The Nine - Year Basic Education program that was established in 2008 has the overall aim of sending more children to school and minimising primary school dropouts. Inspite of this basic education being free, many key players have failed to make it compulsory.
Among the reasons, the extra money needed to pay for school uniforms and exercise books has become the excuse for poor parents to keep children out of school.
Teachers however, view it otherwise, and say it is the parent’s illiteracy and ignorance that accounts for the reluctance to take children to school.
“Incomes in rural areas differ, but the difference does not justify keeping some children out of school. It is an issue related to illiteracy and ignorance.
Learning can occur even in resource-poor environments,” said Charles Ngabirwe, the Headmaster of Bilingual Nursery School in Rwamagana district.
Ngabirwe has been in the teaching service for the last twelve years, and has what it takes to promote the school’s development.
According to Ngabirwe, the main challenge is to sensitise deprived and illiterate parents, to keep their children in school all the time.
However, poverty coupled with the parents’ illiteracy and ignorance has compounded the tragedy.
The lack of proper education and gender inequality in rural areas are the main reasons why the poor are unable to break out of poverty’s vicious cycle.
Rural parents have not yet understood the importance of child education, which is why they send their children to fetch water during class hours.
“Attending classes irregularly makes them less competitive. A meaningful method of dealing with this problem must be drawn, so that the rural poor are helped beyond accessing free education” he said.
Education has a very important role to play in bringing the poor out of the vicious cycle of poverty and illiteracy. Sending the children to fetch water is not only bad enough.
Besides denying children education, parents break the law by engaging children in child labour. Unfortunately, the illiteracy of parents does not allow them to view it as infringing children’s rights.
“My children have to help me in domestic, work even if it means staying for hours or spending a day out of class.
It does not mean they have to fail the exams. I grew up in the same situation and there is no way my children can be different,” said Jean Marie Rutinduka, a parent in Ruhuha, Bugesera district.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), “Education has a very important role to play in bringing the poor out of the vicious cycle of poverty and illiteracy. This recognises education as a basic right of every child…”
Quality education in rural areas
Not all is bad in rural areas since there are some educated and well to do parents, who actually know the importance of education. Educated parents have forged their way by establishing kindergartens, to provide basic education to their children.
“We established a nursery school because our children cannot go to Kigali to access quality education.
Our school will help our children to prepare for further studies when they join primary schools,” said Jean Claude Budeye, one of the co-founders of Bilingual Nursery school in Rwamagana.
Quality education can be traced in kindergartens and primary schools. It’s against this foundation that children are able to attain further education at university level as they shape their future careers.
According to Vicky Little, a specialised kindergarten teacher based at Shaftesbury school, Dorset-South England, “High-quality early education and child care for young children improves their health and promotes their development and learning.”
She emphasised that, “Early education includes all of a child’s experiences at home, in child care, and in other preschool settings.”
Little is currently involved in improving the development and stability of Rwanda’s rural kindergartens.
According to the Early Child Care Research Network, intensive early childhood education programs for low-income children confirm lasting positive effects in their lives.
These include; greater school success, higher graduation rates, lower juvenile crime, decreased need for special education services later, and lower adolescent pregnancy rates.
The research proves that; children with a background of an early high-quality education demonstrate better math and language skills, social skills, interpersonal relationships, and depict better behavior and self-control as compared to children with lower-quality education care.
Rural kindergartens are therefore determined to offer such fundamental background as a way of developing well informed children in the country.
“We intend to provide the highest quality education, possible to our pupils.
This process is going to increase the number of well trained teachers and this will of course depend on the incentives we give them,” said Ngabirwe.
“Our salaries and fringe benefits are so competitive which is why I do not see us failing to attract class one teachers,” he added.
Parents have now suggested that their children be given free exercise books and uniforms, since they can’t afford to buy them.
They argue that this is what will make the Nine-year basic education a success and break the vicious cycle of educational inequalities in rural Rwanda.