Engaging citizens in education sector planning and review processes in DRC

Jacques T CONEPTJacques Tshimbalanga, CONEPT-DRC National Coordinator

The Coalition Nationale de l’Education Pour Tous en République Démocratique du Congo (CONEPT-DRC) operates through 50 member organisations, which represent an array of stakeholders, such as teachers’ unions, parents’ associations, NGOs, children’s and women’s rights groups, and researchers, and are located across all provinces in the country. DRC is the fourth most populous nation on the African continent, with over 71 million inhabitants. Among these, over 7 million children and young people of between 7 and 15 years are out of school,[1] most of them girls. This is partly a result of extreme poverty and long-term political conflict and violence, which has underpinned a lack of social services, infrastructure and poor governance. In this context, CONEPT has spent the past ten years at the forefront of campaigning for the right to education in DRC, and through CSEF we have worked to influence policy dialogue and holding the government accountable for efforts to overcome these immense challenges.

Towards citizen accountability

The education sector in DRC has been governed by different education sector plans, and supported since 2013 through funding from the Global Partnership for Education. Domestic financial commitments have previously been poor; however, the share of the total budget for education increased from 9% in 2010 to 16% in 2013.[2] Yet, the government has experienced challenges in terms of implementing the sector plans, and there has been limited engagement with relevant stakeholders, including civil society, in planning and policy processes. This is despite the emphasis of the current Interim Plan for Education (PIE, 2012-2015) on improving the governance of the education system.

In response to these challenges, CONEPT has been working to ensure broad public outreach on key education issues, to bolster citizen dialogue and enhance government attention to education. An important tactic we have employed has been to build a collaborative relationship with the media, in order to raise awareness among citizens and communities. We have produced a variety of newspaper articles and radio programmes focusing on issues such as early childhood, quality and inclusive education. In September 2013 I participated, on behalf of the coalition, in a television debate with the Minister for Education, Mr. Maker Mwangu Famba, to discuss the education reforms. Here I emphasised that political will is needed to ensure that the necessary domestic resources, services and infrastructure are mobilised under governmental efforts to achieve agreed education goals. It was also an opportunity to reinforce the message that education sector plans should be developed through dialogue with civil society, as is highlighted in the Dakar Framework for Action 2000.

Influencing education sector planning

CONEPT has also engaged in data collection, monitoring and research, in order to gather evidence to feed into policy debate around key education challenges in DRC. To ensure inclusive and participatory consultations, we have established a system to facilitate civil society review of policy documents, with a particular emphasis on incorporating inputs from marginalized groups. Based on these contributions, key findings and positions are submitted to the government in oral or written forms. This has helped to increase civil society’s profile and credibility, and led to enhanced recognition from decision-makers and more opportunity for civil society to engage.

At present, the government is preparing a new Education and Training Sector Plan (ETSP, 2016-2025), which is to replace the current PIE. In light of this, the government has asked CONEPT to coordinate inputs and feedback from civil society. In March this year we organised a National Forum on Education Policy and Financing to analyse the draft plan. As the official government-organised reviews were only conducted in the capital, Kinshasa, we also made sure to host five consultations in the provinces of Equateur, Bas Congo, Bandundu and Katanga as well as Kinshasa, ahead of the National Forum in March to capture inputs from grassroots level. In these processes we made use of GCE’s Planning Matters toolkit, which helped to build understanding around the various entry points civil society can use to engage with sector planning. The civil society consultations resulted in a submission advocating for enhanced domestic resources to education, with an emphasis on ensuring equity, and alignment of the full SDG 4 agenda to the national context. The proposal also argued for the government to support and strengthen Parents’ Committees (COPAS) and Schools’ Management Councils (COGES), which exist in almost all schools, in order to improve local school governance and accountability through citizen-driven monitoring activities.

As the elaboration of the new education plan is still under way CONEPT will be monitoring the process closely. We are hopeful that the meaningful participation of civil society will result in a responsive and relevant Education and Training Sector Plan for DRC that is implemented effectively and can help bring us closer to ensuring quality education for all.


