A very interesting fact emerges when one looks at the schooling systems in the world. That best schools and universities around the globe are private schools; ranging from Harvard and Yale to Strathmore University in Kenya to our very own Nu Vision and Green Hills Schools.
Despite, their sterling contribution to education, Private schools and institutions of higher learning have to endure the ‘elitist’ tag..
This has hindered their growth in our country. But this need not be so; their contribution would be better appreciated only if it was better understood. It is in this regard that the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank Group hosted the first Rwanda Private Schools Convention on Friday July 22nd, 2011 at the Serena Hotel.
The event, which, gathered over 100 private school owners, the ministry of education and other stakeholders in the education sector successfully highlighted the role, achievements and challenges faced by the private education sector apart from presenting a discussion forum for the ministry of education (the country’s education strategy) and binging to the fore other key issues relevant to private schools.
The statistics are impressive; there are about 524 private secondary, vocational and primary schools, and over 2,300 private nursery schools that reach approximately 422,215 young people and another 62,546 at institutions of higher learning annually.
They employ 21,000 people. Infrastructure investment by private school owners is over 125.4 billion RwF. Just over half (51%) institutions of higher learning in Rwanda go to private institutions.
Private institutions increase enrollment in Rwanda especially before Universal Primary Education (UPE), nine years Basic Education (9YBE) and currently ease the load on the public system.
This they do by providing education to students outside the public education system as well as taking in students not absorbed by public schools and universities. Special needs of learners are followed up (Mature entrants, and those who desire to choose their own subjects/careers).
They also innovate new course options, unavailable in public schools. For example in Rwamagana and Ngoma districts, private schools were the first to introduce computer science. They, thus, improve quality of education by investing in scholastic materials, infrastructure and equipment. Freedom of subject choice for students is unique to private schools. These and other indirect benefits are attributable to private institutions.
Private educational institutions are still not very involved in education sector policy deliberation, formulation and implementation and their contribution (investment, employment, graduates, labour force) is hardly recognized.
Parents are also not very aware of the quality and value of private education. Actions such as the RBS ban on the importation of used computers limit performance ( in ICT practical classes and experiments) as do overly strict financing criteria and bureaucracy by banks where it takes months sometimes over a year for approval and disbursement .
The institutions therefore need a strong advocacy organization and Closer public private partnership in the education sector as well as Partnership with local banks which should pursue a sector approach for long term financing for private schools.
Nonetheless, if Private schools exploit training opportunities (such as those provided by IFC), they can overcome some of these challenges and build capacity to maintain high enrolment and academic performance. Education development services (Strategic planning, Curriculum and learning management, Quality assurance, Education management information systems , and Governance and succession planning) and Business development services that include Business Management Courses (Finance and accounting management, Human resource management, School marketing) and Business Plan Development (Business planning, Liaison with local banks for financing) would be crucial in the effective management and growth of these institutions.
It is necessary that IFC extends its services to universities and other institutions of higher learning.
But more importantly it is imperative that the owners put the lessons they learn into practice and that every stakeholder to ensures that these institutions grow steadily in line with the vision 2020 which envisions a private sector-led economy.
Sam Kebongo is a Director at Serian Ltd that provides skills and business advisory services consultancy. He also teaches entrepreneurship at Rwanda Tourism University College.