The Mukasa Primary School is a subsidised school, located in Kimbanseke, the most populous commune in the city of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This school benefits from the measure of free basic education, thus relieving many parents, formerly suffocated by exorbitant fees that they had to pay to schools. Free education has brought a lot of changes – and not always for the better. Here is what I noticed in this school and in other neighboring ones.
Teachers’ behavior: for reduced wages, reduced work
Before free education, everything was more or less ordered in the schools of the city of Kinshasa. Classes always started on the first day of the start of the school year, teachers were present during the year and regularly taught. The school had a good reputation with parents.
But today, with free education, teachers have become negligent. As proof, the lessons did not start until two weeks after the official start of classes in Kinshasa.The lessons are no longer given with teaching materials as before. Even worse, teachers give lessons without the will to get children to understand. “Whether I teach well or not, I will have my salary at the end of the month,” said a teacher I met.
Another bitter observation is that to supplement their salaries, some teachers sold food to students during school hours. And, I wondered, how can kids stay focused when they already have a cookie, spaghetti, sausage or cake in hand? This last situation is not necessarily the effect of free education, but it was may be amplified by the overcrowding of classes
Overcrowding of students in class
Before free education, there were between 30 to 40 students in classes at Mukasa Primary School. This year, the classrooms are crowded: nearly 80 students have to share the benches. The pupils who put themselves two by bench came to put themselves in 3 or 4 on the same bench
Under these conditions, it is impossible to follow each student properly and to make sure that each one makes progress. This is all the more serious for pupils in the 1st and 2nd year of primary education who need to be closely scrutinized
During my visit to the Mukasa Primary School, I was able to question a few students who told me that they could not finish writing what the teacher had put on the board that this one had already cleaned it
Free yes, but quality!
It is only recently that many parents have learned that primary school is compulsory and free for children, in accordance with articles 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and 38 of the Law on the Protection of the Child. .
Free basic education is a good thing because it allows children to enjoy this basic right to education. However, it is not enough : it must be of good quality and suitable for all categories of children. I plead for the government to take all measures to guarantee the quality of education.
Nelson Mandela said that education is the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world, but only if quality education is preserved.