Zaire Table of Contents
Statistically, education would appear to be one of the healthiest institutions in contemporary Zaire. Though precise numbers vary among sources, the overall growth trend has been unmistakable. The number of illiterates over fifteen years of age, both absolute and as a percentage of population, has continued to decrease, from 68.7 percent in 1962 to 38.8 percent in 1985. By 1992 the rate of illiteracy was estimated at just 28 percent (16 percent for males over age fifteen and 39 percent for females). Numbers of schools, teachers, and pupils have grown (see table 8, Appendix). According to UN estimates, however, enrollment ratios (the percentage of the school-age population enrolled in school) remain relatively low--79 percent for primary school in 1990 (89 percent for males and 67 percent for females), up from 70 percent in 1965; and 23 percent for secondary school (16 percent for females). Moreover, only 56 percent of primary school-aged children reach the fourth grade.
In higher education, the nation boasts three universities, a network of teacher training, technical, and agricultural institutes; and several university-affiliated research institutes-- this in a country that began its independent existence in 1960 with a total of thirty Congolese university graduates among its population of more than 16 million.
Quantitative growth, unfortunately, has served to mask a pervasive and accelerating decline in quality at all levels. The causes of this decline may be found in shifting and inconsistent state policies, in church-state conflicts, in problems within the schools, and in the economic impoverishment suffered by the country as a whole.
Despite the deficiencies of the education system, most Zairians share a faith in the value of education and a belief that their children might have, through schooling, a better future. This hope has been cited as one of the major factors behind the citizenry's disinclination to political activism in the face of a pervasive and continuing decline in living standards. Some analysts, however, have noted a progressive narrowing of access to the education system. For example, Schatzberg has argued that the perceived openness of the system to all children is a myth. Access to education has increasingly been denied to those who are not part of the state bureaucracy and its class.
Data as of December 1993