Education is very important in Rwanda. More than half of the population consists of youth below 25, so population growth is high and good education is necessary for economic growth, job creation and to feed people. Over the last years, both the Rwandan government and international organisations have worked very hard to make education available for everyone. Legally, Rwandan parents have to send their children to school for 9 years, 6 years primary and 3 years secondary, and that is rigorously enforced. These first 9 years are free education, afterwards school fees apply. But even with free education, uniforms, notebooks, pens have to be paid for and although it’s only a few dollars per year, for poor families it’s still a lot. The poorest families can get assistance for it from the local government. These policies have had good results, 96% of children in school-going age are attending school.
So far for the success story. After all the effort to get children in school, the issue now is the quality of education. A lot still needs to be done there, with at least three major problems.
The first problem is that teachers are paid (very) badly, so most teachers with a few years of experience leave teaching and pick up another profession. That way, people who are just starting to understand their trade keep leaving, but probably more important: teaching is seen as a way to get the chance to do something else. You will only stay in the profession if you can’t get anything else. Not exactly the way to get motivated people in front of a class.
Another problem is the language. The first three years of primary school, teaching is in Kinyarwanda, the language that most children speak at home. After that, the language of education changes to English. For young children, flexible as they are, that’s not necessarily a huge problem, but it becomes one when the teachers themselves are not good at English. In 2010 Rwanda changed the language from French to English, basically from one day to another. That means that most of the current day teachers are still educated in French and don’t have a high level of English.
Finally, the curricula are still outdated, just like education methods. Lessons are geared towards memorization: the teacher says something and the pupils collectively repeat it. Child-centred education, active participation, using what you’ve learned, are not common practice.
This is the case at all education levels, up to the universities. So I’ve met University graduates who have completed an English language Bachelor but are not able to have a simple conversation in English. We’re teaching graduated accountants how to calculate profit and loss themselves for their start-up business.
There are many initiatives to improve the education standards. Curricula are rewritten, teachers are trained, but it will take time and effort to bring all schools at the required level. One of the methods to get there is the use of model schools. The idea is that these schools will be provided with the newest curricula, modern education techniques, well-trained teachers and then will share their knowledge and experience with other schools. A few weeks ago, I was able to visit one of these model schools, Gashora Girls Academy, and experience what that means. I was speaking there to a group of around 50 of their students, and I was truly impressed by them. The girls were curious, intelligent and, very surprising for Rwandan women, outspoken and eager to have their voice heard. A great example of what good education can do for young people.
And no, this is not a school for rich kids. Not everyone will be admitted, but the selection is solely based on academic merit and motivation. The families of 95% of the girls are not able to pay for the school themselves, so these girls get a full or partial scholarship.