Community Education Facilitators in DRC Build on Local Strengths

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, dot-EDU’s Improving Basic Education/Stratégies Intégrées pour une Education Equitable et de Qualité (SIEEQ) project has been working to 1) improve the quality of basic education through innovative teacher training; 2) provide teachers and students with increased access to learning materials, textbooks, and kits; 3)increase community participation in education, management and outreach activities; and 4)increase and improve girls' participation in school.

The SIEEQ project is unique because it ensures application of new skills through training, follow-up, video and qualitative classroom observation. Gender equity is also emphasized through coordination of teacher and community participation training. The project enhances teacher training and community ownership of the project through community mobilization based on dialogue and local resources enhances. A previous article brought attention to the issue of women's empowerment. This article focuses on activities supporting community involvement in children’s education and the role of community education facilitators.

Leveraging Community Resources
In the community of Djombo in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Equateur province, the most common occupation among residents is débrouillard, or “one who gets by through resourcefulness.” After years of war and the near absence of government, perseverance and resourcefulness constitute a community’s greatest asset. This is especially true in the education sector where the break- down of the national system has left schooling very much in the hands of local religious organizations and private citizens who cover over 80% of the cost for teachers’ salaries and materials.

The primary school of Djombo, though a public school officially operated and financed by the government, is no exception. In truth, this community of débrouillards demanding education for their children is the only thing that has kept the school open and running this long. But as parents struggle to contribute more and more of their already scarce funds they sometimes find themselves at odds with the school staff, which itself struggles to provide for their own families. Very rarely, if ever, does either group have a chance to talk about how they might collaborate to improve the quality of education being taught, or to improve the chances that both girls and boys will have an equal chance to learn and to stay in school.

Community Education Facilitators Take Center Stage
After attending an initial training organized by the USAID’s dot-EDU/SIEEQ project, two Community Education Facilitators (CEFs) nominated by the Djombo community, returned home in August 2005 to begin their work. Their aim was to promote positive dialogue between these different groups and lead a participatory process to plan for concrete, collaborative action for the school. In particular, they hope to improve school management and finance schemes, increase access to school, and improve teaching and learning.

It was hard at first to maintain this positive approach. Upon return from the training, the two facilitators (CEFs) heard that the Djombo school director had prevented several students from starting school because their parents were unable to pay the required fees. The CEFs also found that families were enrolling more boys than girls, and even when they started class more girls were struggling with their studies and dropping out. The teachers were also threatening to go on strike until they received back pay and higher salaries from the government.

Instead of focusing on these problems, however, the CEFs used their new knowledge and skills to facilitate focus group dialogues and a general assembly of community members and school staff to discover what was working in Djombo. During these sessions, the CEFs asked the community to recount past successes when they had been able to get more children in school and help them to learn better, and to identify strengths and local resources they could use to increase such collaboration in the future.

During one such session, a group of women declared that their local organization, UFFET, had already worked with the school in the past and was ready now to do more to help girls stay in school, offering to develop a support group that would monitor the girls’ progress and make sure they have time to study at home. Then, during another discussion, the school director came to understand just how much the parents were already doing to support the school and how hard it was for many families to pay school fees. The parents, for their part, recognized how hard it was for teachers to make a living. Based on this understanding and mutual appreciate, the CFE helped facilitate an agreement by where the families whose children had been “chased” from the school would make in-kind contributions over the school year to support the teachers. As soon as the school re-opened in October, these children were attending class.

For More Information, Contact:
Sonia Arias
Project Director, Education Development Center
Tel: 202-572-3700

Field: Francine Ahouanmenou-Agueh
Chief of Party, SIEEQ
Education Development Center

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DR Congo - Improving Basic Education, Especially for Girls in Targeted Areas (aka SIEEQ)
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Core funding for the DOT-COM Alliance is provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture & Trade, Office of Infrastructure and Engineering (EGAT/OI&E), Office of Education (EGAT/ED), and Office of Women in Development (EGAT/WID), under the terms of Award numbers: GDG-A-00-01-00009-00, dot-GOV; GDG-A-00-01-00014-00, dot-ORG; GDG-A-00-01-00011-00, dot-EDU.
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