[1] http://www.unicef.org/education/files/DRC_OOSCI_Full_Report_(En).pdf

[2] http://www.globalpartnership.org/country/congo-drc

Addis Ababa Action Agenda: More empty rhetoric than concrete commitments

Tanvir Muntasim writes from the Third Financing for Development Conference (FfD) in Ethiopia, where he represented ActionAid International and the Global Campaign for Education.

I arrived in Addis Ababa to attend the Third Financing for Development Conference full of optimism and high expectations. The Conference was expected to adopt a concrete set of principles and commitments that would set international financial systems on the right track, and outline how the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals agenda will be financed.

However, the reality turned out to be quite different. An impending sense of disappointment was pervasive during the CSO Forum that took place before the main event. Information kept trickling in that civil society’s presence (let alone participation) was being severely restricted. We then realised that most of the key decisions had already been made, and the remaining open issues would be decided behind closed doors with very select participants, while the discussions at roundtables and side events would have no impact on the final document. Additionally, during the plenary session, country delegations would read through speeches that have more to do with self-appreciation than the agenda at hand. Even here, however, civil society would have very limited space and rare opportunities to articulate their experiences and expectations. Under such a restrictive environment, civil society representatives demonstrated their innovativeness and commitment by finding various entry points to the country delegates and lobbying tirelessly for the one agenda that mattered beyond the reassertion of past rhetoric. That agenda is the formulation of a UN Intergovernmental Tax Body, to which every country would be a member, and would have an equal role to play in reforming deeply flawed global tax policies.

Countries are losing an incredible amount of resources through illicit financial flows, tax dodging and other underhand methods practised mostly by multinational companies. They exploit the loopholes of international tax policies and take away resources that could have been invested to strengthen public services such as education – hiring and training more teachers, better school infrastructure and other quality inputs. GCE (Global Campaign for Education) and its members have been very vocal about this issue – GCE’s 2013 report A Taxing Business gives an in-depth analysis of increasing domestic resources through taxation. Even in the strategy meeting held in Addis, the GCE allies decided to strongly support this proposed tax body, which has been a long-standing demand of developing countries. However, the most dismal outcome of the Conference was the strong resistance to this – primarily from OECD countries – and how this overpowered the demand of the majority. As such, the opportunity to make a groundbreaking commitment to concrete action to address systemic inequality was lost, and Addis ended as just another Conference without any progressive contribution to the ongoing development discourse.

While the Conference failed to deliver on these expectations, there was still further cause for concern. There were calls to strengthen the role of the private sector, including private finance and public-private partnerships, in order to help finance the post-2015 agenda. There is a fundamental contradiction in expecting private companies – whose aim is to maximise profit in the shortest time possible – to deliver on basic human rights. The private sector is given to invade the space previously reserved for state intervention, but without any clear regulatory, accountability or transparency mechanism. A joke that has already begun to circulate sums it up: the ‘Financing for Development’ conference has become ‘Developing for Finance’.

One paragraph in the outcome document is dedicated to education, and basically summarises previous development commitments, but with one important exception. It talks mostly about children, blissfully overlooking the almost 800 million adults who are still not literate. There is also no specific benchmark for financing public services; rather some very soft rhetoric about how States will be ‘encouraged’ to ‘consider’ setting appropriate spending targets.

All in all, the outcome on July 16th was hugely disappointing: a lack of genuine political will has been glaringly visible, corporate interests have been served, and the battle for realising basic rights and securing resources for development goals is far from over. The only bright spot in this dismal process has been the incredibly strong sense of solidarity among civil society, and the constant demonstration that we will not give up. We will continue the struggle because we are fighting for the highest stakes possible – the future of humanity.

Earthquake hinders education progress in Nepal

Purna Shrestha is Lead Adviser for Education at VSO International. Purna and his family are Nepalese, and he has been working with VSO and a number of small charities to support the relief efforts in Nepal.

