Learners across Rwanda will soon start benefiting from a new system of teaching that emphasizes the use of information and communication technology, thanks to a three-year project to transform education which the Government of Rwanda has undertaken with Microsoft.
Rwanda Education Board (REB) is currently establishing 500 smart classrooms across the country and they are expected to be fully operational soon, essentially paving the way for scaling up the programme.
According to REB, 9 per cent or 531 schools in Rwanda currently have access to internet; but the partnership with Microsoft is expected to help grant access to more than three million students and 61,000 teachers across the country’s 3,500 schools by 2020.
Some of the schools which already have smart classes affirm that they have already started experiencing the impact of the new system of learning.
At Lycée de Kigali in Nyarugenge District, where the system has been operational for one year now, they say apart from the changes being massive, they are also positive.
According to Donald Munyeshuri, an IT teacher at the school, for a classroom to be called a smart class, it should have a screen (projector) for projecting content to students, laptops, tablets for practical studies, programme languages, internet, as well as machines for scanning and printing out notes and home work for students.
That is exactly what they have at their school. All this, he says, has brought many changes in the way students learn and carry out academic activities compared to how it was previously.
For instance, Munyeshuri says before teachers used to write everything on the chalk board, which was time consuming. Another risk of putting everything on the board using chalk, he says, is that the chalk is not safe, and the dust it emits could actually bring some health problems, especially for teachers and students with health issues.
Today, Munyeshuri says they no longer worry about such anymore, as everything is now digitalised.
“What we do now is just to prepare notes and put them on the projector. They can then be viewed by all students, who get them on their laptops or tablets,” he explains.
Another advantage of smart classes, he says, is that the internet has different resources which students can use to search for content in both video and audio formats.
“These give students a variety of choices, which helps them not to be limited to one resource as before. It helps especially those who are selective when it comes to revising notes or even doing research,” he says.
Munyeshuri says because some students get bored when they only have to read using one resource, smart solutions in form of online resources provide variety, which is more fun.
“Again, the notes given to students can be archived on emails and traced easily whenever needed, unlike in the past where it was easy for them to get lost in books,” he says.
At Karangazi Secondary School in Nyagatare District, both teachers and students are equally elated with the smart classes.
According to Juliet Murekatete, the head teacher of the school, before, students had no access to computers and learning was only in theory. Now, she says, the process is more practical which help the learners to understand better.
“For those who didn’t know how to operate computers, it’s an advantage for them because it helps them to have basic information on how computers work. This is an added advantage even when they join universities,” she says.
She adds that previously teachers faced a tough time teaching computer classes in theory.
“Right now, ICT teachers can teach a big number of students because the laptops are enough, and each student has their own,” she says.
Murekatete adds that the number of students enrolling at their school has also gone up.
“Before, some of them had even started moving out in search of schools with smart classes.”
How prepared are schools?
Janvier Gasana, the director-general of Rwanda Education Board, says since some of the teachers do not know how to use the new system, there is ongoing training for teachers concerning smart classrooms.
He adds that for now, they have managed to deliver preliminary training for some teachers, but work is still ongoing.
The training, Gasana says, takes place during holidays and whenever the teachers have free time.
He points out that a smart classroom basically consists of 50 laptops, fully-installed internet and projectors.
On whether they will be able to hit the target, Gasana says it’s possible because a lot of efforts and resources have been put in to ensure it is achieved.
“Our target of last fiscal year was to reach at least 200 schools, but, on the contrary, we reached out to 500 schools with every class having two smart sections,” he says.
At Good Harvest School in Kigali, according the director, John Nzayisenge, although they still don’t have smart classes yet, they have started also preparing a room where they will install what is needed.
“We believe by the time we have smart classes all our teachers will be ready to start teaching. For the students, we have also started requesting them to start doing research on what smart classes are all about. They can do that by interacting with students from schools that already have the programme,” he says.
Although smart classes come with more advantages, Munyeshuri says there are a few challenges with the new system.
For instance, he notes that sometimes there are problems of internet connectivity, and lack of enough computers to cater for all students at once.
“This makes it hard for the school to accommodate all students. Also, lack of enough trained teachers who can handle students with the existing software is still a challenge,” he adds.
However, Munyeshuri says that during this holiday, they are going to train the teachers, which they believe will solve the problem.