Post-Genocide: The rise and rise of Rwanda’s education system

Education in Rwanda was a privilege many only dreamt of. But then came a quick transition in the mold of the learner-friendly and inclusive education system that took shape after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, giving the Rwandan education system a face many would proudly call the ‘golden era’.
Students at GS Officiel de Butare in class last year. (File)
Students at GS Officiel de Butare in class last year. (File)

Education in Rwanda was a privilege many only dreamt of. But then came a quick transition in the mold of the learner-friendly and inclusive education system that took shape after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, giving the Rwandan education system a face many would proudly call the ‘golden era’.

That so much has changed over the last 22 years could itself be an understatement.


Genocide survivor Patricie Mukabaziga, 54, from Kinyinya Sector in Gasabo District, remembers that when she was in fourth year in primary, they used to tell Hutu children to raise their hands and they counted them and the same was done for them.


She said one day, a Hutu child of a soldier she used to sit with in class stood up and said: “We have been playing but I will no longer play with you because you are a snake.” And they never played together again. That was a result of hate and genocide ideology that was influenced by the genocidal regime of the time.


Mukabaziga, whose husband was killed during the Genocide, said when she reached primary six, she passed the exams but when it reached the commune, a local government entity, things turned for the worse.

“My name was removed from the list and they gave my place to another child,” she said.

She told The New Times that the results were released from the ministry and when one went to the commune leadership to claim their rights, they were insulted.

“I and other Tutsi children went through that situation. We were deprived of our education rights because those who studied and finished were few,” she said, adding that after the Genocide, the education sector has improved.

“Today, we are all Rwandans. Children attend school and get their marks and their education rights recognised,” she said.

Teaching ethnic discrimination history

Georgette Umulinga was a teacher before the Genocide.

“After finishing secondary school, I was given a job to teach at Sainte Famille [in Kigali] to teach in senior six.

That was in 1972,” Umulinga said.

She said the history lesson and what was called civic education curriculum that was used was divisive in nature.

The lesson was to be delivered at the beginning of the academic year.

“The lesson consisted of teaching how Hutu came from Chad and found the Twa living in forests as hunters.

Then the Hutu cleared the forest to get land, cultivated and became rich and healthy.

“Many years later, there came crafty people called the Tutsi with their cattle. They appropriated the land, turned it into pasture for their cattle through tricks by luring them (Hutu) with cows and milk and they started making them their workers yet they [Hutu] were the owners of the land. Those are the first lessons for the first term when students had just started class,” she said.

“I was fresh from school with many theories. But I taught that lesson thoroughly and assigned questions and homework.”

Ethnic divisionism in schools

In November each year, Umulinga said, there was a form issued by the Ministry of Education whereby teachers had to list students according to their ethnic groups.

Umulinga said it got worse when children were about to sit the national examinations as they had to write their ethnic groups –Hutu, Tutsi, Twa or other (non-Rwandan) – on the examination forms.

“There were children who were absolutely intelligent but they all failed exams mainly because they were Tutsi, except some boys who had secured places in seminaries,” she said.

Umulinga said in schools, students were taught that Tutsi were bad and this resulted in some Tutsi children being persecuted and even beaten.

“There was the ideology of hatred, the genocide ideology was present in schools,” said Umulinga, who after the Genocide joined the Ministry of Education where she worked for 12 years until 2006.

She said, later, the persecution of Tutsi in schools and at workplace ensued. Her father who worked at Akagera Motel and other Tutsi were sacked. Her teaching position was later occupied by another person whose husband was related to President Juvenal Habyarimana.

Her father was later killed during the Genocide.

She added that after 1994, the first national examinations were done in 1995.

“I was among those who marked the examinations. It was done without ethnic discrimination,” Umulinga said, adding that students got marks on merit.

‘Equilibrium politics’

Former Senator Antoine Mugesera wrote in the second edition of his book, entitled “Imibereho y’Abatutsi mu Rwanda 1959-1990, Itotezwa n’Iyicwa Bihoraho” (loosely translated as ‘The Living Conditions of Tutsi in Rwanda 1959-1990, the incessant persecution and killings’) published in November 2015.

The book showed the number of students who studied in secondary schools every year from 1960 to 1981 based on their ethnicity, region of their birth, sex and schools they were studying at. The figures showed that Hutu were predominant.

For instance, in 1962/63, Hutu in secondary school were 62 per cent, while Tutsi were 36 per cent. In 1980/81, Hutu were 86 per cent whereas Tutsi were just 12.4 per cent.

The ‘equilibrium’ politics had a section that oppressed Tutsi in terms of education. In the former Huye Commune, in 1981/82, there were 24 Tutsi with marks between 60 per cent and 70 per cent but no one was promoted lest it could destabilise the ‘equilibrium’.

Mugesera wrote that the idea of equilibrium started being talked about in 1957. He says in his book that in 1972, during a training seminar of MDR- Parmehutu in Kigali, Kayibanda declared it clearly that in schools, Hutu should be 85 per cent, Tutsi 14 per cent and Twa 1 per cent.

But it was during Habyarimana’s reign – from 1973 to 1994, that ‘equilibrium’ was put in action but it was also applied to regions of origin.

For instance, in the former Ruhashya Commune (in the present Huye District), there were 37 Tutsi children who attained between 60 per cent and 70 per cent, but only seven were promoted.

Speaking to The New Times, last week, Mugesera said: “It resulted in promoting people with poor performance to the detriment of best performers.

“The equilibrium politics deprived a person of their rights to education or work, because it argued that the number of places reserved for them or their region were over, despite their good performance. That was unfortunate as it violated human rights.”

However, he said, currently all children have equal opportunities to education.

The State Minister for Primary and Secondary Education, Olivier Rwamukwaya, said Rwandans should bear in mind the positive academic changes that have been realised after the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, which continue to give hope that the Genocide will never happen again.

“The equal opportunities to education for all Rwandan children, offering of places for students which is only based on their performance without any discrimination, and the job placement and performance assessment for [education] employees is currently done transparently,” he said, adding that there are channels by which a person who is not satisfied with the service can claim their rights which is different from the past when an employer could unfairly treat the employee.

Rwamukwaya said the curriculum and academic materials that are used in the country are free from the Genocide ideology and that ‘Ndi Umunyarwanda’ and National Itorero programmes have been promoted in all schools, some of the initiatives to base on to fight against Genocide.

Speaking during the commemoration of former employees of Education ministry killed during the Genocide, last week, Jean Ruzindaza, the director of advocacy at the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), said when schools are commemorating, they should be inviting people like Georgette (Umulinga) who worked in the education sector, before and after the Genocide so that they help inform young learners’ understand the past vs the current education opportunities.

“This would enable them to uphold the good achievements the government has attained. They also will understand that it is in their best interest to fight those who minimise or negate the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi,” the minister said last week.

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