ICT in education is more than just computers – Lwakabamba

The previous week saw the Ministry of Education release results for primary and ordinary level examinations which indicated an improvement in general performance as compared to the previous years. There was also a notable reduction in examination malpractices compared to previous years. The Minister for Education, Prof. Silas Lwakabamba, spoke to The New Times’ Collins Mwai on the results and other issues in the education sector, including the curriculum review and ICT in education policy. Below are excerpts;-
Pupils of Kimisagara Primary School use their laptops acquired under the One-Laptop-Per-Child project. (Timothy Kisambira)
Pupils of Kimisagara Primary School use their laptops acquired under the One-Laptop-Per-Child project. (Timothy Kisambira)

The previous week saw the Ministry of Education release results for primary and ordinary level examinations which indicated an improvement in general performance as compared to the previous years. There was also a notable reduction in examination malpractices compared to previous years. The Minister for Education, Prof. Silas Lwakabamba, spoke to The New Times’ Collins Mwai on the results and other issues in the education sector, including the curriculum review and ICT in education policy. Below are excerpts;-

Comment on the recently released PLE and O’ level results comparing them to previous year, has there been progress in performance?

The overall performance of candidates in both Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) and ‘O’ level examinations improved in 2014 compared to 2013.

The number of registered candidates also increased compared to the previous years, for example there was a 0.96 per cent increase in the number of candidates who sat for PLE and a one per cent increase in the number of candidates who sat for the “O” level examinations.

In PLE, cases of malpractices dropped from 1,330 in 2013 to 93 in 2014 and in ‘O’ level, the number dropped from 202 in 2013 to 93 in 2014.

 The increase in performance can partly be attributed to the measures put in place to improve administration of national examinations and minimise examination malpractices.

Meetings with vice-mayors, District Education Officers (DEOs) and District Police Commanders also helped curb the vice as well as the use of double locks with keys held by two different supervisors.

Last year registered a notable decline in the number of candidates who sat  for the examinations. What do you think led to this decline?

There were high rates of absenteeism during the examination for reasons such as illness and pregnancies, among others.   There are also high numbers of school  dropouts which we intend to solve through innovative ways. We are embarking on an innovation that is inclusive of parents with DFID (Department for International Development) and Imbuto Foundation. We are gathering statistics which will inform our analytical work as we address the issue.

The government recently signed an agreement that will see a Latin American electronics firm, POSITIVO BGH, set up a plant to locally produce laptops. How will this facilitate the ICT in education initiative?

The One Laptop per Child programme and other ministry initiatives have registered significant success to date with more than 200,000 laptops distributed in over 400 schools.

There are, however, over 3,000,000 students in our education system and there is need to ensure that all students at all levels of education receive the benefits of the use of technology in education.

As a solution, the government has decided to partner with POSITIVO-BGH to assemble electronic devices in Rwanda, including desktops, laptops and tablets. This will help make such devices readily available on the market at low prices to serve both students and teachers.

The company has already started building a factory to produce the computers with start of production expected mid 2015.

There have been concerns that ICT in education has been given too much priority at the expense of other education aspects such as the student to teacher ratio, improvement of pedagogical skills, among others. What’s the ministry’s position on this?

It is important to view ICT in Education as not just the computers and software but also a solution to strengthen and improve access to the whole learning environment. The Master Plan for ICT in Education which is currently under development by the ministry targets training of teachers in the use of ICT in Education, access to infrastructure, bandwidth for students throughout the country and digital content.

The emphasis on ICT in Education will help increase the quality, access and relevance of education and help solve the problems of teacher-student ratio.

The Ministry of Education intends to provide students with 21st century skills. This includes critical thinking, problem solving, collaborative working and peer-to-peer learning. These skills can be facilitated through the use of technology and hence the investments into ICT in education.

ICT in education is a tool which will help improve education through the digitalisation of pedagogical material and enabling enhanced teaching. Courses which are interactive and multi-media based will enable students learn at their own and facilitate the teachers to prepare lessons.

With computer-based education, assessments can be prepared and completed online, thereby, making marking quicker and less costly as opposed to the use of  conventional methods which consume a lot of time.

The above, therefore, shows that  ICT in education can support other  aspects such as the student to teacher ratio and improvement of pedagogical material.

Any update on the new model of ICT in education that is soon to be adopted, Smart Classrooms?

The ministry is currently developing an ICT for education master plan which proposes a new model for teaching and learning through the use of smart classrooms.

The smart classroom is designed to enable the sharing of devices, including a smart board where lessons are played and delivered through a computer rather than the teacher. The teacher will then act as a facilitator monitoring students work from their laptop and providing support to those who need it.

The master plan will be completed and approved before the end of next month and will be rolled out to all schools across the country next year.

2015 is expected to be the year to make final preparations for the  implementation of the new curriculum. What preparations are being made regarding teacher training and pedagogical materials?

Work on the new curriculum started in July 2013 for an 18 month period. The new curriculum included a comprehensive review covering 24 subjects and levels from P1 to S6. It was completed last month and the implementation process has already started.

