The Rwandan educational policies in the last seven years have affirmed that education should be aimed at recreating in young people the values which had been eroded in the course of the country’s recent past (after the 1994 genocide).
JOHN RUTAYISIRE, Executive Secretary Rwanda National Examinations Council gave the insight to The New Time’s GODFREY NTAGUNGIRA on how Universal Primary Education is being provided by 2010; and Basic Education encompassing grades 1-9 would be provided for all by 2015.
ACHIEVEMENTS IN BASIC EDUCATION FOR EDPRS IN THE LAST 7 YEARS
In fact, the government of Rwanda met this societal expectation in 2009 with the full scale implementation of the Nine Year Basic Education programme. This extraordinary goal was achieved 6 years ahead of schedule, which is a world record in the history of educational reform anywhere in the world.
This is a record of a life time, meeting a Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 6 years ahead of schedule is remarkable. It reflects the nature of leadership the country has. In Rwanda, basic education is regarded as what constitutes the minimum necessary for children to cope with adult life.
After six years of primary education, a child is too young to access the kind of higher order cognitive skills for their survival and contribution to national development.
Therefore, the government of Rwanda started a programme of nine years of basic education in order to strengthen the achievement in areas such as literacy, numeracy, scientific and technological skills, life skills and civic responsibility.
The objective was to ensure that the programme prepared students through a coherent and carefully sequenced programme for continued study, work or entrepreneurship.
To achieve this, Rwanda had to face up to challenges within the curriculum reform process which at the time included lack of skills to forecast the costing of the introduction of a new curriculum. This required careful consideration of tools such as capitation and cost recovery, the modelling of different approaches, and the determination of policy.
Moreover, the Ministry of Education had as a policy objective to assist decentralised authorities, schools and communities to achieve effective and efficient management and community participation which would in turn enhance the EDPRS.
STRONG LEADERSHIP IN EDUCATIONAL REFORM
The issue of leadership and management was crucial in moving the educational reform forward in order to fight poverty and achieve socio-economic development through the EDPRS.
The Ministry of Education leadership was able to highlight the urgent need to clarify roles and responsibilities, and for effective linkages to be ensured.
The Ministry of Education stressed the need for capacity building at all levels, and to ensure monitoring to verify impact of policies in schools.
In a country with scarce resources, leaders are arguably, the greatest resource; and since educational reform, policy and practice are shaped by political, structural, individual and social dynamics, problems needed to be identified and policy options, choices and priorities weighed.
The central task on the part of the Ministry of Education was to get policy right. We also had to realise that although the national context may set the scene, the local context, that is, the district, as well as the schools themselves, would influence how our reforms would be interpreted and implemented.
At the time, the Ministry of Education had to reflect on the history of education in Rwanda, and the leadership patterns in our schools and communities, and the context in which they operated which affected how our national reform initiatives were to be perceived.
The Ministry of Education leadership recognised that we had to engage with school directors, teachers and parents, who may have their own views about the nature of the reform or change initiative, about priorities, and about how the local and national agendas come together.
Owing to these sometimes lengthy, but necessary consultative processes and engagement with an array of stakeholders, and most importantly, owing to highly visible political support from the top leadership of our country, the Rwandan educational reforms of the last 7 years succeeded where many other much richer nations have not.
The important thing for the Rwandan educational leaders was that they were able to take note of the fact that decisions made in the process of educational reform have an impact on learning and teaching since the reform is usually judged by the effectiveness of their impact, which means, the extent to which real changes in learning and teaching will have taken place.
Thus, in the last 7 years, we have been able to deal with some of the challenges related to management and internal efficiency of primary and secondary schools, school infrastructure needed to support the expansion of basic education, curricula, learning materials and assessment and teacher development and management.
EFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT OF THE INTERNAL EFFICIENCY IN EDUCATION REFORM IN THE LAST 7 YEARS
Examples of internal efficiency indicators include but are not limited to class size, student- teacher ratio, repetition and dropout rates, learning time, learner achievement and cost.
On the other hand, school management indicators include accountability, transparency, sustainability and equity.
As early as 2005, the Ministry of Education had come to the conclusion that expanded access to basic education required an analysis of cost per student if the resource envelop was not to be exceeded, while in the meantime focusing on enhancing the EDPRS.
At the time, we considered issues of the cost of boarding, and how we could make better use of trained teachers through efficient timetabling, reducing absenteeism, and better use of the number of days in the school year, all of which were aimed at improving learning outcomes in Rwandan primary and secondary schools.
We also were able to deal with high repetition rates and focused on improving student performance and achievement.
Another important educational experience of the last 7 years that the Ministry of Education had to deal with was the identification of methods and incentives which could increase the internal efficiency with which teachers are deployed and utilized in schools.
This was important as it enabled the Ministry of Education to maximize the learning time and learning achievement of pupils. The Ministry also was able to review school management and governance issues to increase the number of schools which had potential to participate in the education reform in order to enhance the EDPRS in the service of national objectives.
During this period, the Ministry of Education was also able to establish effective school monitoring and evaluation system through School inspection which has continued to provide constructive support, and to identify levels of efficiency and methods to improve quality and output.
This is a major leadership and management achievement which promotes the EDPRS as the rates of literacy and numeracy improved tremendously for the majority of Rwandan youth who can now fight poverty through gaining meaningful employment after leaving school or continuing to further study.
IMPROVED CURRICULUM, SCHOOL INFRASTRUCTURE AND LEARNING MATERIALS IN THE LAST 7 YEARS
In the last 7 years, the Ministry of Education made a lot of effort to provide school infrastructure, which is mainly about the development of equitable access to education services.
The Ministry of Education Leadership was aware that school infrastructure related to providing incentives for improved teaching and learning conditions, which in effect, links it directly to curriculum reform.
Thus, in order to effectively implement the Nine Year Basic Education programme, the government of Rwanda invested heavily in the construction of classrooms and schools, since a significant proportion of buildings had been unsuitable for learning; and new classrooms needed constructing to reduce double shifting and replace deteriorating infrastructure.
By improving the conditions in schools, the Ministry of Education was then able to ‘sell’ the education reform to the Rwandan society which facilitated the implementation process. Thus, the government had established necessary conditions for the successful implementation of the educational reform.
In this equation, strong leadership and management were key factors which were needed to take the necessary decisions required to carry these initiatives forward, especially the curriculum reform effort. The issue of curriculum, reform needs special attention because since 1996, curriculum reform in Rwanda has been equated with subject revision, which is only part of a long process.
However, the Ministry of Education Curriculum Development Policy in the last 7 years focused on a comprehensive revision of the primary and secondary school curriculum with in a consistent conceptual framework and still continues to make an effort to provide continuity of learning from grades one to nine; and ensuring that curriculum standards were a centre piece of the quality management system; and that it was being developed within the broader framework of the national vision and aspirations of the Rwandan people in line with Vision 2020 and the EDPRS.
Again, this called for strong educational leadership and management which had the task of interpreting the national vision in order to build a platform for the development of teaching programmes. These teaching programmes required quality learning materials, which the Ministry of Education had found to be the most cost effective investment which could be made to improve learning achievement.
Thus, the National Curriculum Development Centre of the Ministry of Education produced and distributed these learning materials with a clear process of design, development and procurement sequenced over several years and with consistency of purpose.
To date, a new textbook procurement method that empowers schools to make choices and decisions about what textbooks to purchase has been put in place. This should solidify further the achievements of the last 7 years and enhance the EDPRS.