#UDHR70 - "Education in a country in conflict", by Etienne-Paulin Songoli
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Human rights are an on-going issue for the education sector in the Central African Republic. These issues concern both the status of the teaching staff and the quality of the infrastructure and teaching methods.
The Central African Republic is a landlocked country in central Africa with 4.5 million inhabitants and an area of 623,000 square kilometres (larger than France). Our country is rich in natural resources, including uranium, gold, diamonds and oil. The education system has become very degraded because of the limited budget allocated to it. There are very few educational facilities, which has led to a proliferation of private schools.
The president, Faustin-Archange Touadera, in office since 2016, and his Prime Minister, Mathieu-Simplice Sarandji, have increased the education budget from 8 to 15% of GDP. This may be because they both worked as teachers and understand the problems faced by education.
The country is suffering from several regional and religious conflicts. A lot of schools in the conflict zones have had to close because teachers and students have fled to the DRC, Cameroon and Congo Brazzaville. There are also a lot of internally displaced persons. Last September, the communities in Alindao, in the east of the country, came under attack from armed militia that committed abuses over tens of kilometres, displacing a huge number of people from the surrounding villages. Despite the deployment of United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) peacekeepers, armed gangs are still active in many parts of the country. Violence and instability have led to a weakening of the country’s institutions, including education.
The status of the profession has declined considerably and there is a lack of trained teachers. Even though wages are low, staff are experiencing severe delays in payment. These delays started in 1992-93 and since then wage arrears have continued to mount up and the salary scale has not changed. Salaries for 2001-2002 are still unpaid today.
This situation leads to corruption and many teachers leaving the profession.
Training remains a weak point, with many teachers only following an accelerated nine-month training program, often sponsored by our development cooperation partners. Many senior education officers with only a Secondary School Certificate are recruited by private institutions without any specialised training.
Teachers should usually have had BAC +2 years training at an Ecole Normale(teachers' training college). At the level of general secondary, technical and literacy education, teachers are usually college graduates with BAC +3 and secondary school teachers with BAC +4, all from the Ecole Normale Supérieure.
There are also a lot of contract and temporary teachers working, sometimes from the Ministries of Health, Forestry and Water Resources, and Finance.
Women teachers are still few and far between, even though it is now the case that many women are now interested in pursuing a career in teaching. There are now more female teachers being appointed primary school headmistresses, secondary school administrators (a position usually held by women in the Central African Republic), supervisors in secondary schools and colleges, principals, general managers, department managers and heads of departments in the Ministry of National Education.
Teaching conditions, and therefore learning conditions, are very difficult with very high student/teacher ratios, a lack of teachers, inadequate buildings and a lack of appropriate teaching materials.
This situation should result in union mobilisation but, unfortunately, the proliferation of teachers’ unions makes a constructive dialogue with the authorities impossible. Today, there are more than thirteen teachers’ unions, only one of which is affiliated with EI: the Syndicat National des Enseignants Autonomes de Centrafrique(SYNEAC), which I represent. This union has regularly taken part in dialogue, including the Grand National Debate in 1992, the 2004 National Dialogue and the 2016 Discussion Forum. Some of these negotiations between the government and the union resulted in joint statements being issued. However, the implementation of such agreements has still not taken place.
10 December 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Declaration remains a relevant inspiration for educators and trade unionists worldwide, as it guarantees the right to form unions, freedom of expression and the right of all to quality education. Human rights requires an informed and continued demand by people for their protection. For this special occasion, Education International is releasing a series of blogs bringing voices and thoughts of unionists reflecting on struggles and accomplishments in this domain. The blogs reflect the continued commitment of education unionists, in every part of the world, in every community, to promote, defend and advance human rights and freedoms for the benefit of all.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.