In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where education and vocational training face major challenges, training focused on employability is a key tool for peace and development.
Interview by Thomas Hofnung,
Editor-in-chief of iD4D
What are the issues surrounding vocational training in a country like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)?
The DRC is a huge country that spans over two million square kilometers. Its educational system is complex. Despite efforts made over recent years, the training and education available throughout the nation is very uneven. In addition, the educational system is struggling to provide learners with the job skills they need, since programs generally focus on theoretical knowledge or initial training through primary, secondary and academic education. This training does not produce the professional skills required for immediate employment. Outdated school curricula left over from the colonial period also pose a problem.
The various reforms initiated since the country gained its independence in 1960 have not succeeded in improving the quality of the system, which is hindered by deficiencies in several areas:
- strategic, legal and institutional framework (governance);
- content, methods, curricula and follow-up/assessment;
- resources (human, material and financial);
- training suited to employment requirements.
However, thanks to support from technical and financial partners, efforts are being made to improve the governance, access, relevance and quality of education and training, as well as fairness and inclusiveness.
The Congolese government has expressed its intention to provide free primary education. What progress has been made?
The principle of free basic education is enshrined in the Constitution of the DRC in order to increase the enrollment rate. Efforts to implement this measure have been hindered by several obstacles; it remains in its embryonic stages. In theory, free education is intended to promote maximum access to education, but in reality, there is a high risk of further reducing the quality of education.
This risk is explained by the end to the additional wages teachers are used to receiving from students’ parents. The growth of our population, with a rate of over 3% per year, is a challenge for our infrastructure, which does not have the capacity to accommodate all Congolese school-age children and youth. This creates the risk of high drop-out rates or the manipulation of access to schooling amid unsustainable conditions. Furthermore, in a country marked by violent conflict, young people can easily find refuge in militias and other armed groups (particularly those in the eastern part of the country).
Would you say that the issue of vocational training is crucial for the stability of the DRC?
It undeniably represents a tool for promoting peace and conflict resolution, as well as social cohesion, especially in the western part of the country, as well as in other provinces like Kasai. This is a major challenge that we are seeking to address with help from foreign partners. We are working to provide professional skills to young people, some of whom joined armed groups at a very young age. We have witnessed encouraging examples: some individuals who were associated with armed groups as children have gone on to become employers, creating their own small or medium-sized business, particularly in the agricultural and construction sectors. Forestry and timber industries are also dynamic sectors. We try to direct young people towards entrepreneurship rather than labor. We do this by creating business incubators to support them with training programs, including those offered by the National Institute of Vocational Preparation (INPP), through support programs funded by AFD. The idea is to formalize aspects that are usually learned informally.
Paradoxically, the DRC is experiencing both extremely high unemployment and labor shortages.
Several sectors are indeed experiencing shortages, particularly the construction and mining industries. Companies are often forced to take on foreign workers, for example in sheet metalwork or to operate lifting equipment in mines. To perform these tasks, which require real expertise, certain workers are recruited not only from surrounding countries but also from New Zealand, Australia and China.
Are women affected by problems of under-employment and unemployment to a greater extent than men in the DRC?
The rate of access to training and education among girls is limited. This sometimes comes as the result of an economic and cultural choice: parents generally promote boys’ education at the expense of girls. Girls are also hindered by the violence they experience, particularly from armed groups who use sexual violence as a weapon of war.
Finally, this low rate is also explained by the prevalence of early marriages. Although legislation in the DRC stipulates equal access to the labor market, this is clearly not the case, due to previously mentioned economic, cultural and security factors. However, it should be noted that other groups are stigmatized in the process of skill development and access to employment, especially the Pygmies in the Équateur Province and in the eastern part of the country.
What is the geographical coverage like for vocational training opportunities?
Although access to education is guaranteed by the State, when it comes to vocational training, young people who dropped out of school do not always have a second chance. There are entire territories with extremely limited access to training centers, despite government efforts. Paradoxically, thanks to the assistance from NGOs and foreign partners, young people living in troubled areas sometimes have greater access to training: the INPP offers programs in Bukavu and Uvira (Kivu region), as well as in Goma, Rutshuru, Beni, and Butembo.
With help from technical and financial partners, we have developed a professional certification and qualification course. And the results from the past six years are very promising. We are therefore working to ensure fair access to the labor market. This long-term task is a key issue for our country: developing the technical and professional skills of the working population in the DRC is a driving force for growth and development.
The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.