Education quality in Rwanda: factors of success, challenges and future prospects

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This article derives from a communication given by BY PROF. NZABALIRWA WENCESLAS during the national colloquium held on May 9- 12, 2016 on the Catholic education in Rwanda


Education quality is referred to the sixth Education for All (EFA) goal that aims at “improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills”. The EFA goals have handed over to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The second and sixth EFA goals have been combined into the sole education goal which is embedded in the seventeen SDGs, that is to “Ensure equitable and inclusive quality education and lifelong learning for all by 2030”. This is an evident demonstration of the importance accorded to both access and quality education across the world. Rwanda like most countries worldwide, takes quality education as a benchmark to carry its education system into the post-2015 agenda.
In the past 15 years, Rwanda noted an impressive growth in enrolment, particularly at the primary education level as a result of ongoing policy developments and strategies such as school construction, teacher recruitment, capitation grants, teaching and learning materials, girls’ education, increased parent involvement and government encouragement towards private sector’s investment (MINEDUC, 2015). Moreover, considerable progress was observed in terms of the increased number of schools, both primary and secondary, particularly as the universal primary education is considered as the foundation for the further development of secondary education. A significant increase in secondary schools emerges since 2009 due to the Nine Years Basic Education program of local construction to extend primary schools for lower secondary classes followed by the Twelve Years Basic Education approach for upper secondary education. Recently, the focus on education has shifted from access to quality. In Rwanda like most countries across the world, the decline of quality manifested in low pass rates, high dropout rates, underdeveloped skills where pupils leave schools still unable to read, write and unready for self-employment or being employed (Shoko, 2010; Michaelowa, 2001). The fall of quality in education turned to be a worldwide problem working against the United Nations movement for Universal primary education aimed at achieving education for all (Sperling, 2001; Lockeed et al 1991; Dorsey, 1989).

The EDPRS2 points out that the quality of primary education has not been able to match the pace of improvements in access (MINECOFIN, 2013: 80). The internal efficiency analysis identified key indicators reflecting some challenges in the education system, which include the stress on resources attributable to high repetition rates and low retention (higher dropout). These indicators in particular point to the quality of the education presently delivered as a contributing factor.
In view of the above, it appears that the achievements of the access to education represent somehow the threats of the quality of education. Consequently, the challenges of the education access are closely linked to those of the quality education which handles aspects like teacher training and motivation, instructional leadership and mentorship, teaching and learning language competency, availability and adaptability of facilities and teaching and learning materials, awareness around parental responsibilities as well as assessment strategies such as the Learning Achievement in Rwandan Schools (LARS) Study, which provide valuable data to enhance effective teaching and learning in schools. This paper is articulated around three sections: concept of education quality, factors of success, challenges and strategies for the future.

1. Concept of education quality

Definition and dimensions
In much contemporary discourse on education, the word quality is frequently mentioned, although it is rarely defined. The word quality is often used without explaining what quality is, as reflected in the following statements: “Quality…. You know what it is, yet you do not know what it is. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality. Bur when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof!”….“Quality is like love: everybody talks about it and everybody knows he/she talking about. Everybody knows and feels when there is love. Everybody recognizes it, but when we try to define it we are empty-handed. The same counts for the concept of quality. There is no general consensus on the concept of quality….”(IUCEA, 2010a). While the general concept of quality is difficult, education quality is much more complex. When defining the quality of education one chooses the aspect of education that will be the focus of attention. Since education has many purposes and components, questions regarding quality may reasonably be posed about any important aspect of a system: infrastructure, school buildings, administration, teacher training, educational materials, teaching, or student achievements. Although it seems very difficult to reach a consensual definition of education quality, one can say that an education quality is the one that attains the set learning outcomes. At each level of the educational system, there are specific learning outcomes and it is necessary to ensure that learners have achieved them before they can progress towards the next level or be certified.

