Girls’ education: What are the milestones?

In some parts of the world, culture plays an important role when it comes to education. Girls are often raised to be compliant and not opinionated like boys.

In Rwanda, girls were ‘supposed to’ focus on the household first and foremost, education was secondary.

Over the years, girls have had to break barriers, including making their mark in male-dominated fields, exposing them to many hazards, like intimidation and sexual harassment.

According to 2012 to 2014 statistics from the Ministry of Education, roughly 12 per cent of girls at lower levels dropped out of school in the years mentioned.

Akilah Institute strives to empower Rwandan girls and women with entrepreneurial and employable skills.  Courtesy.

The problem was attributed to a lack of interest in science subjects by girls.

Only 67.5 per cent of girls who enrolled for primary education completed. This was low compared to 77.7 per cent of boys’ representation.

The statistics also indicated that during those years, at vocational and technical training institutions, out of 13,557 students, only 39.3 per cent were girls.

There were 25,081 students at public universities in the same period, out of which 33.35 per cent were girls.

Officials say the lower score mark at higher levels of secondary school didn’t help in bringing more girls into university education.

But education experts say there was a reason behind the trend because some pupils still walked long distances to and from school, and a big number of schools lacked basic necessities, like water.

Given that background, the Government of Rwanda, in partnership with some NGOs, implemented ways to support matters of education, especially regarding the girl-child.

Achievements

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.

In an article in this paper, 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.

But let us look at the success stories;

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.

Girl Hub, another organisation, has run programmes geared towards helping girls achieve their full potential.

Akilah Institute for Women that gives girls a positive platform to voice their opinions. The group created a female debate team — the first in the country — as a way to become more confident about their role in a male-dominated society.

MasterCard Foundation and Fawe Rwanda launched a girl’s education scholarship programme.

The 10-year programme has seen over 1,200 bright girls from poor families attain quality education.

This, according to Ronald Wandira, the head of the humanities department at Riviera High School and year leader—advanced level—at Rwanda Education Board (REB),   has closed the gaps in the education system by reducing high girl-child dropout levels.

The programme covers tuition fees, learning materials, and other necessities that girls require to comfortably settle in school.

For instance; statistics from the Ministry of Education indicate that there were 67,242 pupils in pre-primary in 2012; girls constituted 51.6 per cent while boys were at 48.4 per cent. And in 2014, there were 2,394,647 primary school pupils, 49.3 per cent of them boys and 50.7 per cent girls.

This is all major progress, Wandira says.

Secondly, with support from Plan International Rwanda, an independent development and humanitarian organisation that advances children’s rights and equality for girls; free, compulsory, basic education is now the right of every child in Rwanda.

The government has set increasing girls’ access to education high on its agenda. But lack of suitable facilities and support has continued to hold girls back, especially when they reach secondary school.

Wandira, who has been in the teaching profession for a decade, says Plan International Rwanda, has enabled schools like Kiziguro Secondary, a school in Gatsibo District, Eastern Province, to build new dormitories and hygiene facilities, as well as hold classes to help those who fell behind.

Students used to sleep two per bed, but the new dormitory at the school constructed by Plan International Rwanda, can hold up to 600 students.

Equally important for girls’ ability to attend school are bathroom facilities. Without proper facilities, many girls avoid school when menstruating, which means they are left behind in class.

Twelve ventilated pit latrines were renovated at the school, and the toilets are now separated by gender. Sanitary towels are provided and the school is also making use of captured and stored rainwater for its hygiene facilities.

These small changes have helped create a healthier environment for girls, and as a result, improved the overall quality of their education at the school, according to Wandira.

Remedial classes help girls catch up; Plan International Rwanda has also facilitated extra classes for girls who may have previously had their education hindered.

Seventy girls at Kiziguro School took part in the classes which were held during the April holidays last year.

The classes helped the girls improve their English skills, and allowed them to explore other life skills, and tackle the reasons why girls have often been left behind in education.

Marie Therese Uwizeyeyezu, a primary and pre-primary education specialist at the Ministry of Education, says a lot has changed when it comes to girls’ education.

For instance, she says, boys used to be prioritised in almost everything, including education and inheritance, and given more value in society than women.

“Back then, depending on the financial status of a family, they would first choose to educate a male child and leave the girl, especially if they had stretched income,” she says.

She says this has, however, changed and people are informed, with parents educating all their children regardless of their sex.

Girls today know their rights and are able to speak up and ‘fight’ for themselves in case they are denied these rights in community.

One area, however, that needs more effort is encouraging girls to continue their education. Some still drop out due to early pregnancy. Girls who get impregnated while in school are encouraged to continue their studies, which was not the case before the girl-child education policy was adopted.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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