Since the first devastating earthquake struck Nepal on 25th April, nearly 9,000 people are dead, thousands are injured and approximately 2.5 million people are now homeless according to the Government of Nepal’s Disaster Risk Reduction Portal. The Nepalese government and the international community are rushing to provide temporary shelter and safe learning spaces for children before the monsoon season hits from the end of June. I’m concerned for Nepal’s children who may find it hard to cope in such difficult circumstances.

Education at risk
Nepal has improved access to education in recent years. Eight out of ten 3-4-year-olds were accessing early childhood education and development services. The enrolment rate at primary school level (years 1-5) reached 96% (Ministry of Education: 2015). However, the recent earthquakes and over 300 aftershocks have set Nepal’s education system back by years. According to a post-disaster needs assessment carried out by the Ministry of Education, 8,242 schools have been affected, 25,134 classrooms have been completely destroyed and a further 22,097 classrooms have been partially damaged. This has led to the closure of schools and colleges in some areas for over a month, forcing more than two million children out of education.

The total damage to the country’s education system is estimated at US$ 313.2 million. Most of the costs incurred – US$ 280.6 million – relate to infrastructure damage. Demolition and debris removal, construction of temporary learning centres, child-friendly spaces and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities, plus school repair costs, total US$ 32.5 million. The cost of recovery and reconstruction in the education sector alone from 2016 to 2020 is estimated at US$ 414.8 million.

Although some schools have reopened, most classes have been taking place in ‘Temporary Learning Centres’ (TLCs). Destruction of family homes and mass displacement have severely impacted the mental health and well-being of Nepal’s children. Even students whose schools haven’t been badly damaged are too frightened to attend, due to the continuing aftershocks.

Girls are most at risk
Although these children need continuous relief in terms of food, clean water and shelter, we mustn’t forget that providing a basic education in the wake of a disaster- even in a Temporary Learning Centre – plays a vital role in a recovery situation. TLCs not only minimise disruption to a girl’s education, but they also protect girls from exploitation and abuse.

A recent media report in the Guardian suggests that tens of thousands of girls made vulnerable by Nepal’s earthquakes are being targeted by human traffickers. Prior to this disaster, the UN estimated that up to 15,000 girls were being trafficked from Nepal every year. I am horrified at this upsurge. The 14 areas worst hit by the earthquakes, like Dhading District, are now most at risk from human trafficking. Only last week, police reportedly intercepted 44 children travelling from Dhading to Kathmandu with adults who were not their legal guardians. Over 50 girls were rescued from the Indian borders since the first earthquake in April. If we don’t act now to create a safe school environment, tens of thousands of vulnerable girls could fall prey to human traffickers.

Young people can inspire others
Despite this disaster, I’m inspired by how young people from all over the world have united in their commitment to help others. Nepalese and international students, youth-led NGOs, and young volunteers have all demonstrated their enthusiasm, compassion and humanity. Young people haven’t just responded to relief efforts in every earthquake-hit village, they’ve demonstrated innovation, courage and determination to restore Nepal. Their positivity has inspired others to get involved. One youth group started ‘Kathmandu Living Labs’, which mobilised more than 2,000 mappers across the globe to contribute to ‘OpenStreetMap’, which helps relief agencies target their relief efforts. Another group has initiated a crowd sourcing campaign HacktheQuake – an ideas hub for rebuilding, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Building back better
Imagine if the earthquake – 7.8 on the Richter scale – had occurred during school time? It could have been even more disastrous. As it stands, over 80% of schools in Sindhuplachok have been completely destroyed. According to the Ministry of Education, nearly 250 schools need to be relocated to a safer area and the risk of flooding and landslides is still high. When Nepal rebuilds its schools, we must ensure they are resilient in the face of natural disasters and that they provide a safe environment for teaching. This crisis has created an opportunity to build more inclusive and safer schools for girls – building female toilet blocks will give girls the dignity and privacy they need and peace of mind for their parents. Improving disaster resilience is not only about ‘building back better’ from a structural perspective. It also requires a better curriculum, more textbooks and implemented safety procedures. Stringent disaster risk management training and planning is required at school and community level.

