of experiences among participating municipalities and states” (UNICEF 5, 2018).

Thirdly, the retention of both girls and boys in the primary education system has significantly increased, thanks to intersectoral policies that emphasise diversity and incorporate contextualised education. These policies are embodied in a variety of initiatives. For instance, research has been conducted on age-grade distortion and practical guidebooks have been produced to support educational strategies. Moreover, a seminar was held to introduce the “Indicators on Early Childhood Education Methodology”. This included the provision of materials and guidelines to facilitate self-assessment of school performance, this initiative aimed to foster a democratic management style that encourages the participation of children, families, teachers, and employees. One notable effort is the “Open Doors for Inclusion Initiative”, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). This course guides how to enhance the inclusion of children with disabilities in schools, signifying an essential step towards inclusive education.

The fourth advance, presented by UNICEF, is the improvement in guidance and policies for the promotion of satisfactory schooling trajectories, including children and adolescents who were victims of violence and have dropped out of school or are at risk of dropping out, as well as victims of child labour and children without civil registration.

Fifth, the involvement of citizens in advocating for the rights of boys and girls has grown, mainly through public advocacy efforts. The general election in the latter half of 2018 was seized as a unique chance to highlight the rights of children and adolescents. This was accomplished through the “More than Promises” advocacy campaign, designed around six central issues young people face. The campaign also proposed specific actions for elected officials to address these issues, demonstrating a proactive approach to realising children’s rights.

Finally, the report states how the level of knowledge and the opportunities for mobilisation and participation of adolescents in public decision-making forums have significantly increased. This growth has been particularly evident in actions that aim to enhance the development and participation of adolescents and youth in various debates. Key topics have included the safe use of the Internet and gender issues. As a result of these efforts, more than 30,000 adolescents were allowed to participate in the School Active Search program in 2019, reflecting a notable increase in youth engagement.

Cover image by Matheus Câmara da Silva on Unsplash


The Brazilian education system | Education in Brazil : An International Perspective | OECD iLibrary. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2023, from

Brazil – Education and Training. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2023, from

Brazil Education System. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2023, from

Education GPS – Brazil – Overview of the education system (EAG 2022). (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2023, from;treshold=10&topic=EO

Education system Brazil. (n.d.). Retrieved June 11, 2023, from

Reforming Brazil’s Education System – BORGEN. (n.d.). Retrieved June 11, 2023, from

The education system of described and compared with the Dutch system. (n.d.).

The_Challenges_of_Education_in_Brazil.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2023, from

UNICEF BRAZIL Programmatic Area – Education Thematic Report March – December 2018. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2023, from

Educational Challenges in Congo

Written by Daniel Ordoñez

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.

Students from Brazzaville. Photo by Fdsm.

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.

  • Sociopolitical Context:

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.

  • Economic context:

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.

Young students at the Mugosi Primary School, Kitschoro. Photo by M. Hofer, UNESCO.


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.

Teachers attrition

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.


Congo | UNESCO UIS. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from

Congo (Brazzaville) – Education – Country Dashboard – All. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from

Congo Education ~ Education in the Congo ~ Congo Brazzaville Education. (n.d.). Retrieved March 29, 2023, from

Congo, Republic of the Education System. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from

Education in Republic of Congo | Global Partnership for Education. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from

Gael, D. C. T. (2019). Promoting Teacher Retention in the Republic of the Congo: Case Study of Primary Schools. Journal of Educational System.

Gardinier, D. E. (1974). Schooling in the States of Equatorial Africa. Canadian Journal of African Studies/La Revue Canadienne Des Études Africaines, 8(3), 517–538.

Republic of the Congo – Education | Britannica. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from

Republic of the Congo Overview: Development news, research, data | World Bank. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from