Written by Emmanuel Ayoola
Central African Republic, a country landlocked in the heart of Africa is one of the poorest countries in the world. It struggles with a history of conflict, instability, and displacement which poses grave challenges to the peaceful development of the nation. The country faces serious educational challenges. Often described as one of the toughest places to live in the world as a child, the country suffers from an earnest problem of lack of access to quality and safe education and this is not unconnected to the conflict and instability that has plagued the country over the years. Two-thirds of the children in the country either do not attend school regularly or at all. [i]
The practical realities of these challenges are damning and they take significant tolls on education in the country. The next section of this article will examine some of the challenges militating against access to quality education in the country.
Challenges to Education
There are several challenges to educational advancement in the Central African Republic. These issues range from incessant conflicts to, lack of access to education, poor quality of education, gender exclusion, poverty, and a lack of political will to deal with the education crisis.
- Conflicts and Instability: Serious conflict and instability have ravaged the Central African Republic for several years and this has negatively affected the education system. These conflicts have left in their trail, carnage and destruction. The education system has taken a major hit as well. Lots of schools have been destroyed and a lot of others, taken over and converted to bases by armed groups. In the wake of all these, several teachers have fled the country.
The impact of these conflicts has been very significant on the educational system in the country and has led to the closure of several public schools. The lack of the needed human resource and materials to run the schools, coupled with the deplorable condition of the host communities has made the availability of quality education in the country a mirage. As a result of this, there has been a significant spike in the establishment of private schools. While this is a welcome development, it however does very little in solving the problem of access to quality education as the quality of the education remains a challenge coupled with lack of access due to the inability to pay for education, largely because of poverty.
- Lack of Access: This is one of the major challenges affecting education in the Central African Republic. There is widespread limited access to education in the country with a lot of children lacking access to primary and secondary education even though by law, education is free and compulsory for children up to 15 years. According to the World Bank, about 30% of children in the country did not attend primary school while an estimated 22% did not attend secondary school.[ii] Children in rural areas are particularly faced with the disadvantage of lack of access due to social problems such as a dearth of infrastructure, inadequate funding, and insecurity.
- Poor Quality: A poor quality of education is also a challenge the country grapples with. Even for those who are able to attend school, they are faced with the challenge of the poor quality of education offered. The teachers are often underpaid and lack the necessary training. Also, there are no support programs to help teachers and students from conflict situations properly reintegrate into the schools.
- Gender Exclusion and Social Inequalities: Girls in the Central African Republic are disadvantaged when it comes to education. They have a lower enrollment rate and a higher dropout rate compared to boys. Negative cultural sentiments towards girls’ education contribute to this as well. Girls are forced into early marriages and early pregnancy and domestic violence. All these contribute to a high rate of girls’ exclusion from education. Education indicators reveal that the expected length of schooling for boys is 5.3 years as compared to 3.8 years for girls. Fewer girls have access to secondary education as compared to boys.[iii] While the lot of the boys seem to be fairer, they are however not completely exempt from socio-cultural sentiments that preclude access to education. Boys are also faced with the risk of becoming child soldiers. This is a threat to their access to education.[iv]
- Poverty: Due to poverty, many families are unable to send their children to school. Although education is said to be free in the country for children up till they are 15 years of age, there are usually still related costs, such as; the cost of textbooks and uniforms. These costs force a lot of children out of school and they are compelled to start working to support their families.
- Lack of Political Will and Inadequate Government Support: The government of the country is not making adequate investments in the education sector of the country. This is in spite of its Education Sector Plan[v]for 2020-2029 which shows a strong political will to address the educational challenges in the country by highlighting four key points:
- Access to education and equity
- Recruitment and training of teachers
- Quality of learning
- Governance and education spending.
However, a lot has not been achieved despite these lofty goals. The bureaucratic administration of the education sector is also a factor that has not been addressed yet by the government. Education in the country is administered by four different ministries:
- The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MEPS)
- The Ministry of Technical Education and Literacy (META)
- The Ministry of Higher Education (MES)
- The Ministry of Scientific Research and Technological Innovation (MRSIT).
This, to say the least, makes coordination of the education sector difficult and cumbersome. Also, the government has been lacking in the level of support it provides for the enrolment of children in schools.
An example to illustrate this failure is the case of the indigenous Ba’aka children, only a few of these children attend primary school. The United States Department of State in its findings identified that there was no significant support from the government in increasing the enrolment of Ba’aka children in schools. More also, this lack of support has resulted in children and girls of the Central African Republic having limited access to education.[vi]
In addressing these challenges, the government of the Central African Republic must prioritize investment in the educational sector, especially in rural areas and disadvantaged communities. More support and training should be provided to the teachers and overall, better infrastructure must be developed for schools, including the provision of textbooks and materials that will improve the quality of education. Furthermore, investments must be in sensitizing communities against sociocultural biases and sentiments that could preclude boys and girls from having access to education. Conclusively, the government must keep the schools safe and free from all forms of violence.