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Opening School Doors for Kids in the Congo

“The world is facing a huge learning crisis,” says Maroua Sallami (Tunisia, Li Po Chun UWC, Northwestern ’16). The World Bank, where she works, estimates that 53% of children in low- and middle-income countries can’t read or comprehend a simple story by the end of primary school.

One of those countries, Democratic Republic of Congo, is one of the few nations where primary education is still not free to families. Maroua is on the World Bank team developing a billion-dollar project aiming to change that — “to reduce the burden of school fees on parents,” she says, “and put in place critical reforms to reinforce education systems.”

Households in the Congo currently pay about two-thirds of the cost for their children to attend primary school. “Consequently, at least three million school-age children are out of school,” Maroua says, primarily because their families can’t pay the fees. “This project is expected to benefit at least one million children from the poorest households ... 13 million primary students currently in school will also benefit from reduced fees.”

After earning a master’s degree from Northwestern, Maroua joined the World Bank’s Education Global Practice, which works to help countries reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4: “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030.

“With this pressing global demand for quality education,” Maroua says, “there is enormous potential for innovation. I believe that impact investing for developing countries’ education systems is part of the solution.”