Despite the harsh challenges posed by poverty, instability, lack of resources, and high drop-out rates, teachers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) still want to teach. “They are thirsty for recognition and training,” says EDC’s Nathalie Louge.
The challenges faced by the DRC’s teachers are daunting. Located in the heart of sub-Saharan Africa, the country struggles to provide basic services to its 71 million people. Conflict between government-loyal forces and other armed groups has destabilized eastern DRC, driving millions from their homes and perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Armed militants remain active in the region, threatening violence and abduction.
Despite this adversity, teachers are turning out by the thousands for training to improve their methods of instruction. In 2012, more than 31,000 DRC teachers took part in a nine-day professional development institute in mathematics, and in 2011, a French language institute attracted 27,000 participants.
These trainings are part of the USAID-funded Package for Improving Education Quality (PIEQ) program, which aims to improve French and math learning in the DRC. Directed by EDC in collaboration with the country’s National Ministry of Education, PIEQ is working with teachers from 3,000 target schools in Bandundu, Equateur, and Orientale provinces to increase student learning by improving teaching and the school environment. Tests given to teachers before and after they attended the training institutes show substantial gains, with their skills improving on average by 28 percent.
The DRC has some of the highest poverty and illiteracy rates in the world. “Teachers themselves struggle with reading and the language they’re supposed to be teaching in,” says Louge, an instructional design specialist. “We’re trying to raise teachers’ levels of pedagogical content knowledge, while at the same time, increasing student achievement in those subject areas.”
The Congolese government has embraced a development strategy that believes stability and growth begin with an educated citizenry. PIEQ is working with the country’s leaders to revitalize an education system that has long been neglected. “Despite the difficulties they encounter day to day, teachers are still very much engaged,” Louge says. “They want to improve.”
Congolese teachers are learning how students learn best. The PIEQ program educates them on inquiry-based learning—a student-centered, interactive approach that breaks from the traditional method of teaching by memorization. Teachers are encouraged to take a self-directed approach to their own professional development, using interactive radio instruction (IRI) to bring lessons into hard-to-reach places. They can build their skills and present student-centered activities, all provided through portable mp3-enabled solar wind-up radios in their classrooms.
PIEQ also extended an existing IRI series in grades 1 through 6, ensuring that students receive quality daily lessons based on the Congolese curriculum and that teachers receive support in practicing the interactive techniques they learn in training. The program is expected to reach 3,000 schools in three of the largest provinces in the DRC, 33,000 teachers, and 1.2 million students by 2014. EDC’s partners in the PIEQ program are RTI International, Catholic Relief Services, and New Generation Media Initiative for Africa.
In February 2013, EDC is leading a conference to set national benchmarks for reading in the DRC. Math and French (the national language) have been the focus subjects, until now. “This is exciting given there is currently no place in the national curriculum for reading,” Louge says. “This conference will get the ball rolling on integrating reading and standards for reading achievement into the curriculum and putting it on the forefront of policy.
Then this spring, EDC and PIEQ will launch a reading program in select experimental schools, using IRI to support the teaching of reading and writing. The schools will also pilot a comprehensive reading program aimed at providing teachers with daily literacy-based activities to integrate into their instruction.
Originally published on February 7, 2013