Efforts to get girls in school, stay in school and perform as good, or even better than their male counterparts seem to be paying off.
Early this week, the Rwanda Education Board released results of national exams for both primary and O-Levels.
At the Primary Level, girls recorded an 87.4 per cent pass rate compared boys who managed 85 per cent.
And at O-Level (Lower Secondary), of the 10 best-performing students nationwide, 60 per cent were girls.
In 2016, no girl was among the top 10.
For the girls to eventually beat the boys has not been by magic bullet but a continued collaborative effort from various stakeholders.
Compared to 10 years ago, the number of girls who have sat both national exams at both primary and O-Level has doubled.
According to the Ministry of Education, in 2008, there were just over 23,000 girls who sat the exams at O’Level 67,000 at Primary level.
In 2017, the numbers have shot up to over 51,000 at O-Level and more than 125,000 at Primary level.
And the pass rate, too, has remarkably improved.
In 2008, the girls pass rate was 70.5 per cent for primary and 70.2 per cent for O-Level. This year, the girls passed at of 87.4 per cent and 88 per cent at primary and O-Level respectively.
Ted Maly, the UNICEF Rwanda Representative, told Saturday Times that significant work has been undertaken in Rwanda to advance education – to improve the quality of education and ensure access for all children, including the most marginalised.
He pointed out that great strides have also been made to provide opportunities for pre-school and school readiness, and to promote gender equality within the system.
The numbers are proof that the efforts put in are actually paying off.
According to the Girls Education Policy, developed by the Ministry of Education in 2008, there were barriers towards girls’ access and retention in primary and secondary school which have since been addressed by the government.
These barriers included the perception that education was not as important for girls in addition to socio-economic and cultural factors.
Speaking to Saturday Times, the Minister for Gender and Family Promotion, Esperance Nyirasafari, said that girls education started to be embraced when parents understood that a boy and girl have the same rights.
“Parents have been sensitised that a girl who has been educated is able to work and play a role in developing her family, and country,” Nyirasafari said.
The minister said that, previously, when it came to education, priority was given to boys. Girls were left home to help with domestic chores.
Through sensitisation about the benefits of educating girls, parents now realise that their daughters too should be supported when it comes to school.
Minister Nyirasafari also cited other initiatives such as the establishment of “Icyumba cy’umukobwa” (a girl’s room) set up in schools.
This initiative has helped retain girls in school. They get support including providing them with sanitary pads and other services without which they would miss school and eventually drop out.
The State Minister for Primary and Secondary Education, Isaac Munyakazi, goes a step further and points out that in last year’s examinations girls performed well even in science subjects such as mathematics and physics, especially at O-Level.
He said this indicates that even a girl is capable which debunks the long-held belief that science courses were a preserve for boys.
“What is good is that even when it comes to passing exams, girls are not many only in numbers, but also in performance,” Munyakazi said.
“The campaign that the government undertook to show that a girl is as capable as a boy and that they get equal rights in education has started bearing fruit,” The minister added.
Unicef’s Ted Maly said, “We are seeing continued results and increased gains, including gender-parity at primary and secondary levels and almost near-universal access to primary education for all Rwandan children.”
In addition to Unicef, there are other stakeholders whose contribution have made a difference.
Imbuto Foundation, under the leadership of the First Lady Mrs Jeannette Kagame has rewarded and recognised best performing school girls in all parts of the country.
They also carry out countrywide outreach programmes where mentors and role models inspire young girls to achieve more in life.
Another organisation is Girl Hub that runs programmes geared towards helping girls achieve their full potential.
Looking at the numbers, however, one area that needs more effort is to encourage girls to continue their education.
There remains a gap between those who complete primary school and go on to complete O-Level as well.
Among other challenges that need to be addressed, Minister Nyirasafari said, is child labour and early pregnancies which adversely affect children’s education.
“There are people who want to exploit children through child labour such as working on rice plantations and mining. This is a threat to their education and the country because when children are lured into doing such jobs to get paid, it diverts their attention from studying,” she said, noting that the government and parents, as well as employers, should partner to address such an issue.
The Gender minister, however, emphasised that currently, a girl who gets impregnated while in school is encouraged to continue her studies, which was not the case before the girl-child education policy was adopted.
“We will continue to put in more efforts so that both girls and boys study because when children get quality education, the country develops,” she said.