EDUCATION FOR LIBERATION IN RWANDA: 18 YEARS OF EDUCATIONAL RESILIENCE

Introduction The term ‘liberation in education’ refers to liberating the mind. When liberation movements conceive of the idea to liberate a country, one of the most important imperatives is to liberate the minds of the young people and adults alike.

Introduction

The term ‘liberation in education’ refers to liberating the mind. When liberation movements conceive of the idea to liberate a country, one of the most important imperatives is to liberate the minds of the young people and adults alike. For the youth, this imperative is even more pronounced because they are the leaders of tomorrow. They need to be prepared for this role by being innovative, creative and imaginative through problem solving and decision making, which in turn transforms them into useful citizens capable of propelling their country into the future educationally, culturally, socially, economically and politically.

These experiences are reflected in the resilience of the Rwandan Educational reform process in the last 18 years. In the case of Rwanda, education for liberation took two major forms namely:  (a) Liberation of the mind through the provision of equitable access to educational opportunities for both the youth and adults; and (b) Liberation of the mind through the provision of quality education for all levels of educational attainment.

Liberating the mind of the Rwandan youth after the 1994 Tutsi Genocide needs to be analysed from the perspective of the education system before 1994. Before 1994, the education system suffered from ‘Narration Sickness’ in which the teacher saw his or her task as to fill the students with the contents of his narration. The contents were detached from reality, and disconnected from the totality that engendered them and could give them significance. In this way, the teachers’ words were empty, hollow and alienated from actual teaching and learning.

The education system was characterised by the sonority of words, but not their transforming power. This perpetuated a situation in which students memorised mechanically the narrated contents, turning them into containers, or receptacles to be filled by the teacher. Therefore education before 1994 had become an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories, and the teacher is the depositor. Thus, instead of communicating, the teachers issued communiqués and made deposits which the students patiently received, memorised, and repeated. And so they ‘banked’ these deposits in which the scope of action allowed to the students extended only as far as receiving, filing and storing the deposits. This state of affairs resulted in lack of creativity since the teachers considered themselves to be knowledgeable, and their students to know nothing. In this process, the more students worked at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they developed the critical consciousness which could result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world. After the 1994 Tutsi genocide, this state of affairs had to be reversed through the liberation of the minds of the young people of Rwanda.

PART I: Liberation of the mind through access to educational opportunity

Immediately after the 1994 Tutsi Genocide, the RPF-led Government had as one of its priorities to bring back children into schools. The period 1994 to 1999 saw the numbers of children in primary school surpass the number that would have been enrolled had the system expanded at historical rates of increase. As a matter-of-fact, in primary schools the gross enrolment ratio at 107 percent exceeded the corresponding ratio for the average low-income country in Africa at the time.

The challenge for the RPF-led Government was to manage the expansion, while making sure that learning was taking place in the classrooms. This was no easy task. Nonetheless, notwithstanding the huddles we met along the way, the determination of the RPF-led Government to succeed was to prove such an invaluable asset. The very essence of that determination evident of the greatest will-power of a people and a nation unequalled in modern history was conceived of by a leadership reflective of present day Rwanda. For us as nation, it was about ‘Agaciro’, which is even more apparent today. 
Overcoming challenges of access at primary level

Conscious of the imperatives of  inculcating the values of ‘Agaciro’ among the young  Rwandans, and as a direct consequence of that inner drive, by 1999 the Rwandan system was able to compare favourably with that of other low-income countries in Africa in terms of the socio-economic disparities in educational access especially at the primary level. Interestingly, evidence existed to the effect that those children who completed 6 years of primary schooling usually remained permanently literate and numerate as adults. Universalizing primary school completion was thus entirely consistent with what was needed to build the human capital base for broad based economic and social development. The RPF-led Government ensured that the system was structured accordingly. At the same time, the selection arrangements for progression to the secondary school level and to higher education were put in place without delay.

