Nelly Bassily | February 7, 2011
Oscar Semivumbi walks to school each morning with his satchel in hand and a hoe over his shoulder. Mr. Semivumbi is a teacher at the Institute of Matanda in Masisi, North Kivu province, eastern DR Congo. He explains, “I go to school early in the morning. After school, depending on the time of day, I join my wife to work on the farm.” He says he needs to farm because his teaching salary won’t get him through the month.
He is not the only teacher to practice two trades. Manabi Francis is a history teacher. He explains how he survives: “I harvested four bags of beans. I sold three bags for 36 dollars and kept one bag as seed for next season.” Some parents bring him gifts of food, such as beans, potatoes, bananas, and chickens. “But these provisions do not cover all our needs,” he adds.
Farmers displaced by wars have recently returned to the region. Many schools resumed classes in 2008. But many parents cannot afford to send their children to school in this agricultural area. Previously, those with livestock sold milk or cheese. But many animals have been stolen.
Unable to earn a living, teachers are leaving rural schools in North Kivu for the city. With fewer qualified teachers, the quality of education suffers, and student numbers have dropped.
In Katanga province in the south of the country, teachers have tackled similar problems by getting their students to work for them. In Kanyama, students work for two days a week in their teachers’ fields. Neither students nor parents are happy with this arrangement. Daniel Ruben Tchibanga is a 12-year-old student. He says, “Our teacher requires us to work in his field every Friday and Saturday from 6 am to 4 pm. The other days of the week, we do not study enough. Because the most important thing for him is his field of cassava and maize, not our studies.”
Parents are angry. They say is it exploitation. The local parents’ association complains that teachers are getting students to do “common chores.” But the kids cannot say no. They are afraid to fail. Mamba Sango is a student. He says, “Our teacher keeps a register to note who is working in his field. I don’t like this. I came to study, not to do chores!”
One teacher, who gave his name only as KW, does not deny these facts. Instead he tries to justify his actions. “With my low salary (20 000 Francs, or 22 dollars a month),” he explains, “I’m unmotivated. My students help me grow crops on my two acres of land. This is my main source of income.”
It is forbidden for teachers to use students’ time in this way. Legally, students can be asked only to do light work such as cleaning classrooms. Placide Ngandu is Head of the Sub-Division of Primary, Secondary and Vocational Education in Kanyama. He announced that he will open a disciplinary file against teachers who compel pupils to work on their fields.
The Security Committee of Kanyama even addressed this issue during a meeting. But they made no recommendation. Local groups are calling for authorities to improve teachers’ wages and working conditions, and stop the exploitation of students.
Meanwhile, teachers try to find the time to work in their fields to make ends meet.