Not only is education vital in helping children overcome the trauma of a natural disaster, it is also critical in restoring a sense of normality and rebuilding hope. Education is a fundamental human right which must be provided and safeguarded by the State in order to give every child the best possible chance to realise their potential; despite the vast challenges they face, the people of Nepal will rebuild the education system and the country, but they still need your support to do this.


Reflections on the Nobel Peace Prize for Malala and Kailash

David Archer, Head of Programme Development for ActionAid International, & member of the Boards of the Global Campaign for Education and of the Global Partnership for Education.

On 10th December Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi will attend the ceremonies to receive the joint Nobel Peace Prize for 2014. Much has been made of the decision to choose an Indian and a Pakistani, a Muslim and a Hindu, an older man and a young girl – and these contrasts are powerful – but what unites them more than anything is their passionate campaigning for education. Indeed this prize is recognition for the crucial role of education in building and preserving peace – and of the need to defend the right to education at all times.

Ironically it is the young campaigner, Malala, who is more widely known, owing to her personal story: her extraordinary bravery in standing up to the Taliban and the power of her speeches, not least at the UN General Assembly on her 16th birthday.

Kailash is less well known and most of the media coverage has focused on his work on child labour in India, bravely freeing children from conditions of slavery and abuse. What is much less known is the work Kailash has done for education. In 1998 the movement started by Kailash, the Global March against Child Labour, concluded that achieving universal education was the key positive solution to the outrage of child labour. As Kailash himself has often said “the best place for children to work is in school”.

As a result of this, in 1999 Kailash co-founded the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) – together with ActionAid, Oxfam and Education International. ActionAid was already running the “Elimu” campaign which focused on democratising education decision making – supporting stronger citizen oversight locally and forming inclusive national education coalitions to review and influence progress on education. Meanwhile Oxfam had launched their “Education Now!” Campaign, putting a human face on their work on structural adjustment and debt by focusing on education financing and demanding a global action plan.  At the same time Education International, the global federation of teachers unions, with 23 million members (at the time), launched a campaign called “Quality Public Education for All”, challenging the neo-liberal agenda and the creeping privatisation of education. The link with Kailash’s Global March Against Child Labour added a crucial dimension to the emerging Global Campaign for Education  (GCE), with a strong focus on the most excluded children and a commitment to mobilisation.

The initial focus of the GCE was to get the international community to recognise the scale of the global crisis in education – with over 100 million children out of school at that time. GCE argued for and secured in 2000 some ambitious Education for All and Millennium Development Goals that would address this crisis. Kailash became the first President of the GCE and served in that role through to 2011, helping GCE to evolve into a truly global, southern-led movement with national education coalitions now formed in over 80 countries. These coalitions in each country bring NGOs and unions together to hold their own governments to account for delivering on education rights. This is an unprecedented and exemplary movement, mobilising millions of people, with its headquarters in South Africa. There have been many dramatic successes, for example with campaigns to end user fees leading to huge surges in enrolment so that today there are 50 million more children in school than there were 15 years ago.

Kailash has been at the heart of this movement and remains on the international board of GCE. He played a key role in the development of Education Fast Track Initiative and its evolution into the $3 billion Global Partnership for Education. At all times he has emphasised the need to keep up our efforts to reach the hardest to reach:  the most excluded children, those working in appalling conditions as child labourers, the children with disabilities and those affected by conflict.

Kailash was one of the first people to celebrate Malala’s emergence as a formidable campaigner for girls’ education. She has put the issues on the global agenda more effectively than anyone, capturing the imagination of the world’s media and of the general public. Indeed, Malala has reached people at an emotional level that has helped to transform the case for education, making it one of the defining struggles of our times.

The Nobel Prize comes at a key moment for education campaigners as we come up to the deadline for the education goals which were set back in 2000 for achievement in 2015. It is now clear that these goals will not be met as 57 million children are still not in school and the quality of education for many others is shockingly poor. The key challenge is for governments and donors to learn from what worked and what did not – and then to place education at the heart of the post-2015 sustainable development goals.  As the Nobel Peace Prize makes clear, education is not just a good in itself – it is absolutely central to the achievement of wider goals of peace, development and justice.


