[SPONSORED]: Access, quality and building employable skills

In the last seven years, the education sector has seen a number of developments following different innovations, policies and strategies crafted by the Rwanda Education Board (REB). REB was created on 20th July 2011 comprising of former semi autonomous institutions of the Ministry of Education.
Pupils using OX laptops in Rushubi primary school.
Pupils using OX laptops in Rushubi primary school.

In the last seven years, the education sector has seen a number of developments following different innovations, policies and strategies crafted  by the Rwanda Education Board (REB). REB was created on 20th July 2011 comprising of former semi autonomous institutions of the Ministry of Education.

REB implements its programmes through six departments; Curricula and Pedagogical Materials Development (CPMD), Education Quality and Standards (EQS), Examination & Accreditation (EAD), Higher Education Students Loans (HESLD), ICT in Education and Open Distance and e-Learning (ICT&ODCL) and Teacher Education Management and Professionalization (TEMP).

REB, as well, carries out a coordination function by working with technical working groups; Curriculum and Assessment Technical Working Group (CATF), Teacher Development and School Leadership Working Group, Early Child Development Working Group (ECD) and Planning and Monitoring Working Group.

The four work within an umbrella called Basic Education Strategy Group. The four working groups come together quarterly, address technical issues, identify funding gaps, and then report progress to the senior management of the Ministry of Education.

The mission of the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) is to transform the Rwandan citizen into skilled human capital for the socio-economic development of the country by ensuring equitable access to quality education focusing on combating illiteracy, promotion of science and technology, critical thinking, and positive values.

The Rwandan education system has five levels: Pre-Primary (3yrs) Primary (6yrs), Ordinary level (3yrs), Advanced level (3yrs), Tertiary (4yrs) including TVET and Non-Formal Education. REB oversees basic education, which includes pre-primary, primary and secondary levels.

The 2013/14-2017/18 Education Sec-tor Strategic Plan (ESSP) is creating a better education for everyone in Rwanda, with three main objectives: to increase ACCESS to education for all; to improve the QUALITY of education; and to strengthen the RELEVANCE of education for the job market.

The use of ICTs has taken a high-table position in the delivery of education services in Rwanda in the recent past. A number of ICT programs have been initiated and are significantly impact-ing teaching and learning processes.

Enhancing quality education through ICT

In the last seven years, the government has been aiming at transforming Rwanda into to a knowledge-based society and middle income country and education is a key sector to this social and economic transformation, tapping into the limitless potential of an empowered population.

At the same time, the Vision 2020 places ICTs at the heart of the transformation across all sectors.

It all rotates around the Smart Class-room strategy which implements the Smart Education policy.

A model smart class room with a projector and sound system.

Technology key in Education

The Acting Head of Department in ICT in Education and ODeL at Rwanda Education Board (REB) Nyangoma Vincentie says the use of ICT in education is seen as a strategic lever for achieving economic transformation.

While more children are enrolled in basic education, the key challenge remains the quality of education they are get-ting. Technology has been used to improve the quality of teaching and learning materials through the use of digital learning resources.

According to Nyangoma, the government in the last seven years has expanded access to education at all levels, to improve the quality of education and training and also to strengthen the relevance of education and training for the labour market.

“We have applied technology in education and it has helped the government to achieve these goals and address the key challenges of access and quality in education,” Nyangoma says. Multimedia interactive digital content can be used to motivate students, improve conceptual understanding and retention of key topics.

ICTs have helped with real time data gathering of enrolment, assessments, performance in improving decision making and have been effective in management of the education sector leading to informed prioritization and allocation of resources.

According to Nyangoma, ICT has helped in teacher professional development thereby contributing to the improvement of quality of education.

Lastly, students must be prepared for the 21st century and given abilities needed to succeed and thrive in today’s complex, technology-based global economy, and to be active 21st century global citizens.

Some of the skills that students have developed include Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Communication, Collaboration and Visualization. Technology in education enables the development of these important skills.

ICT equipment

According to the head of ICT at REB, in the last seven years the department has been involved in addressing three main issues; equipment, content development and teacher training.

