Rwandan method sure to give good results, even in education

Yesterday hundreds of children reported to school at the beginning of a new school year.

For some, it is the first time at school and they are understandably excited.

Others have gone one class higher or started another level. They see ahead of them a future of infinite possibilities.

Many parents are relieved that the children will be away for a while and become somebody else’s headache. But they will also be worried about a big hole left in their pockets.

It could have been deeper had the Ministry of Education not halted the raise of school fees in public schools.

Beginning the school year in January will not be for long. I understand plans are underway to revert to opening in September. That used to be the case until about fourteen years ago.

The return to the earlier calendar follows a campaign led by Catholic bishops.

This is one of the many changes we have come to expect. Whether this, and others, will have any positive impact on education, especially its quality, remains to be seen.

It seems change and revision and change again, sometimes taking us back to where we started, have become an essential aspect of planning in the education sector (and a few others).

In time it might add to our problems rather than being a solution to them.

Some things do not change, though. The beginning of a new school year is always frantic and may even become chaotic. There is the rush to get fees and other school requirements, especially for children joining new schools.

Many parents are usually unhappy with their children’s placement (for those joining the next level in the school system).

Large crowds of unhappy and even enraged parents will gather at education offices around the country and demand that the placement decision be revised, sometimes rather forcefully. 

They will express preference for certain schools even when their children have not met the criteria for admission to them.

Sorting out these and similar questions, and for things to settle, usually takes the better part of the first term.

This year will not be different. It might even take longer to settle despite efforts for a smoother and faster opening of the new school year.

First, the placement method into the two levels of secondary school was changed, from selection by head teachers to that done by the Rwanda Education Board (REB) and decentralised to districts.

That must come as a relief to head teachers who now do not have to deal with hundreds of dissatisfied parents who want their children to join particular schools. That burden now falls on REB and district authorities.

That, of course, is only in theory. In practice, school offices will still be crowded with parents and students seeking transfers.

The intention of the new placement method, like many other changes that have been introduced in our education system over the years, cannot be faulted.

It is probably meant to improve the existing system. In the past, however, there have been problems associated with the changes.

One of them is how they are conceived. In many cases, they have not been based on evaluation of what they are replacing so as to create a better way of doing things or correct weaknesses in them.

Before we get used to one thing and decide whether it works for us or not, based on evidence, it is discarded and another one put in its place. As a consequence, we have had too many frequent changes without necessarily significant improvement.

There is thus a fresh start every so many years, which does not necessarily lead to improvement or ensure continuity.

From what I hear, there are other planned changes, which if not well thought through, may lead to another round of going in circles.

Another has been lack of consultation with various stakeholders in education about the impact of such changes, their input and role in implementation.

Often the result is lack of ownership and a blame game when things do not work as expected.

This need not be the case. In the last 25 years, we have perfected a way of working in this country that we could easily patent as the Rwandan method.

It is about evidence-based planning, building consensus and bringing everyone concerned on board so as to create ownership, and then move together on agreed programmes.

There is no reason to abandon it. After all it is the Rwandan way and it works.


The views expressed in this article are of the author.