There is no doubt that Rwanda has registered significant strides in overhauling the education system for better, though challenges still linger.
The country has the highest number of primary school enrolment in sub-Saharan Africa and according to the Economist world rankings; Rwanda ranks sixth in the world in Primary school enrolment!
Also the Government should be commended for the educational reforms that have been instituted in a bid to improve the quality of education. Amongst the notable reforms is the textbook policy that allows private publishers to supply textbooks in schools- both primary and secondary schools.
The textbook liberalisation policy has increased quality and accessibility of textbooks in schools as opposed to the previous policy where the government had the monopoly of supplying the textbooks-cum-pamphlets through government printing press.
Due to inefficiencies and bureaucracies associated with this approach of book supply (we may as well call them pamphlets) there was very limited textbook accessibility and as such the target was to ensure that at most teachers got instructional materials.
This meant that the textbooks were only limited to teachers and students relied on their teachers for notes and other explanations. Another notable factor that comes with current textbook policy is the heavy budget, because quality sometimes goes with price, textbooks are relatively expensive.
This means that government has prioritised and put increasing textbooks in schools on top of its agenda. The current student textbook ratio stands roughly at 1:3 and the ultimate target is to make it 1:1. In short the government is doing a good job and the current textbook policy is appropriate.
However, when it comes to utilisation and usage of the supplied textbooks in schools it leaves a lot to be desired! The government’s strategy to increase access such that both the teachers and students get enough textbooks seems not to be producing the desired results.
In practice this strategy would make teaching and learning easier and smoother. Textbooks provide teachers with guidance on what to teach and how to teach, textbooks save time it would take to invent all activities and materials teachers would need to prepare a lesson by themselves.
They also give inexperienced teachers ideas for ways to teach, as some textbooks provide draft lesson plans. At the same time textbooks enable learners to read more on their own and discover more ideas that teachers might not have otherwise captured.
In short textbooks are best resources for learner centered approach to teaching and learning process. Unfortunately, this has not been well captured by our teachers and educators! In some schools when books are supplied they remain in store rooms (not libraries) or in the shelves.
Through my regular contact with schools I have witnessed this situation firsthand, where books are supplied and kept in designated store rooms such that they remain “safe”.
In our discussions I raised the benefits of encouraging the learners (the candidate classes at least) to access books as much they can. The teachers raised sharp objections, telling me that when learners access textbooks they read a lot of information which may end up confusing them!
To them, it’s better if teachers control and manage information that students access-hence the need to limit student’s accessibility to textbooks! From this encounter and other related incidents, we need to appreciate the fact that indeed for most schools when books are supplied they remain in store rooms.
Some of the textbooks which were supplied way back in 2004 are still lying in stores brand new! From this discussion and other similar cases, we need to understand that sometimes when textbooks are supplied, remain idle and are not utilised.
One of the causes of such is that educators’ lack information and skills on how these books should be used. Head teachers keep them safely and wait in case the ministry comes to audit, it will find these books intact and well kept!
Students are not allowed to access these books in case they spoil them! There is need for all the stakeholders in education to design integrated strategies to train teachers and other educators and equip them with skills to use and utilise textbooks.
Otherwise, the increased textbook supply to schools and its intended effect of enhancing quality and accessibility amidst heavy expenditure may remain unproductive for the years to come.
The author is an educationist, author and publisher.