The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) hosts one of the largest numbers of out of school children worldwide. This number is so high in the province where we work, that over 40% of North Kivu’s children don’t attend school. By comparison, in the capital Kinshasa that number is much lower at 13%.
Chance for Childhood, in partnership with Children’s Voice, has been working to provide quality education to the most forgotten out of school and war affected children in the Eastern DRC territories of Goma and Nyiragongo.
In April 2019 we launched an inclusive education programme in Goma, supporting the reintegration of war affected young children into primary school. With a focus on children with disabilities, the programme has improved the quality of education across 10 schools through providing a pioneering inclusive education training to school staff and introducing a Learning Support Assistant scheme (where children with disabilities can get one-to-one support in the classroom to aid their learning).
Children with disabilities receive one-to-one support in the classroom through our Learning Support Assistant programme.
Towards the end of the 2019/2020 academic year; 334 out of school children between 6 and 16 years old, were successfully supported to access education and enrolled across 10 primary schools in Goma and surrounding area. Utilising our early risk screening and disability detection toolkits, we then conducted a further assessment to identify the most vulnerable out of school children, who have suffered trauma, conflict and developed a form of disability. We supported 50 children with a form of functional disability, the most common being physical disabilities (43%), visual Impairments (31%), mental disabilities including learning difficulties (16%) and communication disabilities (10%).
Leaving no child forgotten during COVID-19
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in March, schools and universities were closed. On April 26th the DRC’s Minister responsible for education, Willy Bakonga launched the country’s first radio-based learning programme funded by UNICEF, to ensure children were able to access education throughout the lockdown.
Through educational radio programmes and learning kits, more than 25 million Congolese children were estimated to continue their schooling despite the closure of schools as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Homework booklets for primary and secondary school children and adolescents were also distributed to all students in the DRC, including those living in remote areas.
Our partner Children’s Voice used Chance for Childhood’s Covid-19 Response Fund to reach about 18,076 people, including 6,566 students and 320 teachers and 10 Learning Support Assistants on Pole FM radio station.
Despite this progress, children with disabilities and those from vulnerable families who don’t have access to radio were unable to benefit from the intervention. Although it had to be adopted as an alternative given the unprecedented times of Covid-19, learning over radio was not an interactive learning session as children couldn’t exchange views or ask questions to their teachers. Furthermore, very few families could afford to own a radio. In addition to this, parents were not properly prepared to supervise or support their child’s radio learning, and this has resulted in fewer children learning that what was expected. This was also the case in DRC’s neighbour, Rwanda. However, in Rwanda many vulnerable families were bought radios so more children could access the learning. For children with special needs or disabilities, radio learning was only helpful if parents were engaged and able to support their child through it.
Thankfully, this emergency period in DRC was ended and partial resumption of classes began on 10th August so that the school year could be completed. Though this restart mainly applied to children in the last years of primary and secondary classes, as well as students in the fifth year at the university.
Children’s Voice and its school partners also reopened schools but faced difficulties. Some children would come to school without face masks, some schools struggled to access hygiene materials, hand sanitizers and thermo flash to monitor the students’ or teachers’ temperature while at school. Some schools have bigger sizes and could not respect the preventive measures about COVID-19 like social distancing. With our partners, we are ensuring that children can still learn despite the new challenges everyone is facing. But with the restrictions that governments have imposed, and the need to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of the most vulnerable children and young people, many children affected by war, and children with disabilities remain unable to access the education they deserve.
“Since my early childhood I’ve suffered from Otitis and no cannot hear in my right ear. I now rely on my left ear to partially hear what the teacher says in class. During lockdown I could not learn on the radio because we do not have one. And I couldn’t use our neighbour’s radio as my mother wanted me to help look after my brothers and sisters.
When school restarted, my parents didn’t want me to go back. But Solange, my Learning Support Assistant, visited our home and persuaded my parents to let me go back to school so that I can complete the year.
My parents couldn’t afford to buy me a facemask, but I wasn’t the only one who arrived without one. I’m happy that the schools were reopened because I can no have friends to play with and this gives me hope that I will complete my education”
Left: Children in school in DRC, before the pandemic.
Programme Manager (Rwanda)