Raissa Malu

Basic Education in D. R. Congo

A major education reform in sub-Saharan Africa's largest country.

This Thursday, October 15, 2020, I participated in the visit of the Lycée Kabambare with the Director General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay. Lycée Kabambare is one of the best girls' high schools in the city of Kinshasa.

In this period of health crisis that particularly affects girls (according to a recent survey conducted by the NGO Plan International, 6 out of 10 girls in the world will not return to school after the crisis!), we understand why Ms. Azoulay wanted to encourage the girls of this school associated with UNESCO during her visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A common base

During the official ceremony, two girls in grade 8 (basic education) read the message from the students of Lycée Kabambare to the Director-General of UNESCO. Listening to them, I thought it would be appropriate at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year to review this important reform of basic education in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Let's start with a definition taken from the July 2018 report on "basic education in the Democratic Republic of Congo" by Professor Philippe Jonnaert as part of the support for the modernization and implementation of school programs: "Basic education is a common base of skills, knowledge, professional and entrepreneurial know-how and interpersonal skills to which all children are entitled. These are therefore the 'basics' that every Congolese student needs, whether he or she is continuing his or her education or embarking on professional life."

A pan-African program

Although we Congolese are great, we did not invent this concept of basic education. All Western countries have basic education, and for OECD countries, student achievement at the end of basic education at age 15 is assessed with the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

For African countries, a pan-African program for the development of basic education was defined by UNESCO in 2009. This is the BEAP (for Basic Education for Africa Program).

A law in 2014

The Democratic Republic of Congo has been part of this movement since 2010. And it is in the Framework Law No. 14/004 of February 11, 2014 of National Education that the concept of basic education will be officially introduced: "Chapter III, Section 1, Article 10: basic education for all is the body of knowledge acquired by the child from the primary level up to general secondary. It is articulated in primary education and the first two years of secondary education. It ensures that all children have a common base of knowledge and gives the child a first level of general education."

Here is the structure of basic education in the Democratic Republic of Congo:


Structure EB RDC

A continuum of education and training

Basic education is an in-depth structural reform of the Congolese education system, because as a common base, all post-basic education offers, from secondary to higher education, including vocational training, must be based on it. We tend to lose sight of this, but it is important to know that improving the quality of the Congolese education system depends on the level of coherence that we are able to establish between the different ministries in charge of the education sector.

It is a question of creating a continuum of education and training that ensures that children, young people and adults have a harmonious school, academic or professional career. As a common base of skills and knowledge, basic education becomes the central pillar of our education system.

Four new functions

In this context, the last two years of basic education, which are the first two years of secondary school, now have four new essential functions:

  • a function of integrating all the knowledge and skills of basic education;
  • a function of professionalization to prepare young people who would engage in active life at the end of basic education;
  • a function of orientation towards the various post-basic education training offers;
  • a function of certification with an exam at the end of basic education.

As you can see, basic education is not a prolonged primary schooling that would delay entry into secondary school. No way! It is a matter of "developing a holistic, integrated and wide-ranging curricular reform, oriented towards the continuity of learning, its results and its evaluation" (Philippe Jonnaert).

A coherent basic education

The final cycle of basic education corresponds to the first two years of secondary school and to use a down-to-earth image, boys must come to school in trouser uniforms and not in shorts as is the case in the primary cycle! So why did you change the names of these two years?

To materialize the reform. It is to insist on the necessity of a pedagogical continuum from the first to the last year of Basic Education, so that the student lives a coherent basic education without any break.

Basic education schools

What about schools? Will we have basic education schools? It is not excluded.

We already have schools in progress that do not have a complete cycle. The important thing to remember is that in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we still have elementary school and secondary schools.

The final cycle of basic education (grades 7 and 8) is housed in secondary schools. Eventually, we may have schools progressing to the terminal cycle of basic education (first two years of secondary school) in order to prepare their students for the certification that should take place at the end of this cycle.

Test de fin d'études

And should the National Primary School Leaving Test (TENAFEP) disappear? The reform of basic education has important consequences for the Congolese education system.

One of them is the management of the transition of pupils from the 6th year of basic education (6th primary) to the 7th year (1st secondary). For this transition to be smooth, the system must have sufficient capacity in the secondary schools that organize the final cycle of basic education.

This is not the case today. The TENAFEP is therefore still necessary to manage the flow of students. However, the Congolese education system must very quickly plan for the disappearance of this test in order to organize an official examination at the end of basic education.

The development of a curricular approach

The essence of basic education reform is the development of a curricular approach that ensures coherence between the primary and lower secondary cycles (the final cycle of basic education), but also between basic education and all post-basic education training offers that must be based on this common foundation. This is precisely the mission of the Education Project for the Quality and Relevance of Secondary and University Education (PEQPESU).

At the general secondary level, PEQPESU has supported the curricular reform in the logic of basic education with a reorganization of disciplines into learning areas, the pedagogical regime and the educational programs of the science learning area. The second phase (which will no longer fall under the PEQPESU) will be to extend the reform initiated to the other learning areas at the terminal cycle of basic education and at the primary cycle level.

A substantive reform

The reform of basic education in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a substantive reform in the perspective of achieving Sustainable Development Goal #4 (SDG4): "Ensure equal access to quality education for all and promote lifelong learning opportunities."

To conclude, I share with you this video that had been produced for the start of the 2018-2019 school year when the new curricula for the science learning area in the terminal cycle of basic education modernized according to the logic of basic education came into effect. It is available in French and in the four national languages for wide distribution. Thank you for sharing it!


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This article has first been published on LinkedIn.

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