The Ministry of Education is working to ensure attainment of The Government of Rwanda policy of universal primary education by 2010 and Education for All by 2015, as outlined in the MDGs and the Dakar agreements.
The Government has implemented a policy of fee-free primary education in which school fees have been abolished and replaced by a capitation grant, which has increased to 2,500FRw (USD4.50) in 2006. Shortfalls in financing at the school level nevertheless persist, with parents typically being invited to contribute to finance this gap. Non-fee barriers to primary education also remain and are thought to have some effect on access to education (for example, the cost of school uniforms and learning materials)
Free Secondary Education
Unlike in the other countries where free schooling is restricted to primary level, Rwanda provides six years of primary education and three years of post-primary education, where students undertake a common-core syllabus, equivalent of junior secondary.
This means that anybody exiting school after the nine years will have acquired both academic and technical and life skills. Leavers can then proceed for high school education or join professional training centers where they can train for one year in any technical field like mechanics, electricity, plumbing or carpentry.
The nine-year free basic education is to be implemented within the poverty reduction framework and seeks to expand access to basic education and training to all children.
A Major Overhaul
In implementing the new policy, the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Scientific Research will have to change all primary school and common-core syllabus. Primary school syllabus will focus on the basic concepts of mathematics, languages and elementary technological sciences that equip learners with basic knowledge on environment.
Common core syllabus will be designed in such a manner that at the end of the three years, pupils will be able to choose different courses at the secondary level. Graduates of the common-core syllabus will also be able to enter the job market, as they will have acquired basic skills for work.
To realize the intended goal, the government will have to abolish national examinations at the end of primary school. Further, it will have to provide an additional three classrooms in every primary school in the country.
So far, there is a law that provides for free primary education. However, it is planned that the law will be enhanced so that it applies to all the nine years that make up the basic education programme.
Implementing the new programme will also require the government to increase its education budget substantially. At least, education will then consume not less that 30 per cent of the national budget. More teachers will have to be employed and those in service re-trained so that they can offer the common-core syllabus.
Besides, more funds will be required for procurement of the extra teaching and learning materials for the additional level. New textbooks as well as teaching aids will have to be designed and developed to cater for the three-year post-primary education.
Rwanda to be a step ahead
Implementing the new programme puts Rwanda ahead of many countries in the UNESCO Nairobi Cluster and the African region at large. So far, many countries are implementing free primary education. Few, however, have put in place a programme for post-primary education, more so, skills training. Many pupils, therefore, cannot go beyond primary school because at that level, they have to pay high fees. Even for those who complete the primary school cycle, there are fewer places in the secondary school so that many qualifiers end up being locked out.
Thus Rwanda’s case provides an excellent experiment of what countries can do to provide children with universal basic education. It fits within the new thinking in education where countries are being urged to provide basic education that goes beyond primary level.
The education of children with special needs in Rwanda has, in the past, been centred in special schools run by charitable organizations with the government providing limited support in terms of resources and teacher salary. However, in line with the Millennium Development goals, to attain education for all by 2015, the Government of Rwanda recognizes that special needs education is now a priority and is therefore focusing on strengthening education for pupils with special needs.
A Policy of Inclusive Education
A comprehensive policy of special needs education is currently being developed, which will clearly outline the philosophy, goals and objectives of education for all. The department will collaborate with other agencies to implement this policy and ensure that children with disabilities and special needs have equal access to a quality education in Rwanda.
The policy will focus on ‘Inclusive Education’ as an ideal educational model. This means children with special educational needs will be supported to attend their local school, where possible, rather than a ‘special school’ away from home. In order for inclusive schooling to become a reality three things are required; teachers to receive training in inclusive teaching methodologies, resources to be deployed to ensure pupils can access buildings and the teaching materials and parents to be willing to send all of their children to school.
Of course, there are some pupils whose needs cannot be sufficiently met in an inclusive school and therefore special centres will still exist to provide specialist education for these pupils. These may include pupils with severe learning difficulties, pupils who are deaf and pupils who are blind. It is intended that these centres will develop into centres of excellence, which will also be utilized for teacher training, to demonstrate good practice and for assessment of pupils with special educational needs.
The future of education in Rwanda will be based on the ideology of Inclusive education, valuing all children as equals. The main principle is that every child should have equal access to education, providing opportunities for all to make the most of their skills and abilities.