Andrew Mitchell, the United Kingdom's Minister of State for Development and Africa, took part in the Second National Symposium on Girls' Education on Thursday, August 31, during his three-day visit to Rwanda. The symposium is a pivotal component of the Building Learning Foundations (BLF) program, implemented by the Ministry of Education and Rwanda Basic Education Board (REB), with funding from the British High Commission Kigali. PHOTOS: Andrew Mitchell, UK's Minister of State for Development and Africa, joined the Second National Symposium on Girls' Education where he took part in a session concluding the event, alongside @ClaudetteIrere, Minister of State for Education. : @Dankwizera1 /TNT pic.twitter.com/vPsdKhncha — The New Times (Rwanda) (@NewTimesRwanda) August 31, 2023 Mitchell reinforced the UK's commitment to supporting education initiatives by signing a £12.3 million (approx Rwf 14 billion) Memorandum of Agreement with Julianna Lindsey, UNICEF Rwanda's Country Representative. This seven-year partnership will focus on addressing the challenges faced by girls who are at risk of dropping out of school and those with disabilities. The UK Minister shared the overarching goals of the partnership, saying, “UNICEF will support girls at risk of dropping out through remedial education and scale up the girls' club approach, promoting inclusivity in the school environment. Furthermore, UNICEF will co-lead the Inclusion in Education Partnership with the Ministry of Education, advocating for girls and children with disabilities.” ALSO READ: Rwanda, UK announce Rwf90 billion partnership for girls education Discussing the broader strategy, Mitchell emphasized, “Our international Women and Girls Strategy prioritizes gender equality, focusing on education, empowering women's family planning choices, and combating violence against women. We champion these areas to ensure rights, freedom, and potential for all women and girls.” He underscored the significance of foundational education, highlighting, “Quality education, literacy, numeracy, and socio-emotional skills are the building blocks for girls' development and future success. Rwanda's progress in this regard is commendable.” According to him, the outcomes of the BLF program over the last six years reflect remarkable growth in English and math learning outcomes for early primary pupils in Rwanda. ALSO READ: Global education advocate’s message to Rwandan girls: Have big dreams “I commend the Government of Rwanda and our partners across the sector for their dedicated efforts in propelling foundational learning and fostering girls' education. As part of our commitment to ensure quality education for all children, particularly the most marginalized girls, I am thrilled to announce my recent approval of a business case for the UK's new education initiative in Rwanda, Girls in Rwanda Learn (GIRL). The GIRL program is a flexible and catalytic initiative that will test and then scale cost-effective and innovative interventions to support marginalized girls to return to school, stay in school, and learn,” Mitchell said. ALSO READ: Girls’ Clubs to be scaled up in Rwanda’s public schools Speaking on behalf of the government, Claudette Irere, Minister of State for Education, highlighted Rwanda's concerted efforts to ensure equal opportunities for both boys and girls in education. However, she acknowledged the vulnerabilities that children from disadvantaged backgrounds may face without adequate support. Local authorities, parents, neighbors, and community organizations play a crucial role in assisting these children to prevent challenges such as dropping out of school, early pregnancies, and substance abuse. In many families, cultural norms dictate that girls should adhere to certain roles, discouraging them from pursuing subjects like science or pressuring them into early marriages. These unwritten rules perpetuate gender disparities and hinder girls' education. We can't solely rely on political policies to address this issue. While policies exist to ensure girls' access to education, hands-on support is essential,” she said. “As individuals, we can make a difference by advocating for girls within our communities, helping them overcome obstacles, and alerting adults if they face challenges. Society as a whole must uplift these girls. This is why programs supporting girls are crucial. If we don't address these challenges, girls may drop out, leaving us with an education system that favors boys. I understand the barriers, but I'm confident that with timely and appropriate interventions, more girls can overcome these obstacles and access education, Irere said. According to the BLF report, they concentrated efforts on three foundational pillars: Teacher Development, Leadership for Learning, and System Strengthening, all while promoting inclusive education, safeguarding, and girls' education. The integration of Gender Responsive Pedagogy, implemented through teacher community of practice meetings, blended English language courses, Head Teacher's companion leadership modules, policy revisions, and the introduction of extracurricular Girls' Clubs, has yielded promising outcomes in 2023. In English proficiency, a 34 percentage point increase has been observed, with 53 percent of Primary 1 to Primary 3 girls now meeting grade proficiency, compared to the baseline. Urban areas outperformed rural regions, with 64 percent proficiency in cities compared to 52 percent in rural areas. In Mathematics, there has been an improvement also, with 40 percent of P1-P3 girls meeting grade proficiency, marking a 24 percentage point surge from the baseline of 16 percent. Urban areas demonstrated 42 percent proficiency, while rural regions reached 40 percent. Furthermore, there is now gender parity in learning outcomes, with girls performing at par with boys. P3 girls achieved the same level of proficiency as their male counterparts, with 52 percent proficiency in Mathematics and 53 percent in English, compared to 54 percent for boys in English. Additionally, the Girls' Clubs program, implemented in 42 pilot schools across ten districts, focusing on 1,200 girl participants (87 percent female), has played a vital role in boosting children's confidence in attaining educational goals. This initiative has witnessed a leap in child confidence, soaring from 38.50 percent to 77 percent between 2022 and 2023. This increase in confidence was uniform, with both girls and boys registering 77 percent and 76 percent, respectively, indicating the program's broad positive impact on child education confidence.