As for the equipment for easing ICT infrastructure and making it possible to have smart classrooms, the government has entered into a partnership with Positivo BGH and Microsoft to equip youth with ICT equipment.

REB has already started to roll out the distribution of ICT equipment to schools.

A Physics teacher in one of the model laboratories.

The distributed equipment include signature devices like laptops, projectors and other required ICT gadgets with an aim of reaching as many schools as possible across the country.

The target is to distribute laptops to 500schools by the end of this year. Each school will receive one hundred laptops, making it 50 computers for each computer classroom.

Content development

The guarantee of a successful e-Learning in schools is the constant availability of content both online and offline. One of the main components in smart education is developing content.

Students always want to learn more. The good news is that there is a variety of on-line books that can help learners acquire knowledge.

At REB, there is a department that deals with content development for students, loading the laptops with both online and offline text books that are in line with the school curriculum. Absence of net-work connectivity in some parts of the country makes it difficult for the learners to gain access to course content.

REB is developing content that can be set up ahead of time in the laptop that students will be using when there is no access to internet connection.

This offline learning feature will help students who don’t have internet connection to have access to the learning materials.

One Laptop Per Child

According to Eric Kimenyi, the coordinator of one laptop per child program, the use of ICT in Education has, for long, been a priority for the Education Sector in Rwanda.

The One Laptop Per Child Programme (OLPC) was introduced in 2008 to pro-vide primary students with access to IT devices. As a way of cementing the project, the Ministry of Education is currently developing a Master Plan to accelerate adoption of ICT in the teaching and learning process in schools throughout Rwanda.

Kimenyi said that the program has been effective and that it will be improving gradually. “We now have a measurable point of start. Students who have completed primary school can do basic programming. We increased deployment subsequently as we continued to receive more laptops to ensure equal access for students across the country. We moved to the lowest administrative level and currently, at least 2 to 3 schools in every sector of the country have laptops,” he said.

A teacher conducting a lesson to pupils using One laptop per child computers.

Currently, Rwanda takes the lead in Africa, having the highest One Laptop per Child deployment and the third in the world after Uruguay and Peru. “In the early stages of the program, we focused on set number of schools per province, with at least five schools in each province,” says Kimenyi.

The progress is good so far and the OLPC not only distributes these laptops but also sends out a team that trains teachers on the use of the laptops in the normal class learning experience.

The teachers are taken through a five day training session, and do practice in class under the guidance of the trainers to identify the difficulties and offer help on how to teach students using the de-vices.

According to Kimenyi, there are 275,000 laptops currently distributed in 1450 schools across the country.

The team also provides maintenance services for the gadgets in case of dam-age as well as software updates. In the beginning, students from first to sixth level at primary acquired laptops.

Children using XO laptops

Maniraguha Jean Didier, 12, though quietest, is glowing the most in a P5 class-room of 34 students.

However, when he receives his computer to start his morning lesson, he becomes the expert and technical advisor says Ukozehasi Paul the P5 science teacher at Rushumbi primary school in Bukuba cell Juru sector in Bugesera district.

“Now when I am giving lessons on topics, he is fast to learn how to use the key board and knows the basics when it comes to use the laptop. He is simply outstanding,” says Ukozehasi.

This once quiet child, who says he wants to become a police officer when he completes his studies, was the first in his class to learn how to use the XO computer. “Within months of receiving and using the computer, he told me he was able to use it and he offered to help other pupils in his class,” says Ukozehasi.

Four years ago in 2013, EP Rushumbi Primary School that has 1,173 pupils, of which 591 are boys and 582 girls started a digital revolution, as the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) delivered 382 computers to be used by all pupils from p4 to p6 in the school.

With this generous donation, EP Rushumbi Primary School is among the 1450 schools in Rwanda that have received laptops. OLPC now boasts a big percentage of student retention rate and has shown great increase in school performance.

“Since February 2013, all Rushumbi pupils from Primary four to six are using laptops to learn some of the subjects in the classroom. In addition, the pupils began to excel in the use of the laptops and the retention rates and school performance improved,” says Uwamahoro Console the headmistress of the school.

In just over three years, “Our students have become more active students. The boys and girls have developed more skills and knowledge for their own learning,” says Uwamahoro.