Broadly speaking, quality in education, can be viewed as a set of elements within the education system that are believed to lead to better student outcomes, including measurable indicators of student learning. Quality education involves the sufficient and effective supply of direct resources to schools (infrastructure, teachers, and teaching and learning materials), pedagogical support, a supportive school climate, and the effective management and administration of the education system. Student learning is also influenced by the extent and nature of parent and community support to schools, as well as by the socioeconomic characteristics of children and their families. Equity is yet another dimension of quality, because any education system would be challenged to claim it offers quality education without addressing parity and equality imbalances (World Bank, 2011). According to the Quality Improvement Working Group of Rwanda, the meaning of quality of education is captured by the following definition, which has evolved from EDPRS 1 and 2:
“A quality education is defined as all children leaving school equipped with the skills, knowledge, attitudes and values needed for Rwanda’s economic and social development and for their own further educational and social development.” (World Bank, 2011: 90) Today, education quality appears to be a multi-dimensional concept and there is a considerable consensus around its basic dimensions. According to the International Working Group on Education organized by UNICEF (2000a), quality education includes:

  • Learners who are healthy, well-nourished and ready to participate and learn, and are supported in learning by their families and communities;
  • Trained and motivated teachers (the most crucial ingredients in the provision of quality education);
  • Content that is reflected in relevant curricula and materials for the acquisition of basic skills, especially in the areas of literacy, numeracy and skills for life, and knowledge in areas as gender, health, nutrition, HIV/AIDS prevention and peace;
  • Processes through which trained teachers use a child-centred teaching approach in well-managed classrooms and schools and are able to facilitate Active Learning in the classroom;
  • Environments that are healthy, safe, protective and gender-sensitive, and provide adequate resources and facilities;
  • Outcomes that encompass knowledge, skills and attitudes, and are linked to national goals for education and positive participation in society.

There is a need to add on the above six dimensions a seventh one: effective school leadership. In the tentative of establishing a hierarchy among the indicators of the education quality, scholars like Leithwood et al. (2007) wrote that “School leadership is only second to classroom teaching as an influence on student learning. Leadership has significant effects on the quality of school organization and on student learning”. Muijs and Reynolds (2001) added that “Both individual teacher and school leadership are of a great importance. They are the essential change agents who will have significant influence on whether a school will develop into a ‘learning organization’ or not”. Definitely, all the dimensions as spelt out above are interrelated, and a serious deficit in one is likely to have implications for quality in others. Reasons for education quality Nowadays, so much attention is paid to quality. Although attention to quality has always been part of the academic tradition, it is now the outside world that emphasizes the need for explicit attention to quality. The following among other reasons can be given for Quality Assurance (IUCEA, 2010b):

  • Train graduates who meet the needs of the society: are we delivering a “product” that is wanted? Are we proud of our graduates?
  • The labour market expects schools to provide the students with adequate knowledge, skills and attitudes important for the right job fulfillment.
  • Need to offer our graduates the opportunity to enter the world market (world is becoming a global village), but under the condition that the degree qualifications have quality.
  • Need for “consumer protection”: our students and their parents are spending a lot of time and money on their education. Therefore, they have the right to receive a quality education.

2. Factors of success

The type of indicators typically used to identify quality may prove this out: numbers of qualified teachers, pupil-teacher ratios, number of computers, number of students passing national examinations, etc. This section presents the factors for progress towards education quality in Rwanda. It looks at the contribution of national policies, government funding over the EFA period (2000-2015), and various quality-standards programs and initiatives that have been implemented by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with development partners and civil society to achieve the objectives education quality.

2.1 Policy context

The Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy 2 (2013-18) notes that, “the quality of primary education has not been able to match the pace of improvements in access,” (MINECOFIN, 2013: 80). It emphasizes that the key challenge for the sector during EDPRS2 is in consolidating, advancing and accelerating the quality improvement measures already made. Interventions during EDPRS 2 are expected to further reduce average class sizes and pupil-teacher ratios, improve curriculum supported by better and more readily available teaching and learning materials, and improve examination and assessment systems. Improvements in the quality of education are anticipated with a higher calibre of new teacher recruits together with better trained and equipped practicing teachers who are well supported and managed.
Mandated by EDPRS2, the Education Sector Strategic Plan (ESSP) 2013-18 focuses on improved quality and learning outcomes across primary and secondary education as one of its 10 key strategies along with equitable access; special needs education; teacher supply; TVET; higher education; school readiness; science, technology and innovation; adult basic education; and administrative and management support services (MINEDUC, 2013).
2.2 Education financing supports progress Education financing, as much as it has contributed to increased equitable access for children since 2000, is linked with because of its paramount importance to the further development of quality teaching and learning in Rwanda’s schools.

