Rwanda: Making strides in equity and inclusion
- Rwanda has made education a priority sector to support its ambitious development objectives and grow a knowledge economy based on an educated workforce.
- The focus on early childhood education means that more children get an early start and are ready to learn better throughout their schooling, with better quality teachers and more classrooms.
- With GPE’s support, the country reinforces equity, to bring more girls and children with disabilities into classrooms and ensure they learn, and fights the impact on education from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rwanda is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and aims to become a middle-income country by 2035. Rwanda is also a world leader in political gender equality; in 2019, women made up 62% of its national legislature.
Still, the country faces formidable challenges. Three in five Rwandans live on less than US$1.90 a day. And although the education system has made strong progress, especially in access to school, 121,348 children and 32,455 adolescents remained out of school in 2019.
To increase access to education, many teachers teach two shifts a day – a practice that the government has begun addressing by constructing additional classrooms and recruiting more teachers. Education is a high priority for the government of Rwanda.
Since 2006, with grants amounting to US$241 million, GPE has been supporting the country’s education efforts to improve equitable access to quality education.
FOCUSING ON THE YOUNGEST LEARNERS
Children who attend pre-primary school are better prepared for primary school and have better education outcomes. Early childhood education is also one of the most cost-effective ways to prepare children for learning and give them a chance to thrive later in life.
Although access to pre-primary education is still low, Rwanda has succeeded in increasing access to pre-primary education with support from GPE and other donors.
The number of enrolled children rose from 24% in 2018 to close to 30% in 2019, surpassing expectations. More children now attend pre-primary school even in the poorest performing school districts, where enrollment rose from 10% in 2014 to nearly 19% in just three years – narrowing the gap with the best-performing districts.
To support early childhood learning, GPE supported training for more than 5,500 pre-primary teachers as well as the development of early childhood teaching kits and play-based instructional materials, such as a “discovery of the world” curriculum that includes science and encourages young learners to explore the world around them.
To further increase access to early childhood education, GPE supported the construction of more than 400 schools with pre-primary classrooms between 2015 and 2018 prioritizing schools for vulnerable children in remote areas and poor-performing districts. The number of pre-primary schools grew by 70% from 2013 to 2018, and the ratio of students to teachers improved.
INCLUSIVE EDUCATION: BOOSTING EDUCATION FOR ALL
Rwanda is endeavoring to improve equity in education, with a focus on educating girls and children with special needs.
GPE has helped the country further narrow the already small gender gap in pre-primary and primary enrollment. While the gender gap between boys and girls has improved, girls are still more likely to drop out of primary school than boys.
The challenges for students with special needs can be sky-high, with nearly one in three children never attending school. One of the barriers to education for children with disabilities is insufficient number of teachers trained to educate children with disabilities; the long walk to school can also be a hurdle for children with physical disabilities.
To increase the enrollment and retention of children with special needs, GPE supported the government to train nearly 7,000 teachers in inclusive education in 2018, doubling the number trained the previous year, with the goal of eventually training every teacher.
Resource rooms for children with disabilities, equipped with learning devices and inclusive education toolkits were also constructed to support learning.
GROWING THE ECONOMY THROUGH SCIENCE AND MATH
The government’s move towards a knowledge-based economy has led the school system to focus on developing students’ science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills and on attracting more girls to these fields. However, a lack of qualified STEM teachers, equipment and materials presents a challenge to realizing this goal.
GPE supported publishing of 1.6 million STEM textbooks for upper primary schools and construction of school laboratories, providing science kits where no laboratories existed and training teachers on how to use them.
Rwanda has also partnered with technology companies to bring communications technologies, robotics and computer programming into the classroom.
STEM education, with its focus on developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, supported by the recent GPE grant, will help all students, including those who enter non-STEM fields.
FOCUSING ON RESULTS THROUGH LEARNING ASSESSMENT
Rwanda’s education ministry is moving towards a results-based culture. But schools can’t focus on results without monitoring progress and pinpointing areas for improvement.
In recognition of this, the Learning Achievement in Rwandan Schools (LARS) assessment tool aims to elevate education quality by giving policymakers information about students’ learning outcomes and how proficient they are in key subjects.
According to data from LARS, more than 40% of learners are not achieving expected competencies for their grade levels. For example, the 2014 assessment found that less than half of grade 2 and 5 students could read or write at the appropriate grade level.
LARS has also uncovered important inequities. Urban students, for example, performed much better than those in rural areas.
To address this and other gaps, GPE is supporting the provision of alternative technologies to schools without electricity or internet connectivity and the construction of lower secondary schools in rural areas.
With the government increasingly using LARS data to inform educational policy decisions and plans, GPE is now supporting the development of the 2021 assessment.
INNOVATING DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
The national lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus sent all Rwandan children home from school, threatening to reverse progress and increase the number of children dropping out, especially girls and poor children.
GPE acted quickly, creating what would become the world’s largest emergency fund for education. Just a week after receiving Rwanda’s application for COVID-19 funding, GPE granted US$10 million to keep Rwandan children learning – the first country to receive an emergency grant.
Rwanda promoted remote learning using multiple technologies and means of communication, such as cell phones, TV and YouTube, and radio. Schools sent parents free text messages with information and reminders about their children’s class schedules and set up a telephone helpline for parents and students.
GPE’s support helped train teachers in health and safety measures and launch public awareness campaigns about disease prevention and the need for all children, especially girls and children with disabilities, to return to school when reopened.
Additionally, GPE has funded school meals for pre-primary and primary level students for 12 weeks after school reopening, to ensure children have access to nutritious food to help them learn better.