 IMPROVING ACCESS TO PRIMARY EDUCATION

Year                  2000/01    2002/03    2008    2009    2011
Total Students    1,476,272    1,636,563    2,190,270          2,264,672    2,341,146
Girls    737,833     825, 978    1,114,111    1,150,419    1,190,941  
% of girls    50.0%    50.5%    50.9%    50.8%    50.9%
Boys     738,439     810,585     1, 076,159     1,114, 253     1, 150,205
% of  Boys    50.0%     49.5%     49.1%     49.2%     49.1%
Net Enrolment Rate     73.3%    91.2%    94.2%    92.9%    95.9%
Boys    72.9%    90.1%    93.3%    91.6%    94.3%
Girls    74.9%    92%    95.1%    94.1%    97.5%
Classrooms    27,339    28,806    30,989    31,453    31,977
Schools     2,142     2,262     2,432     2,469     2,543

In addition to expanding access, the RPF-led Government had re- affirmed the importance it attached to the quality of teaching. The Government formulated a policy which issued important guidelines about what constituted teaching quality. These guidelines were taken up in further policy documents which informed current practice. In particular, the new policy specified that changes should be aimed at using learner-centred teaching approaches in teacher training colleges in order to improve teaching and learning in primary and secondary schools.

The initial training of primary teachers was concentrated in twelve Teacher Training Colleges (TTCs) at the provincial level, while secondary school teachers would be trained at the newly established Kigali Institute of Education in 1996.

QUALIFIED TEACHERS IN PRIMARY EDUCATION

Year         2000/01        2002/03    2008    2009    2011
Total Teachers 
   28,698    27,319    35,672    35,664    40,299
Teachers Qualified           17,995      23,271     30,171    31,126    34,172
% of Qualified Teachers    62.7%    85.2%    91.0%    96.0%    84.8%
Teacher / Pupil Ratio    1 :82     1 :76     1 :73     1 :63     1 :58

One of the immediate challenges the RPF-led Government had to overcome at the time was that the rehabilitation of the education sector required investments of huge resources. Some of the most pressing challenges to overcome included: inadequacy, inefficiency, and malfunctioning of the whole educational system, and the low quality output of teachers both at primary and secondary education levels.

This prompted the Government to quickly shift its focus from undertaking emergency measures to re-establishing the functioning of the education system as top priority in order to chart out an appropriate and fiscally sustainable course for the sector’s long-term development. There was the challenge to provide all children with the chance to complete primary schooling which required the provision of opportunities for children to complete the primary school cycle.

There was also a very high rate of grade repetition in the system at about 34 percent. The RPF-led Government worked tirelessly to bring this down to about 10 percent, and was able to put in place measures to rationalize policies and practices regarding grade-to-grade promotion, as well as improve learning outcomes to minimize the need for pupils to repeat. The pressures to expand access were already beginning to mount, as larger cohorts of children were completing the lower or ordinary level of secondary schooling. The Government responded by ensuring that the number of graduate teachers produced the kind of skills compatible with the prospective demand for skilled labour through continuous professional development programmes. 

The Government also was able to overcome another challenge which was the concern about the establishment of mechanisms for ensuring that the resources allocated to the education sector actually reached the schools. The physical and geographical conditions in Rwandan school distribution patterns created environments that were highly disparate.

The network of schools in Rwanda tended to emphasize size over proximity with most children taking about an hour to reach the nearest primary school. To overcome these challenges, the RPF-led Government started to extend the network of schools to situate them closer to pupils’ homes in order to reduce the physical barrier to school participation, and to reduce the opportunity cost of attendance at school. The strategic planning of the trinity of the Universal Primary Education, the Nine Year Basic Education Programme and the current Twelve Year Basic Education programme was conceived of in the formative years of the RPF Government. So was decentralisation, all of which required strong national leadership.
 