Providing education services in a resource-constrained environment is one of the largest challenges, and thus government funding is an important pillar of the education sector. The government’s commitment to improving access to and the quality of education in Rwanda is evident in the increasing trend of funding to the sector. The education sector’s funding has increased year after year to attempt to meet the growth of student populations, school expansion, teacher and staff recruitment and remuneration and teaching resources. As a result of the implementation of 9YBE and 12YBE programs, secondary education expenditures surpassed primary education in the 2012/13 financial year as unit costs per student increased to meet demand.

2.3 Quality standards for primary and secondary education

This section highlights the quality standards developed for primary and secondary education, which are approved by the cabinet (UNICEF, 2000b; MINEDUC, 2009; Republic of Rwanda, 2009). These standards have become a driving force for the improvement of the education system, and in particular, the improvement of quality in education for Rwanda. Examples of previous, current and prospective initiatives are given for each of the standards: 1. Healthy learners, both physically and psychologically, ready to participate and learn, and supported in learning by their families and communities
– MINEDUC is encouraging all communities and secondary schools to operate school feeding programs with local resources to provide a healthy meal or snacks during the school day.
– Some schools provide school meals for students and teachers where private funding exists. Teachers in some schools pay a portion of their wages for local catering especially primary teachers who are working double shifts (UNICEF, 2013).
– From 2003 to 2012, the World Food Program (WFP) supported school feeding programs in 300 schools. Since that time, WFP has been downsizing its participation in response to local school feeding programs and in order to divert resources to other priority areas.
– The identification, referral and treatment of some children with disabilities (CWD) have enabled them to access and continue through primary and secondary education.
– There is a renewed focus on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) awareness by REB, development partners and NGOs with annual rehabilitation and construction of WASH facilities at schools.

2. Trained, motivated and well supported teachers using learner centered interactive teaching approaches in well managed classrooms
– International research indicates that the two most important influencers in student achievement are the classroom teacher (direct) and the school head teacher (indirect) (Day & Sammons, 2013). Initiatives with international partners have made strong efforts to improve pre-service teacher training (PRESET) and, in particular, in-service teacher training (INSET) for teachers along with in-service leadership and management courses for Head Teachers and Directors of Studies.
– The teacher education system was reformed to integrate primary and secondary PRESET under the University of Rwanda-College of Education (UR-CE) in 2010. This includes two Colleges of Education (secondary PRESET) and thirteen TTCs (primary PRESET) around the country. Improved coordination and delivery of teacher education is the intended outcome of this organizational consolidation.
– INSET remains with REB; it involves school-based and off-site training programs, many of which take place during holiday periods. Instructors are Teacher Development and Management (TDM) personnel, School-Based Mentors (SBM) and development and civil society partners. The priority areas have been Science and Mathematics, English proficiency and learner-centred pedagogy.
– The SBM program is working with schools to provide classroom teachers with English language and teaching methodology support. In some schools, SBMs are working in collaboration with partners such as VSO, UNICEF, USAID, JICA, Drakkar Ltd., and IEE to strengthen instruction and assessment.
– REB has partnered with JICA on the ‘Strengthening Mathematics and Science in Secondary Education’ (SMASSE) and ‘School-based Collaborative Teacher Training’ (SBCT) projects.
– Special Needs Education has gained a higher profile as a way of reaching those CWD who do not attend school. UR-CE has developed a specialist program to create a cadre of special needs education (SNE) teachers. The SNE working group has been supporting teacher training, resource provision and CWD initiatives.
– The results-based aid program (RBA) supported by DFID provides incentives to the Ministry of Education for increasing the cohort of English proficient teachers.
3. Skilful assessment to facilitate learning and reduce inequities

    • National leaving examinations are conducted at P6, S3 and S6 primarily as a method of determining a student’s progression to further education. More students are passing at higher rates than previously, especially girls. EFA Review respondents (MINEDUC, 2015) indicate that these are ‘high stakes’ examinations impact on decisions about some students continuing their education – higher drop out rates in P5 may indicate a reluctance on the part of lower performing students to sit for the P6 examination.
    • The Ministry of Education conducted the Learning Achievement in Rwandan Schools (LARS) in 2010 to measure the literacy and numeracy levels of P3 students. LARS II was conducted in 2014 with P2 and P5 students in order to gain a broader picture of literacy and numeracy competencies. The findings are being integrated into primary programming and pedagogy to improve effective teaching and learning.
    • The proposed continuous assessment reforms linked with the competency-based curriculum will balance subject knowledge with higher order thinking and learning (understanding, application, analysis, evaluation and creativity).

