In the middle of my busy day today in the Democratic Republic of Congo I had my first French lesson! Did I learn about un chat, un chien, et une petite souris? No no, this is Save the Children. I spent my first lesson trying to explain the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to my teacher, Musubaho.
Musubaho has a broad grin, a bright shirt, and a habit of clicking his fingers. He teaches staff at Oxfam at 7am, children from 8am – 1pm, and me after that.
The government doesn’t pay Musubaho to teach. They don’t pay any teachers here at the moment. So Musubaho has to charge parents for their children’s education, or he wouldn’t be able to earn a living.
But people here live on about 40p per day (per capita income of $171 in 2009, for those who like the details). Even if they could each contribute 5% of their income to education, it’s still only 2p per child per day. How many children would you need to cover Musubaho’s salary? And then how big would the classroom need to be to fit all the children in? Let’s work it out.
If each child pays 2p per day for 300 days of teaching per year, then each child contributes £6 per year.
If there are 30 children in the classroom, then the teacher has £180 per year as a salary. 50p per day.
To earn just £1 a day then, the teacher needs 60 children in the classroom.
But what happens to the quality of teaching? How well can one person keep 60 children engaged? Even if they can, we’ve only covered the cost of teaching so far. Who’s paying for the paper, pens, books, games? Where do the desks and chairs come from? Who repairs the roof?
There are a few ways of keeping schools going until the government is able to pay teachers again. Some schools generate their own money, for example through market gardens or keeping chickens and selling the eggs, but that only works when they have land and a functioning farmers market. Others have two ‘shifts’ of lessons, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, but that means girls have to walk home in the dark which isn’t necessarily safe here. It also means you had a very tired teacher.
Others have entrenpreneurial teachers like Musubaho who use their skills and time to keep their school afloat – but that only works when there are adults nearby who want to learn. In rural areas it’s impossible.
So a lot of schools have to rely on external help. Many are supported by organisations like Save the Children. This situation isn’t unique to the DRC by any means.
Me, I’m going to keep having French lessons.