The arrival of the XO computers also alleviated the need for classroom text-books, says the head mistress. “We had an 80% shortage of books in subjects such as language, arts and math. The computers have helped us to resolve this deficit,” she says.

The Head master of GS Nkanga showing a wall with maps of Rwanda and Africa.

Smart classroom

According to Kimenyi, the OLPC pro-gram was later aligned with the smart classroom policy.

To provide guidance and coordinate the lessons, over 8,000 teachers have been trained in ICT skills and usage.

“Since teachers have been trained, they do facilitate students in using these machines. Parents should also involve themselves and collaborate with us. They should make follow-ups and report issues that are linked to this program. This will help us improve,” says Kimenyi. To address that, a school server with subjects in the curriculum and a wireless access point were set up and distributed in 410 schools.

The system has also been aligned with the new competence-based curriculum. The laptops will be used to teach science and elementary technology and other subjects. For a school to acquire laptops, it is compulsory to have electricity.

Kimenyi said that there will be redeployment of laptops to increase access to as many schools as possible.

He added that; “We want to intensify awareness for the public to know the objective of the program and support it. We are not teaching ICT, we want these machines to be a tool like a pen or a notebook.

We will push for increased use of these laptops and increase the number of hours of usage on the time table where it’s possible”.

He revealed that One Laptop per Child program will have reached all primary schools in the country by 2020.

Teacher Training in ICT

The successful integration of ICT into teaching and learning in schools depends on the teachers’ ability to use these ICT devices.

As laptops are distributed, REB also trains teachers to adapt and engage learning activities and structure the learning environment in ways that merge the pedagogy with the advantages that ICT offers.

Teachers from schools around the country are receiving training on smart class-rooms. Schools need ICT as a teaching aid in their daily activities, but to achieve this, a gradual process has to be followed to engage both learners and teachers.

In May 2016, teachers were taken through sessions of creating data bases for classrooms and linking networks for learning during a workshop organized by Africa Smart Investments Distribution and Positivo BGH.

Teachers at both primary and secondary school levels have to be trained in the use of ICT and how they can create an enabling environment for ICT to be integrated into teaching and learning.

The aim is to improve teachers’ experience of teaching in the classroom with ICT and increase school managers’ involvement in ICT implementation in the school.

Given that the new curriculum focuses on the use of ICT, REB is currently providing training to teachers to be adapted to the new system of teaching but also increasing the quantities of learning, teaching and reading materials to meet the quality of education and competency expected with the new curriculum.

However, REB acknowledges there is still a challenge of skills of ICT teachers and that to effectively deliver and train students to become a knowledge based economy by the year 2020, there is need for continuous teacher training pro-grams to equip them with the desired skills.

When it comes to very remote areas, the challenge is mainly that some schools have no access to network connectivity and electricity. In this respect, REB through the government of Rwanda, has committed itself to increasing the connectivity of both internet and electricity to remote rural areas.

In May 2016, Ukozehasi Paul was among the teachers who received training when OLPC staff members and support personnel embarked upon three school sites in Bugesera district to provide training and development to nearly 150 teachers from a number of school sites in the district.

Trainers focused on OLPC learning principles and project goals, how to work with computers, the theory and the benefits of using the platform. It was a session of exploration and collaborative learning. By day’s end, teachers were able to talk about ways to use the gadgets to teach their students.

During the entire training a lot of time was dedicated to curriculum alignment and ways to incorporate XO laptops into daily classroom routines.

According to Ukozehasi, teachers were given strategies for implementation and some spent time sharing ways that these machines could transform their classroom cultures.

“As we closed our training, teachers were given an opportunity to share their lesson plans and discuss the many new options that the XO laptops provide. Student engagement and collaboration will take on a new meaning in the new way of teaching with this technology,” he adds.

By the end of 2018, many teachers will have acquired training and will be skilled in computer science. This will be an ad-vantage since teachers retain the duty to upload materials.

Smart Classrooms aim to focus on developing 21st century skills and increasing access to knowledge. Teachers can improve their lessons by using ICT but books will continue to be important to learning.