4. Content and materials that reflect the relevant curricula, including textbooks, readers and other didactic material, including material made from locally available resources

– Rwanda has found the current curriculum less than relevant to the nation’s vision for development (Vision 2020, EDPRS2). Teaching and learning materials, while aligned with the traditional curriculum and made more available through the school-based textbook acquisition mechanism, tend to focus on subject knowledge reinforced by periodic national examinations. REB is currently involved with UNICEF and other partners in the revision of the curriculum to meet modern requirements.
– Through USAID funding, the ‘Literacy, Language and Learning (L3)’ program has created high quality, evidence-based teaching and learning materials (print and audio) for use in literacy and numeracy instruction in early primary classes in public schools nationwide. Video-based teacher training supports effective incorporation of these new resources in the revised curriculum.
– Save the Children’s pre-primary readers sets are creating learner and language appropriate readers for use in early primary classes throughout all schools. These learning resources will continue to be integrated into the curriculum reforms over the next few years to extend students’ reading experience and practice. – Local publishers are receiving capacity building from development partners and NGOs to further develop the domestic publishing industry and authorship as a catalyst for Rwandan production of quality reading and learning materials,
– New syllabuses, teaching and learning materials (teacher guides, textbooks, visuals, manipulatives, media, etc.) will be produced for use in the implementation phases of the new curriculum.

5. Acquisition of positive values and basic skills, such as: literacy; numeracy; critical life skills such as problem solving, lifelong learning, and communication; IT skills; and healthy living, including HIV/AIDS prevention and environmental education
– National campaigns such as ‘Rwanda Reads’ supported by government, development partners, and non-governmental and faith-based organizations underline the importance and relevance of literacy in modern Rwanda, and aim to support a culture of reading.
– Schools have been encouraged to create active classroom reading corners and school libraries to increase reading experiences and literacy among young people and their families. Donor-supported mobile libraries, such as those implemented by US Peace Corps and L3 are also increasing access to reading materials.
– Peace and values education is incorporated in the civics curriculum to support students’ personal growth and contributions to the peace and security of society.
– The one laptop per child (OLPC) program was targeting to distribute 250,000 units in 407 primary schools by late 2014. This government-funded initiative provides primary students with basic IT experiences prior to entering secondary school or transitioning into vocational training centres.

3. Current challenges for quality in education

Based upon Ministry of Education documents, respondents’ perspectives (MINEDUC, 2015) and proceedings of the recent Joint Review of Education Sector, the major challenges that currently face the education sector in relation to quality of education in primary and secondary schools include the following:

‘Quality’ consensus: Many people are still not clear about what ‘quality’ looks like in terms of curriculum, instruction, management and outcomes. This lack of clarity faced by many jurisdictions, not only Rwanda, contributes to the ongoing retention issues. A clear and well-understood definition is required to guide the further development of a relevant and rigorous education system.
Teacher motivation: Self-esteem and morale are at a low amongst many teachers (Bennell and Ntagaramba, 2008). Research in developing and developed countries tells us that teachers are the most important element of generating effective student outcomes. To this end, the teaching profession must be supported and encouraged by all stakeholders in important ways – the social contract must be understood and respected by all parties.
Relevant curriculum: Rwanda has recognized that primary and secondary curricula needed to better align with society’s needs. Social and economic development, as portrayed by the EDPRS2, requires relevant and rigorous education aligned to public and private sector requirements. In this respect, the Ministry of Education implemented the competence-based curriculum in 2016.
English language as the medium of instruction: This is a well-recognized challenge in schools. It is a long-term initiative that requires continuous investment and assessment, patience and a strong willingness on the part of adults (policy makers, teachers, parents, leaders and managers, mentors, etc.) to support their children. The professional development of teachers is critical to this initiative.
Professional development: Teachers tend to teach the way they were taught, which reinforces the traditional ‘stand and deliver’ style seen in many classrooms.
A more balanced approach to effective teaching and learning integrating teacher- and learner-centred pedagogy, as appropriate, will enable students to be more actively involved in their own learning. Teachers are to be supported by Head Teachers who are proficient in instructional leadership and mentorship. A strong focus on the continued development of professional competencies within schools (head teachers, teachers, parent-teacher committees-PTCs), district and sector education offices (DEOs and SEOs), and the Ministry of Education (central, REB, WDA) will contribute to improved outcomes at all levels. A strong PRESET system should be complemented by effective continuous INSET. Investments in personnel are critical to achieving EFA and Ministry of Education goals.
Retention rates: Retention rates, especially at the primary level, are well below expected levels acting as a barrier to secondary education and generating higher system costs diverting funds from system improvement efforts. Dropout rates continue to remain relatively static, due in part to the quality and relevance of the current education system. Improved retention rates in primary education in order to increase efficiencies in flow-through (survival rates) to secondary education will reduce operating costs within the system.
Data management: In a country that champions the development of ICT, enhanced and integrated data management systems are vital to provide comprehensive and relevant information in a timely manner with which to diagnose the impact of policy and programming on student learning outcomes

