The 1994 Genocide as Taught in Rwanda’s Classrooms


This blog looks at how textbook  and curricula reforms in Rwanda have worked to cover the 1994 Genocide and instill the ideals of tolerance, unity and reconciliation in students. It is part of a series of blogs on this site published to encourage debates around a new GEM Report Policy Paper: Between the Lines, which looks at the content of textbooks and how it reflects some of the key concepts in Target 4.7 in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

by Jean-Damascene Gasanabo, PhD, Director-General, Research and Documentation Center on Genocide, National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), Kigali, Rwanda.

The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi saw the slaughter of more than one million people over the span of three months, and placed Rwanda at the forefront of the world’s political consciousness. Almost 23 years later, Rwanda has rebuilt and become a modern hub of progress and development, putting in place social, political and economic systems that are grounded in national unity and reconciliation – with education reforms playing a central role.

2The large-scale participation of children and adolescents in perpetrating acts of genocide made it clear that an education system that fails to integrate basic human values, will also inevitably fail the nation. Education was used prior to the Genocide to inculcate fear, intolerance and hatred; and so too is it being utilized by the current Government to foster peace and inclusivity, and combat genocide ideology. Post-genocide Rwanda has used education as a main tool to correct biased perceptions of its socio-political history, and to provide accurate representations of the root causes of the genocide, and preventative measures.

img-20161216-wa0011With over 60% of Rwandans under the age of 24, the formal education system needs to instill the ideals of tolerance, unity and reconciliation in the next generation. With this realization, the Rwanda Education Board and the Ministry of Education have integrated genocide studies in the curricula of its primary, secondary and higher education institutions so that they are better able to lead a nation that is cognizant of its past. Instead of highlighting difference, the national curriculum of post-genocide Rwanda has been reconfigured to emphasize the politics of inclusion and to encourage a spirit of critical thinking that pursues peace, social cohesion and harmony above all else.

Prior to the Genocide, educational resources were used as a tool by the genocidal regime to promote ethnic division, discrimination and propaganda. The biased curricula and teaching methods cemented ethnic segregation within classrooms and fostered genocide ideology. The students who were not expelled from primary and secondary school due to the ethnic and regional quota system were forced to identify themselves as being Tutsi – inherently separate to those who were Hutu or Twa. The pre-1994 curriculum lacked “the essentials of human emotion, attitudes, values and skills” as it continued to promote discriminatory and divisive ideologies that were “imparted through formalized rote learning in history, civic education, religious and moral education and languages.”

img-20161216-wa0012Post-Genocide Rwanda faced the herculean task of rebuilding its dismantled institutions. With a profound lack of qualified teachers, a huge pool of orphaned children, insufficient funds and inaccurate textbooks following the genocide, many education challenges lay ahead. In early 1995, a moratorium was placed on history textbooks which disseminated biased information, as the country grappled with how and to what extent the nation’s past could be incorporated constructively in the education system, without causing pain or resurfacing conflicts.

Rwanda chose a gradual, yet comprehensive, approach. In the years immediately following the Genocide, the history curriculum lightly touched on the subject so as to protect students from their recent past, and prevent division in classrooms based on differing family experiences. Classrooms promoted knowledge based on the essential ideas of unity, peace, tolerance and justice. In 2008 the National Curriculum Development Centre within the Ministry of Education published the new history curriculum which incorporated the Genocide against the Tutsi, coinciding with the renewed emphasis on the unifying and inclusive qualities of nationality, citizenship and patriotism, instead of ethnicity.

The current national curriculum was formulated by the Rwanda Education Board in conjunction with varying public institutions, UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations. It incorporates the Genocide into the curriculum of every grade level, and discusses it in various contexts suited to the student’s particular stage in learning. Eyewitness accounts and the presence of elders in the classroom allow for a “multi-generational opportunity” for learning. In understanding how violent conflict erupts in society, it is possible to prevent future atrocities from beginning. Teaching the Genocide in present-day Rwanda aims to provide a more nuanced understanding of the event by using primary sources, encouraging class discussions on genocide denial, the persistence of genocide ideology, and the reconciliation efforts embarked on after the Genocide.

img-20161216-wa0015Moreover, this change in the curriculum has been supplemented by a shift to transform learning from one based on standard rote memorization to one that encourages discussion and a spirit of critical thinking and analysis. This approach identifies the student as an active participant in the learning experience, not merely a silent recipient of history as “evangelical speech.” By promoting an environment that encourages spirited, objective discussions, the Ministry of Education seeks to redress the biases taught by the genocidal regime, as well as prepare young people to thoughtfully and constructively enter the workforce.

Genocide education nevertheless faces some challenges ahead. With genocide denial still present, not only are ongoing revisions of educational resources required, but teacher training is also necessary to ensure that revisions to the curriculum are well presented by teachers.

The way conflict and genocide has been taught through textbooks in Rwanda has evolved over time. For Rwandans, learning about the 1994 Genocide is not only vital in understanding the history of their country, but also in developing critical thinking skills that help young people become informed citizens in today’s globalized society. Peace education, as well as tools for conflict resolution and genocide prevention, are now heavily featured. Indeed the initiatives embarked on by the education sector signal a promising start to the continuous pursuit of truth through knowledge of the past.

In comprehensively integrating the study of genocide into the national curriculum and by empowering students to become agents of their own learning process, Rwanda offers an ambitious recipe for successfully teaching one’s own history for the better.


1 comment

  1. Thank you so much Jean-Damascene Gasanabo for this article.

    It further reaffirms the fact that education is a tool which government can use to mould and shape the society. One can only imagine what would happen if governments in Africa will be more deliberate about school curriculum and development of the continent.

    Is there a way we can get government to be more committed to engaging the curriculum for development?

    Thank you.

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