There are many changes that have taken place in the education sector, notably, the ongoing curriculum review process and recruitment of fresh department heads, among others. This is said to be geared toward development of education to ensure quality. The New Times’ Solomon Asaba talked to Janvier Ismael Gasana, the director-general Rwanda Education Board on education sector’s redevelopment and a range of other issues. Excerpts;-
What is your focal point in regard to the activities of the Rwanda Education Board?
My focal point is to address the current needs of the education sector which demands improving quality. We have been dealing with access for several years but now that most students have access to education, priority shifts to fighting for the heart of education, which is quality.
How do you intend to address quality and standards now that a lot of changes such as the curriculum review are underway?
There are a number of changes but all still centre on improving the curriculum and this is what the change of the curriculum was based on in the first place, to allow learners acquire the maximum competence up to that level of education they have acquired. The exercise is more than just about reviewing the curriculum, but results will be appreciated after its implementation. Right now we are focusing on implementation since in a few days, we are going to launch the curriculum.
Talking of the launch, how much progress has been achieved with the review?
The curriculum review was completed, the syllabi have been finalised, it is now being printed. Currently, we are trying to generate hard copies as we aim to launch on Wednesday.
However, its implementation will start next year with Primary One and Two, and Senior One and Four to phase out the old curriculum. Even after the launch we shall conduct some teacher training and mentoring.
In fact, besides the curriculum, several policies are still being worked on under the curriculum assessment policy, language policy, and teaching and learning materials policy among others to support the progress.
Several reasons have been advanced for not ranking schools and districts in national examinations results. How long will this continue and do you think it’s paying off?
Ranking the schools would not be bad, but some school owners have been abusing it. Looking at the reality on the ground, instead of people having a positive spirit for competition they end up cheating to appear on top.
Some officials even go on to persuade brilliant students to join their schools claiming that when they perform well, they will support them. This is the wrong image that is present when you rank and I feel for now it is not worth it.
However, we are likely to design another model of good ranking that calls for a combination of parameters besides drawing judgement basing on a set of good and bad scores. This time around, we are likely to consider efforts made by different schools because in reality village schools may not have the same facilities as the town schools yet they produce good students.
Still on a slightly similar issue, you and most of your colleagues agree that ranking brings down malpractices but these were still witnessed in last year’s examinations. Now that the malpractices are not close to total eradication, what is your plan B?
Our plan B is very simple; we will not hesitate to punish those who abuse the system. However, this is not the end point to fighting malpractices, we will find other solutions even in tricky situations where headmasters are seen trying to cheat for their students.
For example, what we usually do after receiving information about cheating, we may be lenient for the first time and transfer the head teacher to another school. Those who have intentions on continuing with the practice usually become hesitant about the transfers but this time round, we shall have no compromise.
A few years ago, we blacklisted schools that engaged in malpractices, examination centres were withdrawn meaning that one would not access any incentives from other students who want to sit exams at that school. I advise teachers to take my simple advice to desist from all kinds of illegal actions since penalties involve losing out on the equipment support provided by REB when conducting practical exams.
A strong warning goes to the head teachers who entertain malpractices, we will black list them.
Looking at the recent results, there is a rise in the number of students sitting national examinations and, last year, this rose by more than 15,000 students; what is responsible for these rising figures?
These are just part of the outcomes of the Nine-Year and 12-Year Basic Education policy, Last year’s candidates who sat national exams were the first intake of the programme. The results that we recently published mainly arose from these strategies since students had all they needed to continue with education.
This rise is significant but is there no worry in the fact that there will be more students taught by few teachers?
There is no threat about the teacher-student ratio whatsoever; we originally had that problem in 2008 when the policy was just introduced, but even then we addressed it by constructing more classrooms, almost 3,000 classrooms were constructed every five months.
We not only recruited more teachers but also supplied teaching aids such as textbooks. We have been recruiting teachers gradually but the issue is not teacher student ratio, everything still reflects on quality. Consider the sciences of education if you only focus on access, there will be a gap of demand to design strategies for quality and that is what we are striving for.
Are there any other impacts of the 12-Year Basic Education programme?
First of all, the 12-Year Basic Education created a kind of social equity and equality that has seen a huge number of children continuing with education. Initially, students would drop out after completing Primary Six because they lacked means, but that issue was addressed by the policy.
Everybody who is trainable can continue to learn even beyond Senior Six. This policy is also contributing to development because a huge number of educated people are passed out to engage in development activities of our country.
Previously, under the teacher development department, REB was rewarding best performing teachers in various categories. Is the project still ongoing and is there any impact?
Our department of teacher development deals with service training, leadership, management, welfare, motivation and incentives. In 2009 when the government introduced English as a medium of education, a lot of changes required training and mentoring teachers, but even those who excelled during teaching wouldn’t go unappreciated.
We condensed all this and we developed a policy for this and a lot of issues around the welfare of continuous development of teachers have been looked into.
Considering qualification of the teachers, gone are the days when only a certificate from a teacher training college was enough to qualify one to conduct lessons but now, it is more of being professionally qualified. We still reward best performing teachers under Girinka Umwalimu and laptops for best performers.
What is the latest on One-Laptop per Child programme and the possible transition to new approach of smart classrooms?
Recently, you have heard about Microsoft, Postivo and you understand their contribution in technological development. The One Laptop per Child had an aim of familiarising children with computers while calling for attention towards technology and ICT at an early age.
You realise that when they grow up, they develop interest and urge for more gadgets such as laptops, desktops and ipads as tools for teaching and learning. We have distributed a number of them across the country but now we have the idea to create a smart classroom under the one identity per child so that wherever the child can go he can find the content there and not necessarily move with the gadget.
Also establishing of the assembling plant for computers is underway and it will produce a huge number of gadgets with the big potion being procured by schools and these will be updated so you can see that we are not dropping the One Laptop per Child project but just upgrading it.
What is the current status of gender equality in education provision in the country, are there any ongoing initiatives to bring girl child performance at par with boys?
There is no huge gap between girls and boys performance but this depends on the subject. At primary level, the difference is almost negligible but because at secondary level students are affected by the transition and new combinations, there is an appreciable difference.
If you compare sciences and arts at secondary, the boys beat girls and this is why we are making urgent analysis on to find out what is causing this kind of performance. This could be more of a social economic issue but even if it is at the school level, we shall find means to address it. First we need to base our findings on facts on the ground and after address it; I believe girls can do better than boys.
Is REB in any way supporting the campaign to have more students go through TVET or preparing them in any way for technical courses.
Yes and we have moved to establish a career guidance unit that even students who want to join secondary school can access. This is because whenever they leave primary it appears like a whole new world to them, so such an establishment prepares both students to enter another level.
Even those in Senior Three have a problem, some think that it is a fashion to choose a harder combination but if you compare their performance you may establish a mismatch. It’s not only in general education but we persuade those who we have identified with hands-on skills to join TVET.
Usually, REB does not choose combinations for them, we send those forms, they select their own combinations and once they pass national exams, they are considered for any of the three choices and three schools.