Overcoming challenges of access at secondary school level

At the same time as the primary school enrolment levels were expanding, there was also a need to expand the secondary school sector. In secondary education the number of students grew at 20 percent a year implying that the system was nearly three times as large as it was previously. The dilemma facing the RPF-led Government was to manage the expansion at the secondary school level, while at the same time attempting to train teachers using learner-centred pedagogies and increasing their numbers simultaneously. There were challenges of enhancing student learning so that the education system would transform its available resources into learning outcomes.

Besides, in spite of such demands on the education system, there were a limited number of qualified teachers at all levels to utilise existing learning opportunities in order for pupils to receive sufficient instructional time and be taught by well-qualified teachers.

Additionally, there was a problem of rationalizing the deployment of secondary school teachers, and re-assigning them between the lower and upper secondary levels according to their qualifications. This phenomenon was compounded by the non-existence of statistical data of the available teaching force to facilitate this enormous exercise given the limited resource envelop. In the face of continuing expansion of enrolment at both primary and secondary school levels, the RPF-led Government responded by putting  in place effective and efficient educational policies, and mechanisms to cater for all educational levels, as reflected in the table below.

ACCESS TO SECONDARY EDUCATION

Year    2000/01     2002/03    2008    2009    2011
Students     141,163    179,153    288,036    346,518    486,437
Girls    70,898    86,064    137,815    169,879    250,687
% of Girls     50.2%    48.0%    47.8%    49.0%    51.5%
Boys     70,265     93,089     150, 221     176,639     235,750
% of Boys     49.8%     52.0%     52.2%     51.0%     49.5%
NER Overall     5.7%    10.2%    13.9%    13.2%    25.7%
Boys    6.9%    11.3%     13.8%    12.8%    24.2%
Girls    4.5%    9.1%    13.9%    13.7%    27.2%
Classrooms    3,572    4,002    6,170    9,242    11,497
Schools     376     405     689     686     1,471
 

Newly Completed Secondary School Block Country wide
 
In addition to providing educational access, the RPF-led Government at the same time put emphasis on support to the democratic approach of student-centred, participatory and inclusive teaching methods. Also, the curriculum was balanced according to the needs of the children, supported the acquisition of scientific and technological skills within the context of locally available materials, emphasized learning by doing, and encouraged active rather than passive learning through learner-centred teaching methods.

This was in line with Government’s objective of improving the quality of education in both primary and secondary schools. Improving the quality of education demanded well trained teachers who would ensure a complete understanding of the overall principles of the curriculum, and a detailed understanding of subject curricula according to career plans of individual teachers.  However, there was limited capacity of the teacher education system to meet the demands of the expanded system, the heavy teaching load in primary schools needed to be addressed, and there were too many teaching subjects taught in both primary and secondary schools. To meet the challenges head on, the Government priority had by 1999 shifted to building capacity, to ensure monitoring and to verify impact of policies in schools at all levels, which has culminated in the success we see today. Needless to say, before the 1994 Tutsi Genocide, the Rwandan education sector had highly centralised decision making. The approach had displayed some of the classic problems of central planning, and decisions at the centre were being made with insufficient awareness of the needs and priorities of those in the front line of service delivery. There was  inadequate capacity and incompetence at all levels, inadequate utilities and economic infrastructure in the local units, limited and unpredictable funding, weak institutional coordination at all levels, and lack of appreciation of the principles and values of decentralisation among educational planners and managers.

These challenges had prompted the RPF-led Government to formulate clear planning and policy guidelines especially during the transition period to decentralisation. Consequently, by 2000, Government priorities began to shift to the assessment of qualitative inputs most notably, the continuous professional development of teachers, and the use of interactive and learner-centred teaching methodologies through the development of various reform policies. Henceforth, the Government put in place a system that made better use of trained teachers through efficient time tabling, reduced absenteeism, and made better use of the number of days in the school year. Not surprisingly, this improved learning outcomes, reduced repetition and improved student achievement as measured in national examinations, and the current rate of educational, social and economic mobility among the Rwandan youth is evidence of that national effort.

