“Free access to primary education irreversible,” DR Congo Bishops Say

CENCO’s Secretary General, Fr. Donatien Nshole addressing journalists at Press Conference in DR Congo's capital Kinshasa, Monday, December 16, 2019

Following challenges in implementing a constitutional provision allowing free access to basic education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) has made public its position on the matter, indicating 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 Monday, December 16.

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

Even though the move has been welcomed by many, 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.


Speaking on behalf of the Bishops of CENCO, Fr. Nshole recalled, “In their message of June 2019, the Bishops members of CENCO, who had already in 2004 exercised the option not to impose on parents the payment of teachers' salaries, expressed their satisfaction at the announcement of this (free education) decision.”

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

Among the challenges to be overcome in the process of implementing free education, the Father highlighted, will include “the lack of motivation from teachers as well as all auxiliary staff in the provinces, passive or active strike of teachers whose remuneration is not satisfactory, overcrowding leading to insufficient infrastructure, the lack of teaching materials and textbooks amongst others.”

The Church leader expressed the Bishops’ recognition of the “the increase in the running costs of primary schools, the increase in motivation costs at all levels (nursery, primary and secondary) and the abolition of other school fees at the primary level.”

“CENCO commends the Government's efforts to implement free basic education and congratulates all authorities involved in its implementation,” Fr. Nshole said and added, “If the efforts made are not sustained and the difficulties noted above are not taken very seriously, this fine momentum can easily be broken with the risk of going backwards.”

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He said that the Bishops in his country would like authorities “to pay the salaries of unpaid teachers (UP) in January 2020, in accordance with Félix Tshisekedi's promise.”

Bishops have also recommended, the Father said, that government ensures “the implementation of a school construction and rehabilitation plan, the provision of benches and didactic materials in schools, carry out an urgent reform of the payroll control service, effectively promote ethics through the control and rigorous application of administrative and criminal sanctions in the event of money laundering practices in educational acts amongst others.”

The Secretary General of CENCO also announced that “the next Standing Committee of CENCO to be held in February 2020 will focus on these questions, which are awaiting concrete answers.”

Jude Atemanke is a Cameroonian journalist with a passion for Catholic Church communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Buea in Cameroon. Currently, Jude serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.