4. Strategies for the future

The challenges noted in section 3 above provide some suggestions for improving the situation relative to quality in education. The ESSP 2013-2018 has identified ten sector outcomes, two of which pertain specifically to quality in basic education:
1. Improved quality and learning outcomes across primary and secondary education
2. Improved supply of qualified, suitably skilled and motivated teachers and trainers to meet the demands of expanding education access

      The following strategies may be taken to increasing quality of education.

      • Focus on teacher motivation through professionalization, training, working conditions and resources – they are at the core of quality education delivery.
      • Adopt and implement the draft Teacher Development and Management Framework (2014) in improving teacher welfare and conditions of service – contract conditions, remuneration, working conditions, housing, loan schemes, etc.
      • Child friendly schools (CFS) training for district & sector personnel, pre- & in-service teachers, head teachers, PTCs, etc. – application of the CFS approach through on-site mentoring, coaching and inspection
      • Head teachers or ‘master’ teachers from different subject-area departments to provide instructional leadership and mentorship
      • Develop English language competency amongst teachers on a continuous basis to ensure the quality of teaching and learning post-P3 levels
      • Ensure age appropriate readability levels for all print materials in classrooms
      • Continue work with parents & communities by MINEDUC and partners to increase awareness around parental responsibilities
      • Increase actual and expended budgets to ensure improved equitable learning outcomes
      • Include an indicator(s) to capture improvements in learning achievement (are they only about examination scores?) and ensure its monitoring on an annual basis
      • Ensure that District Development Plans reflect the priorities of the ESSP 2013-18 in a balanced manner (i.e., a sharp focus on repetition and dropout issues is critical to the expansion of secondary education and future investments in early childhood care and education-ECCE, Science and Technology, and TVET)
      • Ensure a strong focus on coordinated PRESET and INSET professional development grounded in a clear and achievable implementation plan
      • Implement effectively the current national competence-based curriculum review with a view to instituting a cyclical revision schedule in the future
      • Continue to support assessment strategies such as the Learning Achievement in Rwandan Schools (LARS) Study, which provide valuable data to enhance effective teaching and learning in schools.


Research tells that one of the most critical elements of effective teaching and learning at all levels are well-trained and motivated teachers. Teachers are at the core of quality education and the relationship between teachers and students is critical to any improvements in education. This means that all countries, rich or poor, have to ensure that every child has access to well-trained and motivated teachers. UNESCO (2014) has listed ten strategies based on the evidence of successful policies, programs and initiatives from a wide range of countries and educational environments. By implementing these reforms, countries can ensure that all children and young people, especially the disadvantaged, receive the good quality education they need to realize their potential and lead fulfilling lives. These strategies are as follows: fill teachers’ gaps, attract the best candidates to teaching, train teachers to meet the needs of all children, prepare teacher educators and mentors to support teachers, get teachers to where they are needed most, use a competitive career and pay structure to retain the best teachers, improve teacher governance to maximize impact, equip teachers with innovative curricula to improve learning, develop classrooms assessments to help teachers identify and support students at risk of not learning and provide better data on trained teachers.
One of the other lessons learnt from the 2015 EFA review (MINEDUC, 2015) is the crucial role played by both parents and school leaders in guiding and shaping the future lives of children. It is assumed that a concerted effort between teachers, parents, community and school leaders with the support of all stakeholders including the Government, Development Partners, NGOs and Faith-based Organizations, would contribute to promote and maintain the quality of education at the desired standards.


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One thought on “Education quality in Rwanda: factors of success, challenges and future prospects”

  1. I agree with the owner of this article for developing quality of education in Rwanda it requires to take account on the teachers, parents, community and school leaders with the support of all stakeholders including the Government, Development Partners, NGOs and Faith-based Organizations, would contribute to promote and maintain the quality of education at the desired standards.

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