These unparalleled achievements had been registered against all odds. The sheer will-power to succeed was enshrined in the philosophical basis of ‘Agaciro’, which is that inner-drive and self-determination of a people and a nation destined for greater things to come, in form of sustainable socio-economic and political stability that has become the envy of the world. The Government’s response in terms of the determination to succeed against all odds, embedded in the philosophy ‘Agaciro’ had resulted into a cross-fertilisation of ideas which had emerged, and an environment had been created which promoted  the intercourse between educational policy as it was conceived of at the time, and the implementation process that ensued. Such intercourse between policy and practice gave rise to Government’s creation and establishment of adequate school infrastructure which was mainly about the development of equitable access to educational services. The RPF-led Government provided incentives, and improved teaching and learning conditions in schools. It provided physical investment in classrooms and schools as a significant proportion of buildings had been unsuitable for learning immediately after the 1994 Tutsi genocide. The Government constructed new classrooms, and deteriorating stock has been replaced in order to avoid overcrowding. The creation of this environment has improved teaching and learning in Rwandan schools tremendously. That is the very essence of ‘Agaciro’, which can only be self-generated.

You can not buy it with money or anything else. It comes from within. Looked at through this lens, the world can without a shadow of doubt see clearly that the achievements of the RPF-led  Government’s educational reform initiatives had to be considered against the backdrop of these challenges related to access and equity in the immediate aftermath of the 1994 Tutsi Genocide. Therein lies the 18 years of educational resilience and the dimension of the Rwandan values such as ‘Agaciro’ which underpin our strong will-power to succeed, and the very basis of a nation determined to move on and to succeed. The evidence is crystal clear for all to see. Following the successes in the improvement of access to educational opportunity, the Ministry of Education started to raise critical questions regarding how it could improve the relevance of its teacher education system in terms of its nature and how it is conceptualised.

The Ministry of Education analysed and assessed the processes of teaching and learning and the expected outcomes in terms of skill acquisition, relevance of its content to the learners, and the professional development of teachers. It emphasised the provision of stimulating educational experiences at school level, encouraging critical thinking in students, and designing, planning and sequencing appropriate learning experiences for students and teachers. The Ministry of Education identified a series of incentives designed to raise teachers’ status and motivation and to attract them to remain in the teaching profession.

TEACHER INCENTIVES: EXAMPLARY TEACHERS ARE GIVEN COWS
 
Biogas constructed in schools FY2011/2012

 
Widely also it has designed a package of capacity building initiatives and teacher training is Government priority. This particularly relates to a cadre of serving, but untrained teachers who are being given priority for on-the-job training through in-service teacher professional development implemented by Kigali Institute of Education.

This training involves upgrading teachers’ knowledge, skills and competencies, focussing on learner-centred teaching pedagogies, and improving their professional qualifications at the same time.  This promotes the professionalisation of the teaching force which contributes to the institutionalisation of the teaching profession and upgrading of teachers’ status and motivation. The Ministry of Education has also been enhancing career guidelines for teachers, providing further training for newly qualified teachers, and improving their status as qualified, dedicated experts and as vital engines of nation building and development.

QUALIFIED TEACHERS IN SECONDARY EDUCATION

Year    2000/01     2002/03    2008    2009    2011
Total Teachers    5,453     7,058     10,187    14,426    20,522
Teachers Qualified     2,711        3,674           5,849             8,710       13,206
% of Qualified Teachers     49.7%    52.1%    57.4%    60.4%    64.4%
Teacher / Pupil Ratio    1 :52     1 :49         1 :49     1 :40     1 :37

Another measure that the RPF-led Government has taken in the educational reform process is that it has organised the financing of education through a new regulatory framework that strengthens the support given to teacher professional development. The new arrangement includes a budget line for primary teacher training, lower secondary teacher training and upper secondary teacher training. This budget is also used to support distance-learning and continuing professional development of teachers.  Before 1994, the system had only one budget line for teacher training which was insufficient and lacked clarity in terms of vision, objectives and priorities. This had hindered the development of professional support through professional development opportunities, which currently is priority.

