As the new school year begins in September in the Democratic Republic of Congo, schools in several areas are not functioning and many of the country's 67,000 primary secondary school teachers on strike.
In August 2005, UNICEF released US $3.3 million to repair schools and provide 3.25 million school children with notebooks, pens and educational equipment. On Wednesday, the administrator of the UNECEF education programme in the DRC, Mohamed Fall, talked to IRIN about the challenges. Here are excerpts of the interview.
QUESTION: Of what does UNICEF's programme for schools in the DRC consist?
ANSWER: It is a multipronged initiative targeting approximately 60 percent of primary school pupils, that is to say 3.25 million children. It also targets a bit more than 50 percent of 67,000 primary school teachers.
The main component of the project is to provide basic school stationary to pupils, teaching aids and management supplies to school administrators.
The programme also offers continuous training to primary school teachers. One module is for improving the school environment, that is to say rehabilitating school infrastructures, setting up water supplies and separating girls' latrines from those of boys. Another module is to provide schools with furniture, blackboards and benches.
The programme is also helping the government to provide public information on education and encourage parents to enrol their children in school.
Q: Which schools will be targeted?
A: One part of the programme targets 2,850,000 children from first and second years in at least 16,000 public schools across the country's 11 provinces.
The second part of the programme is more specific and addresses what we call targeted schools. There are about 2,000 of these schools. UNICEF provides all the pupils in these schools from first to sixth year with school equipment. There are about one million pupils.
We will also provide training to the 22,000 teachers at these schools as well as upgrade their sanitation, water supplies, furniture and community support.
Q: How do you organise the work in the field? Do you work with the government or NGOs?
A: We work with the government at a central and a decentralised level.
We also work with the religious authorities at Catholic, Protestant, Kimbanguist and Islamic schools. We have protocols with all of them at national, provincial and territorial levels.
We also work a lot with local and international NGOs which help UNICEF distribute school supplies.
Q: How can the programme work properly with the teachers going on strike?
A: Negotiations are already held. We hope that a solution will be found quickly and what will be a difficult start of the new school year will only last between two and four days.
Q: Locally, what is the impact of UNICEF's Education for All programme?
A: We registered one million more pupils this school year compared to the last year. In the 2004-2005 school year we registered 2.25 million pupils and in 2005-2006, 3.25 million. We also registered 20,000 more teachers than in the previous year.
Q: You also sought to target girls. Was that successful?
A: The campaign for 2005-2006 has just begun [so I cannot tell]. However, if I take the example of the registration in 2004-2005 - the first year - we have recorded an increase of almost 30 percent of registered pupils. And for the first time, we have noticed a more important increase among girls than among boys. On the national level, there was an increase of girls of about 37 percent, and of boys of about 29 percent to 30 percent.
In terms of quality, improvements have been made too: in the targeted schools, fewer pupils have repeated a class than in other schools.