The policy of automatically promoting students to higher classes has been discontinued as government embraces a merit-based system in a bid to boost education quality. The development was announced Friday by the Prime Minister’s Office one of the 16 resolutions from the 17th edition of the National Leadership Retreat (Umwiherero) held in Gabiro, Gatsibo District from February 16-19. Rwanda first adopted automatic promotion policy in 2001 to help curb student dropout and enhance universal education. It was such that no student repeated a class or, at worst, not more than 10 per cent of the class were made to repeat. But teachers later urged the Ministry of Education to reconsider the controversial policy arguing it eroded competitive spirit among students thereby affecting quality of education. Education was one of the major items discussed during the annual retreat. The country’s education system has, over the years, been the subject of a series of reforms aimed at transforming citizens into skilled human capital empowered enough to implement the national development agenda. Fixing education, it was noted during the high-level four-day gathering, would truly turn the sector into one of the key pillars of the country’s Vision 2050, an ambitious growth blueprint. Investment in TVET The retreat also resolved to increase the number of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) centres and to devise a strategy to make them more accessible and affordable, the PM’s office said on Twitter. TVET is seen as a key driver for the country’s development agenda with government hoping that more and more students will opt for this pathway of education that emphasises hands-on skills. This is expected to help tackle youth unemployment as TVET graduates generally tend to possess skills that are more relevant in the labour market as opposed to their counterparts from the classic education systems. The Ministry of Education had pledged during last year’s leadership retreat to build 416 TVET centres across the country – essentially one per sector. Meanwhile, leaders at the retreat also resolved to expedite transfer of the mandate for medical training from the Ministry of Education to the Ministry of Health. It was also resolved that government will develop a concrete plan to facilitate strengthening of private sector skills, assess the quality of education in existing higher learning institutions and review the current accreditation and licensing requirements for the new ones. Government also committed to “revamp the Early Childhood Development Program and prioritise reduction of malnutrition and stunting among children”. As of December last year, Early Childhood Development Centres had increased from 4,000 to 11,000 in 18 months. At least one community-based ECD facility with the capacity of a minimum of 15 children is needed per village, according to estimates. Improving healthcare There are also several resolutions designed to improve delivery of public services and strengthen accountability. Opening the retreat on Sunday, President Kagame cautioned leaders who regularly fail to deliver on their responsibilities, reminding them that as public servants, they should work in the interest of the people. One of the resolutions states that leaders recommitted to implementing the Auditor General’s recommendations to “improve management of public funds”; as well as to “investigate and prosecute cases of corruption and institute a recovery mechanism for embezzled public funds.” Over the last 24 years, the Government has been able to recover only Rwf2 billion from citizens who lost court cases mostly related to corruption and embezzlement. In healthcare, the annual retreat agreed to “automate processes, including medical records and billing, to improve patient experience and service delivery in health facilities” as well as to “regulate dual practice in public health facilities to improve service delivery”. To further improve delivery of government services, the leaders resolved to “streamline Irembo services by gradually phasing out current unnecessary requirements in Government institutions (and to) reinforce Irembo services especially in the local administrative entities.” Irembo is an online portal via which citizens access government services. It recently unveiled an upgraded version of its technology (IremboGov), further easing the way people can access public services. Some 400 officials from government, private sector and civil society as well as youth attended this year’s National Leadership Retreat.