MDGs: What has Rwanda done to achieve universal primary education?

Solange Akamuntu, a primary six school girl at Groupe Scolaire Mwendo, Gashora, Bugesera District, says studying is no longer difficult as class tutorials are now digitally assisted.
Pupils of Rusheshe Primary School. The number of children going to school increased from 1.4 million in 2000 to 2.4 million in 2013. (File)
Pupils of Rusheshe Primary School. The number of children going to school increased from 1.4 million in 2000 to 2.4 million in 2013. (File)

Solange Akamuntu, a primary six school girl at Groupe Scolaire Mwendo, Gashora, Bugesera District, says studying is no longer difficult as class tutorials are now digitally assisted.

“Our English and Science subject teachers come armed with internet enabled Ipads, each with various teaching demonstration videos, a dictionary, science syllabus, and a downloading application for books,” she says.

The project which started about a year ago is a Plan International Rwanda initiative.

In  2000, 189 United Nations member  states( now 193) to which Rwanda is party, among other things promised to ensure  that all boys and girls in respective countries complete a full course of primary school by the end of this year(2015). The various pledges later came to turn into what is known as the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

And this was to be achieved through various fronts like; instituting policies that are friendly to child study, promoting early child-care and development, promotion of girl child education, and  engaging in general outreach and advocacy. 

Though some challenges still exist, Rwanda has made great strides in the quest to achieve universal primary education as shown below.

Promotion of early child-care and development.

Much effort has been put in aspects like early child development over the years by government, In July last year, a three-year pre-primary education program targeting children between four and six years of age was already running , and at the moment 1,870 pre-primary schools, both government and private have been constructed.

Two institutions already offer Bachelors Degree programs in pre-primary education, one being the University of Rwanda’s College of Education, and Indangaburezi College of Education in Ruhango District, in the Southern Province.

“About 13 teacher training colleges (TTC’s) also offer certificates and diplomas in the same field,” said Jacques Habimana, in of charge of primary education at the Ministry of Education.

He added that a curriculum and tailored textbooks on pre-primary education were being crafted by the Ministry.

Policy formulation and implementation

In 2006, a cabinet meeting approved a policy that would see a free 9 year basic education system introduced, and implementation started in 2006.

Total primary school enrolment did not only increase as a result, but more schools had to be built, for instance, enrollment increased by 68 per cent from 1.4 million in 2000 to 2.4 million in 2013, the number of primary schools also skyrocketed by 24 per cent from  2093 in 2000 to 2,594 in 2012.

Several other reports are also testimony that primary school enrollment has been on the rise. For instance, the  2013/14 Education For All (EFA) Global Monitoring report, indicates  that between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of children in Rwanda who had never been to school was halved from 18 per cent to 9.

The United Nations Educational and Scientific Organisation (Unesco), in response to this particular report, says among ways Rwanda was able to cut down on out-of-school rate is by establishing special funds to ensure that orphans benefit equally from educational opportunities.

Katherine Redman, the Unesco Communications and Advocacy Specialist, credits the country’s education sector for working with development partners to provide predictable financial flows, which allows the implementation of free and compulsory education.

Promoting of girl child education

As of June last year, statistics in primary and secondary education, showed that the percentage of girls in schools was above 50 per cent. And that net enrollment was estimated at 98 per cent for girls, which is quite an achievement not only by continental standards but also globally.

The ratio of girls to boys in school has also since improved. For instance in 2000, the ratio of boys to girls was 50.4 to 49.6 per cent, and in 2012 it shifted to 49.3 per cent (boys) and 50.7 per cent (girls).

“We had to make parents understand that sending all children to school was not debatable, but compulsory, this is what saw more girls join,” said Janvier Gasana, Rwanda Education’s Board (REB) deputy director general in charge of Education, quality and Standards department.

Improving quality of human resource

Since 2010, a lot has been invested in mentorship of teachers, particularly to improve their fluency in English, and the teaching methodology, and this has involved hiring experienced teachers from various countries who have the expertise.

Various efforts to improve information delivering by teachers are also under going, for instance starting from 2012, audio tutorials (with supervision of a physical teacher) were introduced in 90 primary schools countrywide, today all public primary schools conduct classes with their assistance.

“These studio made audios, feature experts for instance in the English language providing guidance on aspects like standard pronunciation and accent, aspects a locally bred teacher may not be very good at. The physical teacher is also not over worked, so they have time to clarify areas pupils may not have understood (from the audio),” Gasana explained.

Redman also commended Rwanda for being mindful of teachers’ welfare by providing subsidised loans to trained teachers and improving learning for most marginalized children. 

“The majority of teachers in such areas have participated in the program, making a minimum monthly contribution of 5 per cent of their salary, with members allowed to borrow up to five times their savings,” she said.

General efforts

The government has also been bent on transforming the country from an agricultural based economy, to a knowledge one.

And this explains why in 2007 it launched projects like, one laptop per child. This system has not only provided children with basic computer skills, but has made general studying convenient.

Last year, a national school feeding program was launched targeting day primary schools, according to officials, parents either contribute a modest fee to the school to provide lunch, or pack food for their child from home, or they volunteer to prepare the food at school, if they can’t afford the previous two options.

“The aim is to make the pupil’s stay at school comfortable. And we have a countrywide success rate of 68% so far,” Gasana remarked.

Challenges 

Before the introduction of the 9 year basic education system in 2009, there was a study system called the double shift, where a batch of pupils studied in the morning and the other in the evening, however this stopped at primary 3. 

This time with the introduction of the free 9 year basic education system, enrollment skyrocketed, and 9 year basic education system was pushed to primary six, to create classroom space.

“The number of teachers was not matching, the few ended up being over worked, and this affected quality,” Gasana says.

Habimana says that the biggest challenge faced with some community-run (owned by parents) pre-primary schools was delay or failing to pay teachers.

In conclusion, though Rwanda has achieved great milestones in line with achieving universal primary education, it still has a lot to do in line with reducing high dropout rates.

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