Students March On D.R.C.’s Parliament Over Teacher Strike

On Thursday, hundreds of school students marched on the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s national assembly building. Demanding the government raise teachers’ wages, the students hope to put an end to the teachers’ current union strike so that lessons may resume. Teachers in the D.R.C. have been on strike since October 4th over several issues, including salaries and retirement age.

According to video footage Reuters shared on social media, the students marched into the federal building, chanting, “We want to study.” In the same video, a student speaks about why they are here, saying, “It’s already been two weeks. We have not been studying, our teachers are on strike. When we ask them to teach us, they say no, they won’t teach us until next year. So, we marched here to complain in front of the authorities that we are not studying.”

The students were met by the vice president of the national assembly, Jean-Marc Kabund-a-Kabund, who urged them to return home. “Your place is not in the street, but in school or at home,” Kabund-a-Kabund said. He also suggested the teachers were using their students, and said that the teachers should make their demands themselves.

“We support free education, but we do not teach for free,” a teacher’s union representative in the South Kivu province told AFP News.

This standoff between the teacher’s union and the government stems from the introduction of free public primary education in September 2019. Promoted by President Felix Tshisekedi as the beginning of a new era of education for the country, this policy aimed to provide children from families of all demographics with access to basic education.

Despite these promises, the Congo’s education system faces a significant number of challenges. With a large population and high levels of poverty, the D.R.C.’s government is financially constrained. According to the World Bank, the D.R.C.’s total expenditure per primary student is estimated at US$50 a year – only a quarter of the regional average. Further, before the free education policy’s implementation, many primary school teachers were waiting to be incorporated into the government payroll. This has significantly impacted the quality of teaching across the country, as teachers struggle with basic education infrastructure, as well as a lack of available textbooks, teaching materials, and teacher knowledge.

Blatant corruption has further exacerbated the situation. In April, the former minister of primary education, Willy Bakonga, was charged on accounts of money laundering and embezzlement. It is estimated that Bakonga siphoned off close to $31 million.

Two years into the free public primary education policy, tuition-free schooling is still highly controversial. Schools have regularly made the news since early 2020, and the frequency of teacher strikes to demand payment has only increased. In some schools, parent committees have begun paying teachers “motivational fees” to keep the schools running.

Despite all this, the policy is having significant impacts. Net enrollment and attendance across the country has surged in recent years. According to the World Bank, at least 3 million additional children have enrolled in primary schools across the D.R.C. in the past year, despite COVID-19.

These teacher protests may raise light on government accountability and improve educational resources to invest in the minds of the D.R.C.’s future.