By Minnie Karanja
Rwanda Education Board (REB) is mandated to produce, elaborate and provide learning and teaching materials in line with the curriculum. It also equips teachers with skills to enable them implement the curriculum in place.
In July 2013, the department of curriculum and pedagogical materials embarked on a journey to revise the old education curriculum. The journey, which lasted two years, involved in-depth research and study of curricula in neighboring East African states and in leading economies including United States of America, United Kingdom, South Korea and Singapore. The study’s mission was to identify best practices that could be replicated in Rwanda to produce effective results in the quality of education offered to Rwandans.
Why the move to the new curriculum
Dr. Joyce Musabe, the head of curriculum and pedagogical materials department at REB explains that “looking at the EDPRS2 and other national policies such as the 7 year government programme, vision 2020, the education sector strategic planning, and the EAC curriculum framework, we saw that there was a need to change the curriculum. We needed to ensure that the school leavers are equipped with technical and vocational skills as much as those who are proceeding to university. The new curriculum therefore necessitated less academic and called for more practical, more skills-based and more orientation to a working environment and daily life. We need to ensure that Rwandan graduates and school leavers qualify to be competitive in the East African region and outside of the region. We want to ensure that we eliminate any barriers resulting from the old curriculum that would hinder our graduates from working or furthering their studies in the region and the rest of the world. We want every Rwandan graduate to have skills which will ensure their competitiveness in the regional and global market.”
Different studies conducted prior to the revision revealed that the old curriculum included substantial overage of the core skills, especially literacy and numeracy, maths, science and English but lacked content relevant to expectations of the labour market. There was emphasis on knowledge acquisition rather than transferable skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking essential to the appropriate attitude and essential to productive employment. The new curriculum besides addressing the gaps identified in the study, aims at shaping the attitudes and minds of Rwandan scholars in a visible way.
Compared to the old curriculum which basically emphasized on knowledge, the new curriculum is competence based and aims to inculcate students with skills and right attitudes in addition to knowledge. For instance in languages, the students will learn competencies in reading, writing, listening and speaking. The students will also learn social skills that are found in crosscutting issues such as hard work, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, citizenship, national identity, genocide studies, comprehensive sexual education, decision making and financial education.
Different national institutions which deal with specific issues such as environment protection played an important role in the elaboration of the new curriculum, supporting in the integration of these issues in learning and teaching. As the new curriculum is informed and responds to national development policies, it will shape the minds of young Rwandans to work towards building a future Rwanda that is envisioned in the policies.
While the new curriculum came into effect in February this year, the department of curriculum and pedagogical materials had been working to implement the new curriculum since September 2015. Study books and other teaching materials have been prepared. Some of them are being delivered to schools and others are scheduled to be delivered to schools before the beginning of the 2nd term in April as the printing is being done progressively by publishers.
Teachers have however been trained and equipped with skills to work with the existing curriculum while applying methodologies and teaching aids in the new curriculum. This means that the running of the new curriculum is not hampered as the students and teachers wait to receive new books outlined in the curriculum.
The teachers received training on a cascade model whereby 100 national teacher trainers and 3,000 district master trainers; 300 teachers in each district were trained to reach schools in all districts. On top of that, 29,000 subject school leaders for new subjects introduced in the new curriculum from all schools at the sector level were trained.
Commitment and dedication crucial for effectiveness of the new competence based curriculum
The competence based approach applied in the new curriculum has been successful in many countries and the same results are expected in Rwanda. However, Dr. Musabe cautions that it requires a lot of commitment and dedication as in some countries it has failed to yield the expected results. She emphasizes that there is a need to engage all stakeholders, including parents, to get involved and support it.
Teachers will be required to change their attitudes and demonstrate a change in mindset especially because the students will look upon the teachers as role models in the values to be instilled in the new curriculum.
At the District level, great synergy should be fostered between the District and the department of curriculum and pedagogical materials to ensure that the curriculum is rolled out smoothly and any challenges are resolved effectively.
New curriculum is a good break from the old teacher centered curriculum
Emmex Mugabo, the Principal of Saint Paul International School is excited about the new curriculum which he says is a good break from the teacher centered methodology that was applied in the old curriculum. “In the old curriculum, teachers practically did everything and the students had very little participation in the teacher-learner process. However in the new curriculum, the student is the centre of interest.
Students are expected to do most of the work and in this way stands to benefit more. The teacher takes up the role of a guide as students go through the learning process” he adds.
The new curriculum has great benefits for both teachers and students. First, it offers teachers an opportunity to make more tangible contributions to the learning process for students. As students are more engaged in the learning process, teachers have more time to think about ways of improving the lessons and making them more interesting for the students.
Second, the teachers’ work is made easier since they do not have to teach everything to the students. Although they are required to cover the syllabus, the students are expected to work hard to master the subjects’ content while the teachers guide them.
Third, for teachers it offers a great opportunity to learn new teaching skills and methodologies that are used in the East African region and abroad. Teaching experience gained in the new curriculum is transferrable to other countries where the competence based curriculum is used. Notably, as the East Africa Community grows and integrates socially and economically, teachers who wish to move to neighboring countries and pursue their teaching careers will not have a problem adjusting to the existing curricula.
Similarly for students who wish to pursue their studies within the East African region or abroad where the competence based curriculum is in place, they will enjoy a smooth transition in their studies.
Emmex urges teachers to embrace the new curriculum with an open mind as it will yield great results and benefits for both teachers and students. In addition, the fact that it is aligned to national development goals, its implementation will birth a generation of Rwandans whose mindset is geared towards being job creators as opposed to job seekers.