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Policy Changes

The state's initial goal was to rectify the severe imbalance between primary schooling, where the colonial state had excelled, and secondary and university schooling, where it had done almost nothing. At independence the nation had one of the highest literacy rates on the continent and fully 70 percent of the primary schoolage population enrolled in school. (However, over 70 percent of these schools offered only two grades, and dropout rates were among the highest in colonial Africa.) At the secondary level, however, the enrollment total of 28,951 students was a mere 2 percent of the primary school enrollment. The colonial bias toward creation of a minimally educated populace was clear.

The new government responded by rapidly expanding education at all levels, with special emphasis on increasing the number of postprimary institutions. Whereas the state established some primary and secondary schools under its own direction, it generally preferred to continue the existing pattern of subsidizing Catholic missions to carry out state educational goals. (Protestant and Kimbanguist schools were also subsidized; the former had received few funds under the colonial state, and the latter had received none.) The general pattern was for the state to set curriculum, to pay staff salaries, and to provide some educational materials. Recruitment of teachers and staff and management of the schools themselves were left to the churches.

Primary schools taught grades one through six, and secondary schools were responsible for grades seven though twelve. Secondary schools were subdivided into the cycle d'orientation (junior high) and cycle long (senior high). Diplomas were awarded not for simply finishing classes with passing grades, but for passing a rigorous nationwide examination administered by the state, the examen d'état.

By the mid-1980s, higher education had expanded into over twenty postsecondary institutions providing university-level education. The four campuses of the National University of Zaire (Université Nationale du Zaïre--UNAZA) led the six that grant university degrees. UNAZA consists of the University of Kinshasa (Université de Kinshasa; originally Lovanium University, the Catholic university, founded in 1954), the University of Kisangani (Université de Kisangani; originally the Free University of the Congo, or Université Libre du Congo--ULC, the Protestant university, founded in 1963), the University of Lubumbashi (Université de Lubumbashi, formerly the state-run Université Officielle du Congo--UOC, founded in 1964), and the University of Kananga (Université de Kananga, created in 1985). The two teacher - training centers, the National Teaching Institute-Kinshasa (Institut Pédagogique National-Kinshasa) and the National Teaching Institute-Bukavu (Institut Pédagogique National--Bukavu) also award university-level degrees. These institutions offer undergraduate programs lasting four to five years leading to a license (the rough equivalent of a B.A. or B.S. degree). The other institutions offer a three-year course of study leading to a graduat diploma (the rough equivalent of an A.A. degree).

With Mobutu's accession to power, the drive to nationalize and centralize Zairian institutions, including the education system, eventually eclipsed all other educational policy issues. Universities, all privately run, were the first target. Students there had repeatedly displayed their independence, resisting Mobutu's attempt at establishing on-campus chapters of his party's youth organization, the JMPR, as well as striking and demonstrating against particular state policies. Student opposition was neutralized for a long time by the army's shooting of a large number of demonstrators in 1969, by closing the universities, and by drafting the entire student body into the army for one year.

The autonomy of the universities themselves was formally ended in August 1971 by their nationalization and reorganization as three separate campuses under one body, UNAZA. Administration was centralized in Kinshasa. The takeover of the universities and implantation of JMPR chapters on each campus have not succeeded in permanently stilling dissent. Periodic closings of campuses are decreed by the state when student activism appears threatening. When such measures fail to work, force is used. In May 1990, troops of the Special Presidential Division (Division Spéciale Présidentielle--DSP) flew by night from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi, where they surrounded student dormitories and beat, robbed, and killed up to 100 unarmed students before returning under cover of darkness to the capital (see Subsequent Political Developments, 1990-93; Opposition since 1990 , ch. 4).

Primary and secondary schools (mostly church-owned and church -operated) were nationalized in their turn in 1974. While officially intended to implement the state ideology of authenticity, the action was also motivated by the desire to wrest control of the schools from the powerful Roman Catholic Church (see Religion , this ch.). Several years later, the government, faced with other more pressing crises, reversed course and formally asked the churches to resume their former role in school administration. The churches accepted. Staffs and faculties were quickly rebuilt, but the damage done to many schools' physical facilities while under state management, including the stripping of desks, chairs, books, doors, and windows, was so extensive that some schools were permanently abandoned.

Data as of December 1993

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