PART II: Liberation through the constructivist view of teaching and learning

Towards knowledge construction, innovation, and creativity in modern Rwanda

After 1994, the RPF-led Government through the Ministry of Education had come to realise that children learn in different ways and that therefore they required different instructional methods. Thus, if learners possess multiple intelligences and actively construct their own knowledge in very different ways, the learning process can hardly take a predictable course or route involving simple transmission of knowledge. Knowledge then is more individually constructed by the learner and how the process of learning occurs will depend on how the individual learners have perceived and interpreted information.

This process of learning will depend on how learners acquire new knowledge by constructing it for themselves so that learning is a self-regulating process of resolving inner cognitive conflicts that often become apparent through concrete experience, collaborative discourse and reflection. In this way, learning is not only a matter of transferring ideas from one that is knowledgeable to one who is not. Instead, learning is perceived as a personal, reflective and transformative process where ideas, experiences and points of view are integrated and knowledge is created. The RPF-led Government’s efforts to instil a sense of Knowledge generation, innovation and creativity is demonstrated by the One Laptop Per Child programme which aims to promote ICT in Education  from primary school up to secondary and university levels. Today, the most rural primary school in Rwanda in connected to the rest of the of the world through this programme, and the children’s innovative potential was recently demonstrated by their creative works in the ICT in Education International Conference organised by Rwanda Education Board (REB).

The first form of knowledge is content knowledge which includes knowledge of the subject matter and substantive related activities and structures, which is the knowledge of the discipline a teacher needs to teach in the classroom. Secondly, there is pedagogical knowledge, which is the knowledge of teaching methods and strategies, the learning environment, and the knowledge of learners and learning. This form of teacher knowledge involves the way the teachers think about the learning process, their beliefs, their ideas, opinions, attitudes, and experiences based on the classroom and the wider environmental interactions. Thirdly, the content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and all these learning influences are then transformed into pedagogical content knowledge.

Pedagogical content knowledge refers to a special kind of knowledge that distinguishes teachers from other experts in the same subject matter domain. It includes for the most regularly taught topics in one’s subject areas, the most useful forms of representations of those ideas, the most powerful analogies, illustrations, examples, explanations, and demonstrations – in a word, ways of representing and formulating the subject that make it comprehensible to others.

The Rwanda Education Board (REB) ensures that all curricula that are produced are based on constructivism and learner-centred education. The Rwandan policies emphasize the use of learner-centred teaching and learning in the classrooms. They focus on the need for the delivery of quality education in Rwanda which requires teachers who are trained, motivated, well supported, and using learner-centred interactive teaching approaches in well managed classrooms, as well as skilful assessments to facilitate learning and reduce inequities There is also emphasis on support to the democratic approach of pupil-centred, participatory, and inclusive teaching methods.

In addition, government policy emphasizes improving the quality of education which demands well trained teachers who will ensure a complete understanding of the over all principles of the curriculum and a detailed understanding of subject curricula This focus provides for teachers who need up-grading knowledge, skills, and competencies focussing on learner-centred teaching pedagogies.

Learner-centred pedagogy minimizes the fact-giving aspect of teaching and the students are encouraged to solve problems through their own activities, characterized by divergent thinking and problem solving. This approach is the opposite of teaching that is characterized by the use of fact-giving techniques emphasizing rote learning and minimal student activity. Hence, learner-centred pedagogy is activity oriented. The development of learner-centred teaching and learning methods is embedded in the constructivist tradition which emphasizes the creation of active learning environments that permit critical thinking, discovery and collaboration. All learners need to engage with, and co-construct knowledge in order to experience deep and meaningful learning. The teacher’s role in the learning process is regarded as developmental seeking to develop pupils as learners. This means that learning and knowledge are always linked to a context in which knowledge is learned and then used.

