Late in 2009, I was invited by UNESCO to attend a human rights conference in Kigali. I knew very little about this beautiful country.
First, I knew that in 1994 there was a Genocide where about one million souls perished and secondly, I knew that there was an “innovative leader” who was working to build consensus and was committed to change in the republic.
UNESCO and the Rwanda National Human Rights Commission accompanied our group while we toured schools, building projects, hospitals, discussed Rwanda’s monumental work in reconciliation, visited the Genocide Memorial at Murambi and finally we heard directly from President Paul Kagame.
I will never forget how honoured I felt to hear from this world leader. The President spoke passionately to this international group on the vision and plans for a new Rwanda that would focus on education, technology and business.
No one in the UNESCO group could have imagined the amazing progress Rwanda would see in a few short years. Progress, integrity, vision and action are what Rwanda has become known for in the world. This passion for positive sustainable change and people-centered leadership is what calls me to return to Rwanda.
The world is witnessing so much that is positive in Rwanda. I never dreamed that I too would witness these changes.
Now, I return often to Rwanda to work within the Rwandan Teacher Education Program (RTEP) a partnership between MINEDUC/REB and the University of Hartford. Last week, I visited a few Rwandan schools to assess the skills for those teachers who have been trained in advanced instruction techniques in order to be mentor teachers.
Working with a team from REB and MINEDUC, we visited schools throughout Rwanda to witness and assess how the training of new School Based Mentors or SBMS was progressing. What we witnessed was inspiring. Learner centered education is in process toward achieving VISON2050 goals.
We visited a school in the Western Province, Boneza Sector and met first with the head teacher and a few of the staff. The head teacher and the staff were exuberant discussing the positive changes being realized in learner-centered education.
These dedicated and persevering educators hold to a powerful commitment both to children and to changes in the classroom that will prepare students for careers in the future. In the classroom, we witnessed a passionate instructor introducing a lesson, then watched as the instructor moved around the room with confidence to encourage students.
Students responded to this learner-centered approach through energetic questions for the teacher to address. These students were excited to learn. We witnessed students engaged in group work - debating answers and, once again, so excited to learn that their questions flowed like a waterfall.
All students were engaged in learning and one could witness their joy at being challenged to learn. The rigor of this teacher/mentor’s class environment, the clear presentation and the response by the students was inspiring.
Visiting another school in the South Province, Ruhango Sector, the team visited a senior level classroom. Again meeting with the teachers, they explained their passion for teaching- “working to always support and expand the knowledge of students.”
The head teacher and instructors were anxious to assess what was happening in their school. There were clear objectives and directions that encouraged the students to work collaboratively in groups and discuss critical questions.
The instructor was engaged using questioning and evoking responses. A model lesson, students worked as a team and were actively participating in answering the instructor’s questions. These students supported each other – a skill that would make any employer happy. These lessons were all about the children.
Other teams who visited other schools, many reported similar experiences.
After a week, my working visit to Rwanda was coming to an end, and I was provided with an opportunity to discuss the findings with Minister Education Papias Musafiri, Minister of State for Primary and Secondary Education Isaac Munyakazi and REB Director General.
Each of these officials met with me separately and each, displaying tremendous passion for education and great character, began each of our meetings with the questions, “How are the children?” and “How are the teachers?”
We discussed many improvements that are in process in Rwandan education and especially the expanded role of the School Based Mentors. Most evident was that these leaders had an integral intense caring and concern for Rwanda’s children.
It was humbling to hear each of these educational leaders individually state, as if they were sitting together, “Rwandan students are bright and capable. It is our goal to assure that everything possible is done to support their future.” As I have witnessed, not only do they say these words but every one of these leaders waking hours is spent diligently working to fulfill this promise of the future to Rwanda.
What has been most obvious in the schools visited is that all are committed to continuous change. Vast improvements in teaching, in learning and in the inclusion of all students can be witnessed in most classrooms with newly trained RTEP Mentors supporting these changes.
Another very positive improvement is how teachers and students communicate in the classroom. This has encouraged freely engaging dialog, debate and ideas in English language learning thus preparing students for the future.
When I return from Rwanda to the United States, I am often invited to speak to many interested groups. People have many questions but the one that I am asked most often is, “How does Rwanda continue to make such progress…can this be true?”
As a passionate educator and with witnessed evidence, I answer every assembly by saying, “What we see in Rwanda today is the result of excellent teamwork, leadership and devotion to citizenry. This leadership allows citizens to reach out to a responsive and dedicated president, ministers and other officials.
Leadership in Rwanda is driven by integrity and devotion to cause and leadership that strategically plans for a bright and successful future.” VISION 2050, President Kagame, Education Minister Musafiri, Minister of State for Education Munyakazi, REB Director General and thousands of dedicated teachers from around Rwanda are working proof to the world that a team, focused on results and vision, truly does work for the success of the people and here, especially children.
It will require time, energy, commitment and dreams to reach the mission but with the Rwandan focus on future and with the support of a dedicated and devoted team of public servants from the President, to Ministers of Education, to classroom teachers and with the realisation that anything is possible, we are witnessing (and the world will witness) the power of an education based Rwanda.
The writer is an American academician.