The implementation plan includes teacher training and writing appropriate teaching and learning materials aligned with the new curriculum.

The teacher training plan is designed to train teachers on a stage by stage basis based on implementation of the new curriculum.  Initial teacher training, on a national basis, will start in August and January 2016 will see the introduction of the new curriculum at P1, P4, S1 and S4 levels. The national exams, based on new curriculum, will be started in 2018.

Work is ongoing and publishers are developing learning and teaching materials, including text books, teacher guides, and supplementary materials.

Prof. Silas Lwakabamba speaks during the interview. ‘

Have there been attempts to ensure that the content of the new curriculum is themed around understanding rather than cramming as it has been the case in the past?

 It is true the previous curriculum was primarily “Knowledge Based” and “Teacher Centred.” The new curriculum is different in that it is “competence based” designed to not only develop knowledge but also skills and attitude.

The students will experience hands-on learning and be able to internalise what is learnt to help in changing attitudes and apply what is learnt in real life situations.

The new curriculum is designed to respond to job market demands and as part of the design process, employers were asked to look at  existing students in terms of their readiness for the world of work and how these skills can be improved.

The new curriculum will focus on skills/attitude of student, with a learner centred methodology where the teacher is now a facilitator. It is designed to make learning more interesting, engaging and attractive, to energise students and hence reduce the risk of dropouts

 What are the expected features in the new curriculum?

The new curriculum will be competence based with basic and generic competencies.

The basic competencies have been informed by government policies such as EDPRS2, Vision 2020, and cover subjects such as science, ICT, numeracy and literacy skills, entrepreneurship and citizenship.

Generic competencies cut across all subjects and include critical thinking, problem solving and research skills. These will help the student to go deeper into a subject without totally relying on the teacher.

The curriculum also features eight “cross cutting” themes which are integrated across some or all subjects to enable students solve daily challenges. These cross cutting issues have been informed by various government agencies as appropriate and include: Financial Education, Comprehensive Sexuality Education, Peace Building and Values, Gender, Special Needs Education, Culture of Standards, Genocide Studies and Environmental Sustainability.

The new curriculum also allows for the development of digital content to help in the delivery of the courses using ICT in Education as outlined above.

What is the progress in the preparation of the implementation of the new loans scheme to be run by BRD that is due to commence in September 2015?

The Tertiary Education Financing Scheme is to be run by BRD effective 2015/16 academic year. A business plan has been developed which shows positive results.

Administrative preparations have been undertaken, including putting in place a department in charge of tertiary education loans, student loans operational procedures, and a student loan Management Information System (MIS), to automate management of applications files, analysis, disbursement, and recovery.

Public awareness campaigns including visiting students at various higher learning institutions, staffing and orientation to new staff, are ongoing.

Streamlining of past loans files is also being undertaken and handling of students’ applications will start much earlier to ensure adequate readiness for the BRD’s taking over of the scheme.

As there are numerous players in the higher learning sector, there emerges concerns of quality of their graduate programmes. Does the ministry have any mechanisms to ensure that the new players ensure quality education?

Implementation of the Higher Education Law is undertaken by Higher Education Council (HEC) whose core mandate includes review of applications to establish higher learning institutions. To this end norms and standards for higher education are covered by a Presidential Order which establishes quality standards in higher learning institutions.

There are several requirements for a higher learning institution to be established, including legal authorisation and in the case of a private institution, accreditation is required to establish a private higher learning institution.

The accreditation of a private institution is granted by Ministerial Order determining the conditions for granting accreditation to a private institution of higher learning.

When a private institution applies for accreditation, the HEC undertakes a review of the application before the accreditation. This review includes a team of experts to undertake this review and if the proposed delivery includes professional courses such as health related courses, experts from the relevant professional body are involved in the review.

The review includes analysis of physical facilities and the adequacy of the proposed academic programmes in terms of content and teaching, learning and assessment strategies.

In addition, prior to making initial awards, a private institution of higher learning is reviewed to establish whether the students have achieved the expected learning outcomes and competencies.

After an institution has been established, whether public or private, periodic institutional audits and subject reviews are conducted. 

These are aimed at establishing whether the institution complies with established norms and standards and is in line with its policies and internal quality assurance mechanism.

Lately there have been complaints by the private sector about the quality of graduates being churned out of universities. Is the ministry concerned?

Of course we are concerned, that is why we are monitoring the universities which we accredit. It is estimated that for a country to register proper growth rates, at least 10 per cent of the population should be graduates.

In our case that means that we should have at least 1.2 million graduates. Currently, our higher learning institutions pass out less than 20,000 graduates annually. That means we have to bring more intuitions on board but at the same time maintain quality. 

Regarding the competence of the graduates to the private sector needs, higher learning ought to be guided by a relevant, competence based curriculum.  To achieve that, we will work out ways to work closely with the private sector in training as per job market needs to ensure that graduates training is relevant.