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CATALYZE: Improving Schools & Empowering Learners

By Catherine O'Shea & Joe Dutra

For rural communities in developing economies, teachers and school owners can be some of the most important leaders when it comes to economic growth. Opportunity International’s Education  Finance team is dedicated to supporting those leaders, providing them with linkages to capital to invest in their schools, and delivering professional development training to improve the educational experience for learners.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), one of the most populous countries in Africa, is home to a population where nearly three in four people live on less than $2.15 per day. With only 45% of the country’s children completing a primary education, opening minds and broadening horizons for young people has the potential to transform an entire country. 

Ms. Désiré Bayongwa, the owner of the Learning Academy in the DRC, believes in this transformative potential—in her country, her schools, and her students. In particular, she sees education as an integral factor in building gender equality.

“[Women should be] independent and ready to shine in society,” Ms. Désiré said. “With the particularity of an African woman who assures herself, but also with the dreams necessary for her success in all areas of her enterprises.”

Ms. Désiré started building classrooms in 2010 and officially opened the school in July 2012. The school started with two pre-primary, three primary, and two secondary classes, 157 learners, and 14 teachers. A decade later, she has employed almost 100 staff members, creating valuable job opportunities in her community as well as deepening the quality of education that the students are receiving.

Some of that success is in part thanks to support from a public-private partnership called the USAID CATALYZE EduFinance program, which helps low-fee non-state school owners get the training, support, and access to resources that help them thrive. 

Part of the program is dedicated to fostering best practices among regional schools. Non-state schools in places like the DRC, though an integral portion of the nationwide education system, are often left on their own to develop lesson plans and sustainable business methods. The CATALYZE system brings these education leaders together to share what works and develop relationships that foster mutual support.

For Ms. Désiré, sharing these experiences has been vital to creating a social framework of inclusion. These meetings have made her feel as though her entire community can become a family, rather than seeing other non-state schools as competitors.

This experience inspired her to develop new systems and supports for her students, transforming her school development plans to increase extracurricular activities and activities with peer schools. Today, the Learning Academy’s recreational center has become a place for collaboration with surrounding schools, hosting regular sports events between the learners and teachers and strengthening the social fabric of her community. 

CATALYZE’s School Leadership professional leadership workshops have also provided Ms. Désiré with new techniques that help her schools become more efficient. She added new financial management employees to the team and restructured the roles of the existing staff—removing unnecessary pressure from teachers and allowing them to do what they love: teach.

And thanks to CATALYZE’s support, Ms. Désiré has been able to develop a new performance indicator plan for principals and teachers to help sharpen their skills and increase impacts on students—a plan with deep understanding of the additional burdens that women face in education. All of her schools have a built-in framework for girls to talk about their specific problems and challenges, giving her female students a clear outlet to thrive in this school environment.

Today, the Learning Academy has over 1,660 learners—10 times more than on its opening day. With new systems to build efficiencies, measure impact, and support girls and women, these young learners are set up to succeed.

Opportunity’s EduFinance team is proud to support Ms. Désiré on her path to success—one that paves the way for thousands more.

The school name mentioned in this blog has been changed to comply with Opportunity International’s child protection policy related to photos of children.

This blog was made possible through support provided by CATALYZE, a Private Sector Engagement Hub, Bureau for Development, Democracy, and Innovation, U.S. Agency for International Development, under the terms of Contract No. 7200AA19C00080. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Agency for International Development. 



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