Church in DR Congo “not against free primary education,” Cardinal Clarifies

The Archbishop of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has clarified that the Catholic Church is not opposed to free primary school education.

Addressing journalists on Monday, November 23, Fridolin Cardinal Ambongo dismissed social media reports that the Catholic Church is blocking the implementation of a constitutional provision allowing free access to basic education in the country.

“The Church is not against free education or pushes teachers to go on strike. People should not go about telling stories,” Cardinal Ambongo told journalists at the golden jubilee celebration of the St. Clement Parish Makala of Kinshasa Archdiocese.

The Cardinal said that the Catholic Church leadership is always ready to support parents in the education of their children while waiting on the government to implement the free education program.

“As a church, we say that where parents organize themselves and agree with teachers to find an intermediate solution while waiting for the state to play its role, we do not refuse,” the 60-year-old Cardinal said.

He continued, “We, as the Catholic Church, are not going to forbid parents to intervene in the education of their children if it is they themselves who propose it in dialogue with the teachers. Because the essential thing is that our children be educated.”

“The Church observes but helps everyone to reflect on the main objective of education, which is our children,” Cardinal Ambongo further said, adding, “We cannot sacrifice the future of our children. We have to find a solution so that our children can be brought up. The future of our country is at stake.”

President Felix Tshisekedi decided to apply Article 43 of the Constitution by proclaiming free education throughout the Central African nation beginning the academic year 2019/2020.

Even though many have welcomed the move, the problem of unpaid teachers has made its implementation difficult, especially in private schools.

For nearly 30 years, it has been the duty of parents to contribute to the salaries of teachers in the DRC, a policy that made it difficult for many parents to keep their children in school.

The Catholic Church, which owns the majority of schools in DRC, is accused of using school managers as a tool to return to parental responsibility for primary education, RDC Infos has reported.

During the November 23 event, Cardinal Ambong said, “We have told the Head of State as Church that we support free education, but only on the condition that it is effective. Because if this is not done as planned, there is a great risk that what we have today as a school system will be destroyed for good.”

Last year, members of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) indicated that free access to primary education is irreversible and that relevant authorities need to give teachers adequate remuneration to avoid the deterioration of national education.

“Free primary education must be irreversible. CENCO is ready to contribute to the search for solutions to overcome the main difficulties that could compromise the success of this policy of free education or contribute to the decline in the level of education, which is already deplorable,” CENCO’s Secretary-General, Fr. Donatien Nshole told journalists at a press conference in DRC’s capital, Kinshasa 16 December 2019.

At the event, the Congolese Cleric “urged competent authorities to ensure necessary prerequisites for its (free education) proper implementation, including a guarantee of a decent salary for all teachers and the regularization of the salary situation of unpaid teachers.”

Tags: DR Congo , primary education , CENCO , Archdiocese of Kinshasa , ACI Africa