How Batamuriza built an academic giant from scratch

Annet Batamuriza, the head teacher of King David, smiles with an aura of satisfaction as she recollects the beginning of her journey over two decades back. I had just asked what drove her into the career of teaching.
Batamuriza having a chat with her students. Many describe her as approachable and motherly. (Solomon Asaba)
Batamuriza having a chat with her students. Many describe her as approachable and motherly. (Solomon Asaba)

Annet Batamuriza, the head teacher of King David, smiles with an aura of satisfaction as she recollects the beginning of her journey over two decades back. I had just asked what drove her into the career of teaching.

“Every time I thought of a way I could contribute towards Rwanda’s development, the idea that came to my mind was ‘education’.”

Today the school that she founded over 20 years ago boasts of over 1000 students in both O and A level. But the start was far from easy.

Humble Beginning

In 1995, one year after the Genocide against the Tutsi, Batamuriza who had just graduated with a Diploma in Business Administration from Makerere University Business School in Kabale (then known as UCC) decided to ditch a promising business career to start a school in Rwanda.

Specifically, the medium of instruction for her school was to be English in the then historically Francophone country.

“At the time there were just a handful of Anglophone schools in the country,” she recalls.

Batamuriza immediately hit embarked on looking for students, going door-to-door, to restaurants and shops, and talking to girls who needed skills training.

Soon, she had 17 girls interested in joining her class but she was facing a new challenge: finding space to accommodate them all. Finding that the available rental spaces were way above her limited budget, she chose to host the school at her Remera home, with students utilizing her house for lessons.

“I started with ordinary courses. For 8 hours a day, I would teach the students subjects that would be relevant to the real work world like book-keeping, basic computer packages and a few elements of accounting.”

A few years down the road, more students picked interest after seeing that their friends had gotten better jobs elsewhere after passing through school. Former waitresses, bartenders and shopkeepers were being employed in high positions because of the skills they had got from the new school.

To diversify the syllabus, a course on Storekeeping was introduced in 1998 and by then Batamuriza had saved enough money to hire trained tutors to help her with teaching.

In fact, Batamuriza continued to save her meager profits religiously, with the dream of setting up structures for the school in order to benefit more students. It would be four years before she could afford to buy a plot of land in Kanombe where King David is currently located.

“From the lessons I was offering at home, I saved money and bought land at Rwf 800,000, “ she narrates, “but we had to top up with a series of loans from the bank to start construction,” she says.

Immediately after acquiring the land, construction work started and only local suppliers, who looked forward for change in the community, provided building materials to Batamuriza on credit, on condition that she paid them back once she got the money. In one year’s time, some of the classes were ready.

In 2000, the school had its first student intake in senior one utilising the new structures, and for the few years that followed, they had to make do with less than ideal structures. However, lessons continued normally and numbers grew to 500. Some of these students were supported by the government, and most had joined the school because it conducted lessons in English and had well-trained teachers.

The growing number of students at the school would eventually call for reinforcement in administration and Batamuriza, who earlier did most of the teaching, was forced to concentrate more on the administrative work, taking on the role of a school leader.

“Once in a while, I would teach and manage other things. With some support from the government I was gaining experience every day,” explains the veteran educationist.

Although she owns a private school, Batamuriza is all praises to the Rwanda Education Board for contributing towards improving the quality of Education in the country. “REB is doing a great job,especially the examination department.

Today no single students can sit exams without attending school regularly. REB officials come and supervise even in the private schools”

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Annet Batamuriza

A winning strategy

The principle that guided King David High School was the deliberate effort on the part of teachers and all school staff to pay special attention to individual students’ needs and help them all succeed academically regardless of whether they were quick or slow learners.

“Not all the students we received were bright; some were weak students but we had a responsibility of transforming them into what their parents desired.”

The approach of providing more assistance to weak students helped Batamuriza’s school shine a lot and by 2008 King David was among the best schools in the country.

“Countrywide we came to be known after 2008 and especially in 2009 when we were ranked 9th in the country. Also in 2011 after introducing Sciences on top of the Arts-only syllabus we had offered till then, our school became even more popular throughout Rwanda.”

Batamuriza attributes her success in the education sector to leadership that combines the skills of a teacher and administrator with those of a parent. “In education there is nothing like ‘I am the Boss’” she shares. “You need to interact with teachers regularly in order to find out everything that is happening in their lives, since it affects their ability to teach effectively.”

She believes the same applies to the way students are handled. Although most people consider teachers as administrators, Batamuriza believes that teachers are more like parents who have to impart values in students away from home. “When you are an educator, you sell discipline, academics and values. Some of these may be Christian values but all in all students have to look up to you as a parent.”

Balancing family, teaching

Batamuriza is married with one daughter, but has over seven children she takes care of and juggles between her busy work schedule and family.

“I started the school before getting married and my husband has respected my work right from the start. He knows that parents have entrusted me with a huge responsibility and understands that in order to deliver, I have to leave home as early as possible.”

However, the road has not been a smooth sailing. When it comes to looking after students, Batamuriza’s concern is that most people do not understand the responsibility of taking care of students and any problem encountered is considered as negligence.

“People think that every time a student gets a problem, the teachers are negligent, something which is not true,” she says.

Batamuriza goes further to point to recent rumours involving the school that were being circulated on social media.

“Recently, there were rumours being spread on social media that students had been poisoned at the school. We were shocked at how the public responded and yet the rumors were completely false,” she narrates with a pained expression on her face.

What others say about her

Batamuriza’s students are also all praises for her motherly skills.

Lyna Gihozo a student of senior three hails Batamuriza for her continuous encouragement and efforts to impart discipline to the students. “She doesn’t tolerate laziness, you need to work hard and excel academically; but the good thing is that she is so open to all the students,” Gihozo says.

Maxine Murungi from senior four admires her supportive character as an administrator.

“Madam Annet is encouraging, and approachable. When you are sick, she will find out before you even mention it and ensure you receive medical attention immediately,” Murungi says.

For Albert Asiimwe, a Physics teacher, Batamuriza commands respect because of her skills as an exemplary leader. “Personally, I look up to her as a parent. She knows a lot about the school and being approachable is just a drop in the ocean about her,” Asiimwe says.

Batamuriza continues to dream of achieving even greater things in the education field. Her next target is to build a primary section in the near future.

 

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