With concerted efforts from different stakeholders geared towards improving the completion rate of students at the different levels, government is registering some progress in curbing the niggling threat of school dropouts.
According to the Ministry of Education, in 2015, the national dropout rate in primary schools stood at 5.7 per cent, 6.5 per cent in lower secondary and 2.5 per cent in upper secondary education.
In the same period, there was an overall decline in school dropout rate by more than half, from 10.5 per cent the previous year. The question is; how are schools in Rwanda dealing with this challenge that continues to plague many developing countries?
“Every school has a duty to play and policies in the education system clearly stipulate this in official publications. Several drives have been conducted in this aspect by different sector players,” says Theoneste Ngiruwonsanga, a teacher at College APPEC Rukoma in Kamonyi District.
Ngiruwonsanga explains that schools have strict guidelines to compel students to register and attend class on a regular basis, adding that those who miss can be tracked with substantial records.
“That is the only way to follow up on students’ attendance. In case one misses, we take time to find out from their closest friends,” he explains.
Furthermore, schools offer regular guidance on sex education to prevent girls from getting early pregnancies. Even when some get pregnant, a policy established by the Ministry of Education ensures that they continue with school.
“Communicating to students helps but when it doesn’t, you cannot neglect the girls. The policy mandates schools and communities to offer special treatment, necessary child support, and compels schools to ensure they return to school after giving birth,” adds Ngiruwonsanga.
Improving parent-teacher involvement
Since parents’ involvement in education is very crucial, Law no 23/2012 governing the organisation and functioning of schools was established to encourage parents and teachers’ associations (PTAs) as well as parent-teacher committees (PTCs). In schools, these deliberate on issues of support, indiscipline and school dropouts.
Solomon Mukama Apuuli, a teacher at Kigali Christian School, explains that PTAs are now encouraging more parents to fulfill their duties towards learning.
“Their involvement has a direct effect on the concentration of the child in class. Parents who don’t care about the attendance and performance of their kids only give their children an impression that education is just an option and could drop out at any point,” he explains.
For John Mary Musinguzi, a biology teacher at King David Academy, Kigali, dropouts are declining party because the role of teachers has been demystified.
“Those days a teacher would be seen as a king. That is how some of them even ended up having relationships with students. Today, observing ethics is crucial and schools ensure that teachers remain friendly under healthy relationships. This kind of arrangement allows many students to share their problems with their teachers instead of just running away,” he explains.
However, Venuste Munyeshaka, a teacher at St Patrick in Kicukiro District, believes that innovativeness in schools that came with the revamping of the curriculum, keeps more learners in schools.
“A boring teaching approach without innovative skills does not motivate learners to stay in school. Most schools have now learnt how to make classes more interesting and every student wants to attend,” explains Munyeshaka.
Poverty still stifling progress in village schools
Recent statistics from the Ministry of Education show that Kayonza District has the highest dropout rate in primary schools at 12 per cent, while Rwamagana has the highest upper secondary dropout rate at 25 per cent.
In Ngororero District, where some students find part-time jobs on tea estates, a 15.6 per cent dropout rate is considered the highest in lower secondary.
It is for the same reason, Mukama argues, that much as poverty may not be an issue in the big cities, it contributes to school dropouts in villages where most students have to survive on minimum resources.
“Deep in the villages students could be forced out of school simply because they lack pens and books,” says, wondering: “How can a senior 3 student not feel out of place when working without a scientific calculator yet the rest of the class has?”
Just like Mukama, Aline Nisingizwe, a teacher at Apaper, explains that in financially constrained families, students can’t concentrate during lessons.
“Under such circumstances many prefer to stay away from school. It is impossible to remain attentive when you have a lot of financial stress. That is why others end up finding part-time jobs,” she explains.
Ministry cognizant of the challenges
Sustainable Development Goal number four requires governments to ensure that there is inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.
Currently, rate of access to education in Rwanda stands at 98 per cent, but officials at the Ministry of Education insist that there is still a long way to go in terms of quality and completion.
At a recent launch of an education report, Education minister Dr Papias Musafiri pointed out that one of the key challenges in improving quality and completion of school is limited finances.
“Looking at the breadth of SDG number four, it is very clear that we are going to set competing priorities that constrain our resources. It is the same problem for any other developing country,” he explained.
The minister, however, maintained that despite limited resources, government budgetary allocations could be more productive with more involvement of the public.
“We cannot continue relying on government financing or resources from development partners. We need to bring everybody on board through sensitising communities. In 2009 when we took a decision to allow attainment of education for all under the 9-Year Basic Education that was scaled to 12-Year Basic Education, the budget would have taken us more than 10 years to raise. But with the participation of the public we were able to cut down the budget,” he adds.
In most developing countries basic education is funded by governments and, according to the United Nations, enrolment in primary education has reached 91 per cent. However, for some reason, 57 million children remain out of school.
Joshua Kalisa, a parent
I believe strengthening the education system with creative and innovative packages will minimise dropouts. Practical learning creates interest and enthusiasm within the learners, hence the desire to stay in school which, in turn, reduces school dropouts.
Paul Swagga, a teacher
Some students drop out because of lack of motivation. Teachers are supposed to keep inspiring young people to work towards achieving their career dreams by showing them the relevance of completing school.
Ignatius Habineza, a father
Early pregnancies among female students are among the leading causes of school dropouts, especially in rural schools. Although schools allow students to get back after they have given birth, a student will prefer to go for good in order to evade shame.
Fredrick Ndayishimiye, a parent
The most common problem facing students is lack of proper guidance from their parents. For students who are weak in class, it becomes easier to drop out and try their luck out there, especially if there is no one to encourage them.
Jennifer Batamuliza, a parent
I think it’s because of the poor background of some students. For instance, if a child is the firstborn and has siblings, they may feel the urge to drop out so that they give a chance to the other ones to study as they help their parents look for the means to cater for the family.