Shining the spotlight on basic education completion and foundational learning in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Part of a series of blogs on recent research on foundational literacy and numeracy in Africa.

This week, a report was launched in the Democratic Republic of the Congo placing the spotlight on foundational literacy and numeracy in the country. The report was developed by the University of Kisangani and produced in partnership with the Ministère de l’enseignement primaire, secondaire et technique (MEPST, Ministry of Primary, Secondary and Technical Education).

The event featured speeches by H.E Tony Mwaba Kazadi, the Minister of Education, Noella Coursaris Musunka, CEO & Founder of Malaika and #BorntoLearn champion, Dr. Isaias Barreto da Rosa, UNESCO Representative to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Prof. Gratien Mokonzi, Professor, University of Kisangani.

The Spotlight on Basic Education Completion and Foundational Learning in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of five country reports on foundational literacy and numeracy, which feed into a continental Spotlight report on Africa, Born to learn, the first of a three-part series, in partnership with the African Union. The research used a common set of research questions, analytical framework and approach.

For the fieldwork, three classrooms (grades 1–3) of three of the country’s primary schools were visited in each of the four provinces selected. The four provinces had primary education completion rates that were higher than the national average. Classroom observations and interviews were held with teachers and head teachers, representatives of parent associations, provincial directors and inspectors.

Enrolment and completion: Since 2016, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has committed to ambitious reforms, especially with the introduction of free basic education (gratuité). Progress has been made in terms of primary school attendance: the primary gross enrolment ratio exceeds 100%. However, late entry and high repetition result in a primary net enrolment rate of 69% and 3.5 million children out of school. The primary education completion rate increased from 32% in 2000 to 47% in 2010 and 58% in 2020. Accounting for the very large percentage of overage enrolment, one of the largest in the continent, 82% completed primary school in 2020. These projections are based on surveys carried out before the free basic education policy and the onset of COVID-19.

Learning: The overall quality of education remains very low. Multiple challenges persist, including insufficient funding, lack of equipment, dilapidated buildings, overcrowding due to increased enrolment, poor opportunities for teacher professional development, and low, often delayed or even unpaid teacher salaries. Language has become a major subject in the primary school curriculum, a national reading roadmap has been developed, and performance standards for reading in French and in the four national languages have been established. However, poor student skills at both the beginning and end of primary school have been observed. The 2019 PASEC learning assessment found that only 27% of students achieved the minimum level of proficiency at the end of primary school.


Policy reforms: With the development of the Stratégie sectorielle de l’éducation et de la formation (SSEF, Education and Training Sector Strategy) in 2016, the government showed willingness to transform the education system, which has been plagued by challenges since the 1970s. The budget allocated to education since SSEF implementation began increased. In addition to making education a national priority, the President, in his inauguration speech on 24 January 2019, stressed that, in accordance with the Constitution, basic education must be free. Free primary education was introduced in the 2019/20 school year. Despite the challenges it has posed, the policy enabled around 2.5 million more children to go to school in its first year of application. However, among 10 reforms recommended in the SSEF, free education is the one that has received most political attention.

Note: DHS = Demographic and Health Survey; MICS = Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey.
 Source: UNESCO country completion rate estimates,

Two positive practices were singled out during the research in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to inform peer learning with other countries via the LEARN peer-learning platform hosted by the AU:

  1. Increased parental involvement in school operations since the 1990s. This includes various different initiatives in schools to provide advice on school management issues, pastoral support to children, and community resource mobilization for repairs and construction of new classrooms.
  2. Two approaches to professionalizing teacher training including (i) streamlining of teaching programmes in upper secondary education by strengthening teaching practice; and (ii) setting up post-secondary teacher training institutes.

Four recommendations for improving learning outcomes are drawn from the study. They have been designed with both the recent positive developments to the Congolese education system, and its ongoing challenges, in mind, and were developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Primary, Secondary and Technical Education.

  1. Provide the education system and schools with necessary resources. Fieldwork showed that the budget is insufficient to significantly improve learning, and households still carry the greatest burden of financing education, currently funding 42% of total education expenditure in the country. There is a sizeable need for new school infrastructure (schools and classrooms) as well as older buildings requiring rehabilitation
  2. Prepare and supervise teachers through more effective in-service teacher training and regular school-level inspections. In addition to establishing the pilot institute for teacher training as recommended by the SSEF, education partners need to prioritize ensuring that teacher trainers’ skills are strengthened, that teachers are mentored by directors and monitored by inspectors, and that the government provides them with a decent salary to motivate them.
  3. Clarify and disseminate the vision of education more widely. The government needs to sensitize all education stakeholders on the importance of education and learning. This will require clarification through broad consultation with a range of education stakeholders at the provincial and sub-provincial levels so as to reach agreement on key messages, along with sensitizing actors at all levels through flyers, at Service national de formation (SERNAFOR, National Training Service) training sessions and during workshops.
  4. Produce and disseminate appropriate textbooks and other educational materials aligned with the curriculum and adapted to reflect local languages. The government needs to develop a clear plan for producing textbooks and disseminating them in schools for all subjects. Moreover, the financial and technical partners, in collaboration with the government, should ensure that reading textbooks are adapted to capture the variants of national languages.

Read the advocacy brief

Read the country report

Read the continental Spotlight Report

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