Shining the spotlight on basic education completion and foundational learning in Rwanda

Part of a series of blogs on recent research on foundational literacy and numeracy in Africa.

Research placing a spotlight on foundational literacy and numeracy in Rwanda was recently published, undertaken by the GEM Report and the Association for the Development
of Education in Africa (ADEA) in partnership with the Ministry of Education and School-to-School International. The Spotlight on Basic Education Completion and Foundational Learning in Rwanda is one of five country reports on foundational literacy and numeracy, which feed into a continental Spotlight report on Africa, Born to learn, the first of a three-part series, in partnership with the African Union. The Rwanda report is one of the resources that can feed into a new National Strategy on Foundational Learning being elaborated by the Ministry.

As displayed on the VIEW website, which presents the results of an estimation model that compiles data from multiple surveys, 57% of children complete primary school on time (i.e. by age 15), a rapid recovery achieved after the traumatic impact of the 1994 genocide and its aftermath. The 2020 Demographic and Health Survey notably indicates rapid improvement in timely completion with many more 14- to 16-year olds completing primary school on time compared to what earlier waves of the Demographic and Health Survey had shown in 2010 and 2015. Ultimately, 7 in 10 children complete primary.

Timely and ultimate primary completion rate in Rwanda

Despite this tremendous progress, concerns remain about foundational literacy and numeracy levels. In 2019, the Rwanda Basic Education Board and the Soma Umenye (Read and Understand) project funded by the US Agency for International Development developed early grade reading benchmarks for Kinyarwanda oral reading fluency and reading comprehension for grades 1–3. The benchmark (‘meets expectations’) for grade 2 students was set as at least 28 correct words per minute. Only 16% of students tested met those expectations, while 4% exceeded them and the remaining 80% fell below that level.

The country’s Vision 2050 states that Rwanda’s education system will be market driven and competence based. As a result, Rwanda has undertaken education reforms and implemented new policies aimed at ensuring universal enrolment, improving quality and promoting the acquisition of foundational learning. Key reforms include providing fee-free basic education, introducing a competence-based curriculum, taking steps to improve equity, expanding infrastructure, and implementing a comprehensive assessment system.

Small-scale fieldwork carried out for this report confirmed that teacher pedagogy combines traditional and innovative practices reflecting a competence-based approach. High expectations are placed on teachers as the primary actors to implement education reform. The supervision and monitoring system serves a dual purpose of accountability and development. Assessment is a priority and happens at multiple levels.

But the fieldwork also found that people, systems and resources need to be more closely aligned to support foundational learning improvement. While important central-level education policy decisions on curriculum, pedagogy and assessment are evidence based, the implementation of policies at district, school and classroom level warrants greater attention.

The report identifies two positive case studies that Rwanda should share with its peers. First, it has tried to tackle classroom overcrowding in the context of rapidly growing enrolments by:

  • constructing schools with joint funding with the World Bank but also through the innovative Home-Grown School Construction Approach, is reducing overcrowding (22,000 classrooms in 2020/21).
  • allowing schools to run in two shifts to accommodate more students;
  • recruiting and deploying over 44,000 new teachers into schools
  • eliminating teacher subject area specialization to increase flexibility in the schedule and reduce the necessary number of teachers; and
  • reducing the core courses.

Second, it has made major efforts in recent years to improve teacher pay:

  • In 2019, the government initially instituted a 10% salary increase for primary and secondary teachers in government and government-aided schools.
  • In July 2022, as part of a Cabinet-level discussion on teacher welfare, a decision was taken to increase teacher salaries by between 40% and 88%, depending on their qualification.
  • Under the imihigo system, teachers receive financial bonuses based on subjective performance evaluations in which student performance can be a factor. Pay-for-performance contracts have been tested that provide a bonus to the top 20% of a district’s upper primary teachers. The result suggested improved outcomes and reduced absenteeism.

Launched along with a campaign supported by the Ministry of Education, #BorntoLearn, the Spotlight report on Rwanda offers a diagnosis of the current state of foundational learning in the country and identifies policy solutions that are critical for improving education outcomes for all students – and which are worth discussing with other countries that face similar challenges.

The report’s overarching recommendation is the need to develop an implementation strategy focused on the factors most closely linked to foundational skills – teaching and learning, teachers, supervision and monitoring, and learning assessment. Other recommendations that emerged from the report include the following:

  • Improve the quality, quantity and frequency of teacher training, particularly in competence-based curriculum and related pedagogical strategies.
  • Focus supervision and monitoring systems on supporting teachers in mastering pedagogical practice aligned with the competence-based curriculum.
  • Strengthen the classroom-based, formative assessment system by creating tools and guidance; building the capacity of supervisors, head teachers and teachers; and encouraging demand for better quality education among parents and caregivers.

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