While releasing national examination results this week, Education Minister, Dr. Vincent Biruta, noted that last year, female students performed poorly compared to their male counterparts.
He said the wanting performance by girls was a consequence of various factors that have sent stakeholders in education back to the drawing board in search for a remedy.
For example, of the 9,539 candidates who passed in Division One in the 2013 O’level exams whose results were released last week, only 3,405 are girls.
“There are various reasons for the poor performance of girls compared to boys, including the mind-set of their parents who may sometime make them miss school. We have to find out the major reasons for their poor performance and tailor the necessary interventions,” Biruta said.
Going by a UNICEF report published in 2012, Rwanda has one of the highest enrolment rates for primary school in Africa and has also had success in observing gender parity with girls’ net enrolment rate of 98 per cent, which is higher than boys’ (95 per cent).
Despite their large numbers in schools, girls seem to be facing challenges that hold them back from excelling.
A research paper presented at the South African association of women graduates conference by Allison Huggins and Shirley Randall titled “Gender Equality in Education in Rwanda: What is Happening to Our Girls?” listed a number of social factors holding back girl-child education.
“A number of social factors including traditional gender roles such as domestic roles and family care entrench girls under performance throughout their schooling. This has a cyclical effect as low performance in primary leaving exams results in girls being admitted to lower quality secondary schools and ultimately to higher education institutions in lower numbers. Particularly in rural areas, girls continue to be responsible for household tasks,” the research paper reads.
The research also pointed to reasons such as inadequate sanitation and dormitory facilities for girls which led to absenteeism from school and masculinised school environments lacking female role models.
The research paper goes on to state that so far, there had been various intervention mechanisms put in place by the government and non-government organisations.
Among the most prominent interventions in Rwanda are Promotion of Girls’ Education Campaign (PGEC) which was initiated in 2005 to motivate primary and secondary school girls’ education and Girl Hub which seeks to mitigate the various challenges adolescent girls face.
The Promotion of Girls’ Education campaign spearheaded by the First Lady’s Imbuto Foundation keeps girls motivated by offering secondary school scholarships among other things.
Kigali-based educationist, Stephen Mugisha, said that consolidation of benefits from various players and stakeholders in girl child empowerment remains the reasonable way forward.
“The government has so far done well putting in place interventions and programmes to support girls and improve their performance. There have also been various other initiatives to create awareness and intervene. Focus and support for the girl child’s performance is evident. A way forward would be for the various players and stakeholders to consolidate the benefits of their programs to have lasting impacts,” he said.
Mugisha went on to say that most of the programs have targeted girls and women and it is probably time to have holistic approaches that bring on board the entire community to deal with the social issues that hold back the girls.
“Most of these programs are keen on empowering women and girls. We need to get to a level where we engage men and the entire society if we have to end injustices and unfair attitudes that have been there over time. Men too need to be engaged, especially in rural areas, to gather more support for the girl. With that everyone will have a role to play,” he added.
Girls in ICT Rwanda, a group made up of women of all ages working in the field of ICT, including entrepreneurs, professionals and university students, is another initiative that has had a role though not directly targeting national examination performance.
The initiative seeks to get more girls on board in technology that has for long been male-dominated. It reaches out to girls in high schools in rural areas.
Based on experience from going around the country working with teenage girls, Vanessa Umutoni, who is an active member of the initiative, said most girls lack exposure and positive role models and are likely to grow up with a mentality that they are inferior.
She said that as much as policy interventions were necessary, there was need to have positive role models and mentors for the girls to look up to.
“Working with teenage girls around the country, I have seen most lack exposure and also suffer from inferiority complex but after working with them over short periods of time, you see them begin to change their attitudes over what they previously considered complex,” she said.
Umutoni suggested that more awareness to awaken girls and show them that they have equal opportunities as their male counterparts would go a long way in changing their attitudes and mind-set, which in-turn would improve their performance.
“That kind of campaigns will have lasting impacts on the beneficiaries,” she advised.