In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) — a country the size of Western Europe with a population of 80 million — ongoing conflict has debilitated public administration, infrastructure, and livelihoods since the late 1990s. Some 7 million primary school-age children are not in school, and those who are often face enormous learning barriers — including post-traumatic stress disorder, violence at school, and sex discrimination. Without a concerted effort by adults armed with the right teaching methods, learning materials, and pyscho-social support tools, millions of students fall through the cracks. Recognizing these challenges and the important role that education plays in building peace and prosperity, the DRC government has created a 10-year national education strategy and set it as a top priority. The plan’s goals: boost access to education, offer reading instruction in four national languages, and ensure that teachers apply effective instructional practices so that all children can master fundamental reading skills — and thus learn more effectively — by the end of Grade 2.
To support the DRC’s goals, USAID and UK aid have partnered to launch a historic new project called ACCELERE!, which in French stands for accelerating equitable access to school, reading, student retention, and accountability. One component of this project — implemented by Chemonics International in a consortium with other international and local partners — focuses on helping education authorities increase the effectiveness of schools at the local level. Working with students, teachers, teacher coaches, and community members in at least 25 sub-provinces, the project will improve primary education by creating safe, supportive learning spaces; reinvigorating teachers’ learning methods and curricula in early-grade reading; monitoring, adapting, and replicating successes; and working with the government to build educational policies that support and scale-up successes across the country. Project activities will incorporate gender-smart, conflict-sensitive approaches to increase the likeliness of success given the DRC’s current context and needs.
Making School Accessible and Creating a Welcoming Environment
One of the biggest reasons that many children in the DRC are out of school is because of the onerous fees that parents have to pay. Although the government recently adopted a policy of free education at the earliest grades, schools often still charge fees and struggle to cover their resource needs. ACCELERE! is working to help schools and parents find alternate sources of revenue and ensure that the most vulnerable children do not have to pay. As another piece of the access puzzle, children are more likely to attend and finish school if they feel safe and supported. ACCELERE! will help local actors build a sense of emotional and physical safety in and around classrooms, training teachers and community members to assess their school safety needs and work together to address them. ACCELERE! will also use an adapted version of USAID’s Doorways curriculum for safe schools, working with teachers, residents, and students to increase positive disciplinary tactics, respect children’s rights, and reduce gender-based violence.