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Examining the impact of halting automatic promotion in schools

Rwandan students have, for years, been on a smooth ride on the education journey with automatic promotion to classes. But the 19-year-old policy came to an end, as of February 20 during the leaders’ retreat, also known as umwiherero, when one of the resolutions halted automatic promotion of students in Rwandan education.

“Discontinue the automatic student promotion practice and reinforce a merit-based system to prioritise quality in education,” the 10th resolution reads.


Automatic promotion was set up to curb the rate of school dropouts and boost universal education. Now, Elisé Nsabimana, a teacher at Groupe Scolaire Kigali, and some of his colleagues, are worried that the number of school dropouts is going to rise again as a result of failing and, thereafter, giving up.


However, Dr Irénée Ndayambaje, Director General of REB, sees things through a different lens.


“There should be no worry as this resolution is here to enhance the role of the main parties in any student’s education; the parents (being the primary educator), the student, teachers and head teachers,” Dr Ndayambaje says.

He adds that every party should play its role; parents should accompany students on their education journey and provide basic needs, and students should make sure they use the opportunities given to them, and take their education seriously.

Head teachers, Dr Ndayambaje continues, should provide the necessary tools for teachers to accomplish their tasks effectively.

With the synchronisation of these four parties, students will succeed.

Reaction from stakeholders

Stakeholders in the education field welcomed the resolution as a ‘long-awaited solution’ to the problems within the sector.

“I welcome the resolution and do have strong hope that with strategic mechanism in place, our education will be more impactful than before,” Prudence Iraguha, an education analyst, tells The New Times.

Many teachers received the resolution with open arms, expressing the approval to help students more.

“Automatic promotion was a huge setback to efficient delivery of education because students were neither motivated nor focused, for they knew that they would be promoted to the next class anyway,” says Nsabimana.

Celestin Mbarushincuti, a teacher at Groupe Scolaire Makoko in Nyamasheke District, says, “Students have a way of underrating some courses and as a teacher, it’s almost impossible to correct them, especially when they know that failing that course won’t impact them, as they will be promoted to the next class anyway.”

He adds that after the resolution, students will now be prepared to concentrate and revise because failure to do so will result in repeating the class, hence, the teacher will also benefit from the seriousness of students.

In a broader perspective, head teachers say that this resolution will help promote accountability.

“Students were not the only ones who had given up, but also their teachers,” says Emmanuel Hagenimana, the head teacher at GS Paysannat L, Kirehe District.

This resolution, he adds, will help hold teachers and schools accountable for their performance, which in turn will help them deliver quality education.

Sina Gerald, the owner and manager of the food-processing company Urwibutso Enterprises, says, “We’re happy with the resolution as students will be awarded merit-based promotions and upon finishing studies, will have adequate skills that will make them competitive on the job market.”

Parents share their views

Speaking to The New Times, Therese Ingabire says the resolution will open students’ eyes to reality, pushing them to study seriously and have something solid upon graduation, which will ease the process of job hunting.

She adds that that would not be the case for a student who was automatically promoted.

Mary Tengera, a mother of three, says, “I don’t agree with it, I think a student should be promoted based on what they studied, and this comes from the teachers’ efforts. Teachers should closely watch their students and work towards addressing their weaknesses. This will happen when classes have fewer students who are manageable.

“I also think that poor grades come from distractedness or teachers’ weaknesses, mostly in class management skills. 

“Parents should guide and support students, and show them the benefits of going to school and taking classes seriously.”

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