Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Rwanda builds a resilient education system
June 03, 2020 by Subrata Dhar, Global Partnership for Education |
5 minutes read

In recent years, Rwanda’s education system has experienced impressive growth, especially in expanding access to school. However, the novel coronavirus threatens to reverse these gains if Rwanda doesn’t take bold action. GPE is supporting the country to ensure learning continues while building resilience for future crises.

With 297 confirmed cases Rwanda is at risk for transmission of COVID-19 infections. To reduce this risk, the government of Rwanda has taken swift action by assembling a Coronavirus National Taskforce to coordinate the country’s response and by issuing a national lockdown, among other measures.

Due to the national lockdown, nearly 3.6 million students are out of school – threatening to reverse earlier gains in learning, with potentially profound short-, medium- and long-term impacts on the country’s development and human capital.

School closures disrupt children’s learning and pose the risk of higher dropout rates for the most vulnerable, including girls and children from poor households, who are less likely to go back to school. Additionally, teachers may be forced to leave the profession in search of other jobs.

GPE responds quickly

Within a week of receiving Rwanda’s application for GPE’s COVID-19 emergency funding, the country was granted US$10 million to ensure students continue learning during the lockdown and to support the country’s preparation to reopen schools once the virus is contained.

"Through GPE’s funding, vulnerable children will be reached to ensure that learning continues during school closure and that children get back to school after re-opening through back-to-school campaigns to make sure that ALL students, including girls, children with disability and those from lower socioeconomic families, do not drop out of school."
Dr. Valentine Uwamariya, Minister of Education, Rwanda

These funds help Rwanda not only to address the immediate educational challenges posed by this unprecedented crisis, but also contribute to building a more resilient education system capable of effectively dealing with future threats.

The GPE-supported program – to be implemented over 18 months – finances activities outlined in the Rwandan Ministry of Education’s COVID-19 response plan.

Tapping into technology to support education needs

In Rwanda, the rapid expansion of access to telecommunications technology – radio, cell phones, TV and internet – has enabled the country to use these platforms to provide distance learning options to students. However, since not all of these technologies are available to poorer households, radio, which has the most reach in terms of both coverage and device ownership, has been prioritized.

Specifically, the GPE grant supports the expansion of equitable remote learning opportunities by broadcasting curriculum-aligned radio lessons, along with promoting the use of alternative audio-visual materials on TV and on Rwanda Education Board’s (REB) YouTube channel. In parallel, the already established REB e-learning platform now allows students and teachers to access textbooks, lessons and assessments.

In order to promote parents’ engagement with their children’s learning, free text messages will communicate important information and reminders to parents on children’s learning schedules. A helpline will also be available to parents and students for queries related to remote learning options.

The stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus pandemic may increase the risk of gender-based violence and teenage pregnancy, further increasing drop-out rates. Making use of national broadcasting tools, the GPE program aims to generate support for students at increased risk, by promoting messages related to healthy conflict resolution, and stress and anger management.

Supporting the most vulnerable

To ensure the safe return of all students when the lockdown ends, the existing model of school grants will be revised to include COVID-19 response measures – such as increasing the provision of hand-washing facilities and water tanks, and the establishment of catch-up programs for students at risk of repetition or drop-out. 

"The GPE funds are essential for helping Rwanda ensure that every school has the WASH facilities it needs to keep children healthy, clean, and protected from COVID-19. These funds will also help address the secondary effects of COVID-19 by supporting remote learning for children affected by school closures though radio lessons, e-learning, and SMS platforms."
Julianna Lindsey, UNICEF representative, Rwanda

Supplemental grants to support the most vulnerable students will be provided to schools in districts where over 45% of the population lives below the national poverty line. These grants will provide pre-primary and primary students with lunch for the first term after reopening, along with learning materials.

In preparation for the reopening of schools, teachers will be trained in school safety guidelines through a combination of radio, television and online channels. A back-to-school campaign will also be launched to educate students, and the community at large, on disease prevention and ensure the most vulnerable children – including girls and children with disabilities – return to school.

Igihozo Kevin, 11, studies at home due to coronavirus-related school closures, listening to his Primary 5 lessons on the radio every day.
Igihozo Kevin, 11, studies at home due to coronavirus-related school closures, listening to his Primary 5 lessons on the radio every day.

© UNICEF/UNI319837/Kanobana
"This grant will support Rwanda’s efforts to use effective crisis-recovery strategies as the basis for long-term improvements in pedagogy, technology, financing, and parental involvement. In doing so, this project aims to protect vulnerable groups of students, including girls, children with disabilities, and those from low-income households, from compounded negative impacts of the pandemic."
Yasser El-Gammal, Country Manager, World Bank, Kigali

Providing sustainable remote learning opportunities

While addressing immediate education needs, the GPE-funded program also supports the expansion of sustainable remote learning opportunities to be accessible beyond the current health crisis. This initiative will use a combination of digital and mass broadcasting tools offered by the Ministry of Education and its agencies.

Quick sample-based assessments will be conducted to review the efficacy of remote learning tools and to track students’ progress. Later this year, Rwanda plans also to adapt its learning assessment system for remote assessment, generating capacity to respond to future shocks.

Coming back stronger

GPE’s swift response is helping Rwanda act quickly, ensuring no child is left behind. While GPE is helping the country address the immediate challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is also strengthening the education system and helping lay solid foundations able to withstand future crises.

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