What makes Rwanda's girl-child education model tick
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Recently, the Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR) ranked Rwanda sixth in closing gender gaps around the world. To arrive at the conclusion, the 2015 report considered economic opportunity, political empowerment, health and education for both men and women.
In education, the report found that 68 per cent of females in Rwanda are literate as compared to 73 per cent males but across the different levels; primary education has the biggest enrolment of girls at 95 per cent higher than 92 per cent for boys.
However, for those above 25 years, 26 per cent of females attain primary education as compared to 35 per cent of males.
Also, males at 59 per cent dominate the figure of students who are supposed to be in primary but are out of school as compared to only 41 per cent of females.
To fix the previous hitches hampering female enrolment, the Ministry of Education together with other actors identified initiatives to promote equal prospects of girls at school.
“We have a department in charge of girls’ education at the ministry; obviously we try to see that in all the plans, girls are not left out. The target is to see that many of them have an equal opportunity of accessing school just like their male counterparts,” says Dr Celestin Ntivuguruzwa, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education.
With such interventions, statistics from the ministry show significant progress. In 2012, the primary net enrollment rate stood at 97 per cent with a net enrollment rate of 98 per cent for girls, higher than the 95 per cent for boys.
The same year, there was improvement when 78 per cent of females completed primary in contrast to 2008 when only 53 per cent of girls completed primary.
To further improve enrollment, government established the 9-year basic and 12-year basic education to support all children of school going age attain access to school.
And current statistics from the ministry show that girls now comprise 52 per cent of students in secondary school under a total secondary school net enrollment rate that stands at 28 per cent.
Stepping up female education in Rwanda’s tertiary Institutions
Enrollment of both females and males in tertiary institutions is still low at 7 per cent and 9 per cent respectively, according to the GGGR.
Professor Verdiana Grace Masanja, the director of research and postgraduate studies at the University of Rwanda, points out that males dominate both the student and staff population in higher institutions.
“Female students in higher institutions are fewer than the male counterparts for both students and academic staff. The most affected disciplines are science and technology. The gap is still big except in health sciences and humanities,” Professor Masanja explains.
However, under the Girls Education policy, female students are encouraged to join higher learning institutions.
Amidst other strategies, there is provision of intensive remedial holiday courses for those wishing to enter male dominated fields but also entry cut-off points into higher education have been kept lower for girls.
At Akillah Institute for Women, girls are given room to express their creativity, among other skills.
Lisa Doherty, the academic director at the Institute believes that women perform much better within such an isolated atmosphere.
“I believe women perform better when placed in a single sex environment. They can participate in areas like research and have higher expectations from their academics,” says Doherty.
Paul Swagga, an English Instructor at Akillah, is optimistic that within tertiary Institutions, a learner-centred approach develops leadership skills for women better.
“When women work in groups and with the equal chance to participate they are able to develop leadership skills,” Swagga says.
Still according to the GGGR, of Rwandans above 25 years, 2 per cent females are enrolled in tertiary studies as compared to 5 per cent of males.
However, the worry according to some experts has been that some students miss out on education opportunities such as scholarships because of getting pregnant while at school.
But Sylvia Uhirwa, the partnerships coordinator at Kepler Institute, points out that when such cases arise, the Institute instead provides more support.
“We do not necessarily encourage girls to get pregnant but in the event that it happens, medical support, counselling and scholarships are not terminated,” Uhirwa explains.
She adds that during admission, a ratio of 1:1 recruitment is followed to ensure that both males and females become beneficiaries.
“Although we offer similar opportunities to both genders, we understand that cultural and family factors impede girls’ education, and as such, we develop different initiatives such as the Girls’ Day and workshops aimed at empowering girls through confidence building as well as goal setting,” she explains.
Experts also believe that the involvement of girls at an early stage is responsible for improved gender balance within education.
Annah Kamateneti, the in-charge of Early Childhood Development at Imbuto Foundation, explains that children succeed better if initiated into school at an early stage.
“To improve the progress of the girl child, we need to help them build their confidence when they are still at a tender age,” says Kamateneti.
She also suggests that girls in rural areas should not be neglected because they show more perseverance towards hardships.
“Surprisingly, within rural areas, girls tend to be more active than the boys and if they are assisted, they have more chances to succeed,” she adds.
Last year, the Ministry of Education registered a growth in pre-primary enrolment with 159,291 pupils up from 1421,471 in 2013.
Involving girls into science and technical fields
With government grappling to plug the gap of girls participating in science technology, engineering and math (STEM) studies, the number of males in the field is almost double that of girls.
From the Global Gender Gap Report, 31 per cent of female graduates enrolled in school as compared to 69 per cent of males, but the percentage of tertiary-level graduates in STEM studies stands at 30 percent females and 70 per cent male.
However, through technical vocation education and training (TVET), the target is still to bring on board more female students to engage in fields such as mechanical and electrical engineering.
According to Gerome Gasana, the director-general of the Workforce Development Authority (WDA), there is an adolescent girls initiative and a gender focal person in each TVET school to improve the participation of the girl child.
“The initiative is in over 8 schools and, so far, around 2,000 girls have benefited from the programme that builds skills in adolescents. Priority is mainly for girls from poor backgrounds and those who previously dropped out of school,” says Gasana.
He adds that WDA also supports the national employment programme, which seeks to promote a fair distribution of employed males and females.
“At least 40 per cent of people taken up under this programme should be girls which increases their chances of participating in previously male dominated fields,” he adds.
By the year 2018, the Government expects to have 60 per cent females in TVETs and 40 per cent in general education.
Jacky Murungi, a hospitality and management student
There should be no specific field for either men or women; people should try exploring all areas to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Likewise, men should also try out women’s jobs so that we make the world a better place for everyone.
Grace Ingaribe, a student
Most women will go for areas that will make them more comfortable, than those that are more challenging and stressful. Besides, society perceives some fields as men’s, so some fear to venture into them. But women are capable of doing anything.