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Free Access to Basic Education in DR Congo Needs to Benefit “everyone”: Congolese Cardinal

Fridolin Cardinal Ambongo (center) with DRC’s newly appointed Education Minister, Tony Mwaba (left), and his deputy, Aminata Namasia (right) after the May 11 audience in Kinshasa. Credit: Archdiocese of Kinshasa.

The initiative toward free basic education in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) needs to be implemented in such a way that everyone in the country benefits, Fridolin Cardinal Ambongo has said.

Cardinal Ambongo who was addressing DRC’s newly appointed Minister of Education and his deputy on Tuesday, May 11 said that the Catholic Church supports the initiative toward free basic education in the Central African nation.

“We support this initiative, but we want it to be free of charge for the benefit of everyone, because we find ourselves in a system where if there is no responsible adjustment, this free education can lead to the total collapse of our education system,” the Congolese Cardinal said.

He welcomed the meeting with the leadership of the country’s education ministry saying that the partnership between the government and the church in DRC has the potentiality of saving “free education, because this issue is of great importance to the President of the Republic.”

“The Congolese population expects a lot from the Ministry of Education for a successful implementation of this initiative,” Cardinal Ambongo said when he met the Education Minister, Tony Mwaba, and his deputy, Aminata Namasia.

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According to the Congolese Cardinal, the May 11 meeting provided an opportunity for the Church and the Ministry of Education to “take stock of the process toward the implementation of free basic education and the partnership between the two entities.”

Members of the Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) have been keen about DRC’s government promise to make primary education free for all Congolese school going children.

In 2019, the members of CENCO said that free access to primary education was “irreversible and that relevant authorities needed 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,” the Secretary General of CENCO, Fr. Donatien Nshole was quoted as telling journalists in December 2019.

While President Felix Tshisekedi decided to apply Article 43 of the Constitution, proclaiming free primary education in DRC from the 2019/2020 academic year, the implementation of the program has staggered, with teachers claiming their dues.

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Speaking to journalists after the May 11 audience with Cardinal Ambongo, the new Education Minister, Mr. Mwaba, said that the Catholic Church is “a privileged partner of education in DRC.”

“We have come to receive the blessing but also some guidance on the various problems that have undermined the relationship between the Ministry of Education and the Catholic Church,” he said.

The Minister appealed for “support” from the leadership of the Catholic Church saying, “We need the support of the Church but also all Catholic schools for the success of our mission which is the recovery of our sub-sector and the consolidation of free education.”

Last year, Cardinal Ambongo clarified that the Catholic Church is not opposed to free primary school education.

Addressing journalists on November 23, the Congolese Cardinal 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.

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“The Church is not against free education or pushes teachers to go on strike. People should not go about telling stories,” Cardinal Ambongo said.

In January, CENCO members expressed their support for and commitment to seeing the success of the free basic education in the Central African nation.

“CENCO remains committed to accompanying the process toward free basic education, which it considers irreversible,” the Catholic Bishops in DRC said in their January 13 statement.

They also called for the setting up of “consultation framework involving managers to evaluate and improve, as far as possible, decision-making in relation to free education.”

“There is only one effective solution to save free education, namely, the proper assumption of responsibility for teachers and schools by the public treasury as promised,” CENCO members said January 13.

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