An estimated 250 senior leaders from central and local government as well public parastatals and the private sector will on March 8 head to the Rwanda Defence Force Combat Training Centre in Gabiro, Gatsibo District for the annual National Leadership retreat where they will spend five days dissecting issues regarding improving the quality of health, education and how to increase agricultural productivity for growth among other topics.
The 16th National Leadership Retreat, which kicks takes place from Friday to Tuesday next week, will also explore ways to boost exports and investments as well as reflect on the country’s development course, take audit of past successes and failures and accelerating implementation.
One of the key questions that most are waiting to be addressed is how to fix the problems in the education sector.
For instance, while the number of students in primary schools increased by 34 per cent between 2001 and 2011, the 2017 Fifth Integrated Household Living Survey estimates that 22 per cent of children attending primary school repeated their class in 2015.
The World Bank Rwanda Economic Update, which was released in Kigali in December last year said that the issues of low school completion rates, alarmingly low learning outcomes, and inadequate teachers’ skills among others must be addressed if any improvement in the education system is to be achieved.
For instance, the World Bank observed that despite Rwanda having exceptionally high gross enrolment ratios in primary education, dropping out remains prevalent with only 68 per cent of first graders estimated to eventually complete six years of primary education.
Specifically, the retreat seeks to reduce repetition and dropout rates, increase enrolment in secondary schools, improving quality in teacher training and use of ICT in teaching as well as how best to provide quality education from primary to tertiary education.
Experts weigh in
The Chairperson of the Rwanda Civil Society Platform, Jean Léonard Sekanyange, told The New Times in a telephone interview that bringing the issues in the education sector to the retreat table was a good and timely idea.
He partly blames the challenges in the sector to the unpredictability of the leadership caused by changes in the management of the Ministry of Education
“In the last 25 years, the education system hasn’t really been stable where everyone is happy with the results. This is mostly because the education ministers frequently change where you find that just as one is beginning to stabilise the system, he is replaced and then the new one also comes with other new changes. There is no stability,” he said.
Sekanyange also said that while the government’s efforts to achieve universal education is commendable, it has undermined the quality of education.
He proposes the establishment of a sustainable education programme which can be run by people who are experts in the sector and who will be given enough time to correct what is not working.
“We also need a strategy where a child is followed up on a daily basis from the moment they start school to when they sit for exams. It should be mandatory for a student to attend classes for a particular number of hours before they are allowed to sit exams,” he said.
Professor Eric Ndushabandi, a lecturer of Political Science at University of Rwanda (UR) told The New Times in an interview that he was looking forward to frank discussions regarding a language policy where both English and French can be used 50/50 especially in Higher Institutions of Learning.
“It would be great to see discussions on pushing for an education system that emphasizes competitiveness and an accountable education system that inspects and conducts regular monitoring and evaluation of school leaders and teachers. We also need discussions at the retreat addressing education that emphasizes competitiveness, emulation, failing or repeating subjects as part of the process,” he said.
The National Leadership Retreat, commonly known as Umwiherero, borrows from a tradition in Rwandan culture whereby leaders would convene to reflect on issues affecting their communities.
The objective of these meetings was to identify solutions and commit to achieving them. Today, the annual national leadership retreat has become one of several home grown governance tools that allow the country leaders to hold themselves accountable.