New out of school figures show there is no chance the world will reach EFA by 2015

Aaron Benavot, Director, EFA Global Monitoring Report.

The new data are in and confirm any remaining doubt: there is no chance, beach dress whatsoever, that the world will meet its pledge to ensure that every primary age child is in school by 2015. According to a new EFA Global Monitoring Report and UIS paper, 58 million children, roughly between the ages of 6 and 11, were still excluded from school in 2012. Making matters worse, this figure has barely changed since 2007. So there has been almost no progress at the global level for several years.

The lack of progress is mainly due to the situation in sub-Saharan Africa, where about 30 million children are out of school. Most of these children will never even set foot in a classroom and many of those who do, will drop out. Across the region, more than one in three children who started primary school in 2012 will leave before reaching the last grade.  Girls face the greatest risk of exclusion, and account for more than half of African children out of school.

Africa simply cannot keep up with the rising demand for education. Since 2000, the region’s school-age population grew by 35% while it fell by close to 10% in the rest of the world. So in just over a decade, the region was faced with an extra 36 million children, who needed space in already crowded classrooms. No other region is faced with such high population growth.

But while the news is bleak, it should not lead to further inertia. On the contrary, we must use the data to mobilize the resources required to enable all children to enter and complete school and learning well. We should also look for inspiration in countries that are managing to buck the global trend, despite difficult circumstances. From Ghana to Morocco, a closer look at the data reveals that 17 countries managed to reduce their out-of-school populations by almost 90% in little over a decade. How? By combining political will with bold action and smart policies.

For some countries, the first step is to abolish school fees, as in the case of Burundi, where the percentage of children enrolled in primary school rose from 54% to 94% in just six years.

Then there are the hidden costs of education, such as school uniforms and books.  Here we learn from the experience of Latin America, where countries such as Nicaragua are providing financial support to families struggling to keep their children in school and seeing enrolment numbers shoot up.

At the same time, there are school budgets to consider. Ghana, for example, doubled its education spending and saw the number of children enrolled in school rise by 70% between 1999 and 2013.

But money alone won’t resolve the problems. We must find innovative ways to ensure that children don’t just start school but complete a full cycle and learn relevant knowledge and skills.  If the conditions for learning are poor, children and their parents will vote with their feet and leave school before finishing their education program. Part of the answer, as demonstrated by Morocco and Guatemala, lies in integrating local languages and cultures in curricula and ensuring that it addresses the needs and aspirations of children and their families.

For countries affected by conflict, Rwanda has shown that investing heavily in education as a means to heal the effects of its unrest, including providing special funds for the education of orphaned children, and securing donors to fund a policy providing free and compulsory education for nine years, halved the percentage of children who had never been to school.

Obviously every country faces a unique set of circumstances but the data show that real progress is possible when appropriate policies are put into place.

These messages must not be dismissed. The EFA GMR paper released just a few weeks ago showed that aid to education has fallen by 10% since 2010 – precisely at the time when it is needed most. Some cynics will tell you that this is normal given the ongoing financial shocks. But overall aid levels fell by just 1% over the same period. It is worrying in the extreme to see both international aid and out-of-school numbers moving in the wrong direction.

Last week’s GPE conference showed that the messages had resonated to some extent with donors and governments, but still not enough to reach the Partnership’s initial fundraising target. There is much work to be done. These stagnating numbers must be a wake up call for governments, who must work hard to fill the finance gap by increasing their domestic resources for education. They should take motivation from the positive changes out paper lists as happening in other countries that they could follow. Donors should be aware of the shape of the downwards trend of both aid and out of school numbers. They should take note of the tried and tested policies for increasing access and recognise that real tangible change could be delivered through these changes with their support.

So it is time for action. We may have missed the 2015 deadline but we cannot dismiss our commitments to the world’s children.


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