Despite significant progress in revitalising Rwanda’s education system over the last two decades, multiple indices continue to point to weaknesses in the sector, calling for a review of policy and approaches.
The most recent index to point out some areas that need improvement in the sector is the World Bank Rwanda Economic Update which was released last week in Kigali and put forward multiple avenues on how the sector can be adjusted for better impact.
Among the challenges the Bank pointed out was low school completion rates, alarmingly low learning outcomes, inadequate teachers’ skills among others.
For instance, World Bank observed that despite Rwanda having exceptionally high gross enrollment 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.
The patchy data from studies show that learning outcomes are alarmingly low with only 45 per cent of 2nd and 5th graders tested in 2014 meeting grade-level expectations in Kinyarwanda and in English.
The average score for mathematics among 2nd graders was at 33 per cent and 38 per cent for fifth graders.
Ruth Karimi Charo the World Bank Senior Education Specialist said to get to the projected growth ambition in the sector, there was need for improvement in multiple aspects in coming years.
Charo called for a shift towards focus on learning outcomes in the education sector to scale up impact. She noted that much as there has been adequate focus on universal access to education, the quality of learning has continued to lag behind.
Among the solutions prescribed include intensifying efforts to improve early grade progression to curb the high dropout rates.
“Rwanda could aim explicitly to ensure that all children attend school regularly and progress from 1st grade to 4th grade without repeating, that completers of 2nd grade are orally fluent in Kinyarwanda and that completers of 4th grade are able to read with comprehension,” she said.
Practical steps for implementation she said include; expanding access to pre-school, including better nutrition to reduce stunting among young children; tightening school- and district-level management of the early grade.
They also proposed the capping class size at no more than 50 students per class by hiring new staff, and expanding affordable, proven models of early grade instruction.
Experts have also called for removal of impediments to learning and continuation in basic education as well as a review of the language of instruction.
The experts argue that Kinyarwanda should remain as the language of instruction due to factors such as teachers’ limited grasp of English.
Under the current policy, the switch from Kinyarwanda to English is made from primary four onward.
“Because of teachers’ limited grasp of English, a more pragmatic and effective approach is to delay the transition to English, to Grade 5 or even Grade 6, while taking steps to create conditions for a successful switch in each school such as through targeted teacher training packaged with remedial teaching and well-sequenced textbooks and materials,” the World Bank official proposed.
Other obstructions the experts said could be addressed through policy approaches that locate schools closer to rural habitations, pro-poor conditional cash transfers and related publicity campaigns on the benefits of schooling.
Charo also floated the idea to abolish end of-cycle examinations at primary six as a structural impediment to school continuation saying that continuous formative assessment can ensure a higher completion rate and transition to secondary school.
Other approaches recommended include strengthening of professionalism of teachers to improve outcomes.
For instance, in Rwanda, the minimum requirement for teachers to join the profession is fairly low and with little refresher and upgrade courses.
With teachers being a major factor in quality of education and progression of students, Charo said that serving educators require structured guides and competency-based training options, along with career progression pathways.
It was proposed that low-performing teachers should have options for improvement and exit for those falling short of minimum professional standards.
Teacher management aspects in Rwanda that also require attention include minimum qualifications for recruitment of primary school teachers; teacher workloads and pay structures.
For instance, Rwandan teachers earn 30 per cent below the East African average.
World Bank Country Manager Yasser El-Gammal added that it is important to scale up government expenditure in education which he said is still significantly low.
He however, said that the current state is not a crisis and not unique to Rwanda.
“Reforming the education system to have the right human capital is a complex process that requires concerted efforts and investments. It’s however not a crisis or unique to Rwanda,” Gammal said.
Dr. Papias Musafiri the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Strategic Planning and Administration at the University of Rwanda, who attended the launch of the report, said that efforts are being put in place to rectify the situation.
He said that Early Childhood Development centres are currently being rolled out across the country and added that among other things, this will achieve a better learning foundation for primary learners.
He also said that on scaling of English proficiency, there have been conscious efforts to improve teachers’ comprehension of English terming it as a work in progress.