Hundreds of schoolchildren stormed the Democratic Republic of Congo’s parliament on Thursday, demanding that the government improve teachers’ wages and halt a two-week-long strike.
Pupils waving branches in their uniforms chanted, “We want to learn” and “If we don’t study, we’ll resort to drugs.”
On the first day of the school year, on Oct. 4, teachers went on strike over salary, bonus pay, retirement age, and other difficulties that have arisen since President Felix Tshisekedi introduced a flagship free primary education program in 2019.
“It’s already been two weeks that we’ve not been studying. Our teachers are on strike. When we ask them to teach us they say no, they won’t teach us until next year,” young protester Emerod Eraza said.
The children were received by the vice president of parliament, Jean-Marc Kabund-a-Kabund, who told them: “Your place is not in the street, but in school or at home.”
The government has accused the leaders of religious groups, who run around 80% of public primary schools, of being behind the strike, allegations they deny.
“It is worrying when politicians and churches think they are settling the scores… by turning schools into a political football,” Cecile Tshiyombo, the head of teachers’ union SYECO, told Reuters.
In August, the lender said it was too early to tell if the programme was a success, but pointed to the enrolment of an additional 3 million children as a sign of progress.