Implementing Free Primary Education in a Crisis Context: COVID-19 and Education Reform in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo
In September 2019, the Democratic Republic of the Congo implemented a new policy abolishing tuition fees in primary education. A few months later, schools closed for 4.5 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. How did the lockdown affect the implementation of the free education policy? Did it reduce or enhance its effects? This article examines the experience of schools and teachers in two districts in South Kivu affected by armed conflict. Based on a survey of 752 teachers and 637 parents, as well as 157 qualitative interviews in 55 schools, we show that, supported by the free education policy, enrollment remained stable, and the relations between teachers and parents did not seem to deteriorate despite a near complete lack of teaching activity during the period of school closure. However, the hardships associated with the pandemic have made the financial circumstances of teachers on precarious contracts previously paid via tuition fees even more unsustainable. Their quitting the profession in droves threatens the stability of the school system. Thus, introducing free primary education is not a panacea in the context of a crisis. The sustainability of such reform requires an ambitious and comprehensive overhaul of human resources.