Helping the poorest children advocate for better education services

When poor children access to education, they often cannot obtain quality education nor participate in decision making at school level. That often prevents them from receiving education in better environment with better toilets, clean water, library and safer classroom.  In the low income neighborhoods around Ruzizi Valley, thousands of children have been obliged to study in poorly equipped and poorly governed private schools just to gain access to education. In some schools, approximately 300 students’ girls and boys share a single toilet in school.

The arrangement is a drain on the students’ time and their health. “girls and children wait for their turn for several hours to get access to the toilet at school,” said a community monitor, who heads one of Integrity Clubs established by CERC in Ruzizi Valley. “Due to lack of water at school, some students do not use water after toilet, they use papers withdrawn from their notebooks and leaves” which can lead to illness, the monitor added. “Due to the insufficient teachers and classrooms, students from two different classes are gathered in the single class to be taught with the same teacher” another Integrity Club member report.

In the past, school children could not complain about the situation to school officials. Students were left feeling neglected, resentful, and alienated. A project funded by Integrity Action changed the way the school children view themselves and their right to better education services, providing a model that can be applied elsewhere in DR Congo. With funding from NORAD via Integrity Action, CERC trained the school children to advocate for themselves effectively.

CERC reached out to students and community groups in the neighborhoods of Ruzizi Valley in 2017 and helped them form Integrity Clubs in schools and Joint Working Groups to advocate for better education. At the same time CERC helped parents’ committees consider their own responsibility to advocate for the better education for their children.

In earlier 2018, the Integrity Clubs began their monitoring and advocacy works – raising awareness, mobilizing their school officials and communities, and making use of the DevelopmentCheck App to report in real time their findings. The Integrity Clubs gathered information on school effectiveness, community participation and access to information and presented their findings and recommendations to school officials and to Joint Working Groups.

School officials were persuaded to seek solutions. In later 2018, the school officials of some schools began investing in building new toilets, new classrooms and others in renovation of existing reported poor infrastructures. By mid-2019, about 40% of schools had seen health improvements with new washrooms and water availability in schools. New school buildings were built in 30% of the schools in the Ruzizi Valley.

CERC believes this is the first time in South-Kivu that the school children of marginalized neighborhoods have organized to assert their right to better education services. The organization plans to continue this model of building the capacity of communities to advocate for themselves. More broadly, the project changed the relationship between school children and school officials.