Thus, the teacher is reflective when he or she is curious about, or intrigued by some aspect of the practice setting, frames that aspect in terms of the particulars of the setting, reframes that aspect in the light of past knowledge or previous experience, and develops a plan for future action. The Rwanda Education Board (REB) has designed a curriculum which is based on an analysis of what schools need and what teachers need, and which deals in essentials and priorities rather than what is desirable and what is done elsewhere.  This has maximised the benefits of learning to teach in a school-focussed context which is purposefully structured to engage prospective teachers in finding practical solutions to real problems of teaching based on reflective practice. In this way, students and teachers become an interpretive community that enquires into and reflects on both course content and pedagogy.

The Rwanda Education Board (REB) is currently reviewing the school curricula and teaching methodology to make it more relevant and participatory so as to give pupils practical skills for development, with particular attention given to the teaching of science and technology at all levels. The Government expects teachers to be sufficiently trained and competent to help the young people to translate theoretical knowledge into employable skills. This involves training aimed at upgrading the skills of non-qualified teachers and giving new recruits effective learning.

The Ministry of Education has been looking critically at ways and means of ensuring that teacher training continues to provide a strong foundation, and that it remains a continuous catalyst in responding to national challenges as they are encountered. 

Also, the Ministry of Education has been making provision for teachers at all levels to be given relevant teaching skills which include the use of learner-centred teaching and learning strategies through out their professional careers. As part of the continuous professional development endeavour to improve the quality of education, students are being taught the skills of problem-solving and decision making. These involve developing the strategies that help them to solve the problems they face in learning. These strategies are related to skills of identifying and understanding a problem, planning ways to solve a problem, monitoring the progress in tackling the problem, and reviewing the solutions to the problem. The Ministry of Education has been putting emphasis on a process in which students and the teachers become collaborative partners in the learning process.

In this way, the students are not just absorbers of information but use information, support learner creativity and encourage participation and team spirit.
 
Another significant measure taken by the Government is that teachers are being trained so that language teaching is conducted according to communicative best practices, be child-centred, participatory and interactive, be enjoyable and present language in relevant and stimulating contexts. In this endeavour, the language curriculum has been designed to support the democratic and child-centred classrooms, and use teaching materials that stimulate rather than demonstrate language use. This is being achieved through participatory learning activities such as drama, poetry, songs, language through sport, literary discussions, general debates, crossword solving and other language–based competitions. 

This process demands teachers to be competent in the languages they teach, use appropriate teaching methodology, and to take part in regular school-based in-service teacher training in language teaching techniques through School-Based Mentoring programmes. The Ministry of Education regards these initiatives as top priority. Currently, there is emphasis on the need to provide teachers who are trained in participatory, learner- centred and gender sensitive methods for the needs of learners at various levels of the education system, and to produce teachers who are motivated and committed. 

This explains why a budget line has been incorporated with a separate heading for a Programme of National Continuing Professional Development of Teachers. This is aimed at improving the teachers’ knowledge, skills and competencies in order to improve the teaching and learning process. Thus, the continuing professional development of teachers is now being offered through a structured programme of continuous professional development and distance learning, in which opportunities are offered within the schools,  and by the teacher education institutions in order to improve teaching and learning in the classrooms. In this process, the Ministry of Education is adopting competence profile to incorporate learner-centred teaching approaches, planning teaching and learning competencies, classroom interaction competencies, monitoring and assessment, practical teaching competencies, and observable classroom indicators which  enhance teaching and learning in Rwandan classrooms.

It is against this backdrop that the last 18 years of educational resilience have taken root and are bearing much needed fruit. It is clear that the post-1994 Rwandan education system has succeeded in the provision of equitable access to all children of school going age. Alongside this, there has been a significant emphasis on increasing the quality of teaching and learning.

This has been one long journey in the liberation of the minds of our young people. The race is still on, and the will-power to run has just been reinvigorated.

Dr. John Rutayisire
Director General
Rwanda Education Board (REB)

ADVERTISEMENT