With out-of-school rate down, let’s focus on quality

We will not make it! This is the dismal picture painted by the 2014 Education for All global (EFA) monitoring report, an independent publication commissioned by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Paul Ntambara
Paul Ntambara

We will not make it! This is the dismal picture painted by the 2014 Education for All global (EFA) monitoring report, an independent publication commissioned by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

 The report documents progress made in achieving Education for All targets set at the World Education Forum held in Dakar, Senegal in 2000. The report analyses the six internationally agreed education goals aimed at meeting the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015.

These goals include; expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, access to, and complete, free and compulsory primary education of good quality by all children, particularly girls, and children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities.

Others are equitable access to appropriate learning and life-skills programmes, achieving a 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, achieving gender equality in education and improving all aspects of the quality of education.

The report indicates that: “Fifty-seven million children are still failing to learn, simply because they are not in school. Access is not the only crisis – poor quality is holding back learning even for those who make it to school. One third of primary school age children are not learning the basics, whether they have been to school or not.”

It is not all gloom though. There is some good news for Rwanda. The Country was recognised alongside Viet Nam and Lao People’s Democratic Republic for reducing its out-of-school populations by at least 85 percent in the last five years.

The success is attributed to “a major expansion of lower secondary schooling, with the gross enrolment ratio quadrupling in about 10 years to reach 47% in 2011.” The report also points to an increase of the share of qualified teachers from 49 percent of the teaching force in 1999 to 98 percent in 2011.

Globally, challenges in meeting the EFA targets abound, they include; a high teacher /pupil ratio, high dropout rate, lack of teaching and learning materials, poor infrastructure, and poor quality teachers, among others. Rwanda is no exception.

There is no doubt that Rwanda is on the right track but more needs to be done if more is to be achieved before the 2015 deadline. Rwanda should actually be looking at post 2015.

The 12 year basic education programme has pushed enrolment statistics way up but the challenge remains in ensuring that pupils remain in school until completion. The EFA 2014 report shows a slight increase in completion rate, from 9 percent to 15 percent between 2000 and 2010. Going forward, Rwanda should be looking at ways of keeping pupils especially girls in school.

However it is not enough to keep children in school without giving them quality education. One of the impediments to quality education in Rwanda is medium of instruction. The Country recently introduced English as a medium of instruction in schools, a change from the previous bi-lingual approach.

The 2014 EFA report points to challenges in English language use by teachers and students. Limited grasp of the English language limits the interaction between teachers and students. This inevitably affects the quality of education provided.

The introduction of English as a medium of instruction in schools was with no doubt a masterstroke given its wider ramification but the shift needs to be nurtured if it is to produce the desired results. Teachers who are the facilitators of the teaching and learning process need tailor made programmes to improve their competence in the language.

During my short teaching stint in one of the City schools, I witnessed firsthand the discomforting situations teachers who lack a mastery of the English language go through before learners. Their confidence is low; learners lose interest in the learning activity.

There is need to boost teacher moral by equipping them with language to facilitate the teaching and learning process. Mentorship programmes to support teacher development should be given more support.

Another challenge is the pupil/teacher ratio which is still high, standing at 58: 1 according to the EFA 2014 report. There is need to scale up teacher training and recruitment. Measures should be put in place to ensure that even those who are trained remain in the profession for a relatively longer time.

Teacher welfare is another key aspect that needs to be addressed in an endeavour to keep teachers in the profession. Umwalimu Savings and Credit Cooperative (Umwalimu SACCO) has been hailed as a solution to the teacher welfare problem. Through this cooperative, teachers are able to borrow five times their salary and invest in income generating projects. However its operations need to be streamlined, it should be accessible in terms of branch network and the loan acquisition process should be simplified.

It will be a long walk to the attainment of the EFA targets; it is a walk that Rwanda will be obliged to take if it is to achieve its development targets. For, a Country is as good as its education system.

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