I believe ICT in education would make the difference in Rwanda.
Silas Lwakabamba was minister of education for Rwanda from 2014 to 2015. Here, the Atlantis Group member reflects on his time in office: what he achieved, what he left undone – and why he thinks ICT is the key to delivering better education.
What are the priorities for Rwanda’s education system?
The 1990 war that culminated in the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi citizens took away around a million human lives and had a serious negative impact on Rwanda’s national education sector. Large numbers of teachers, staff, and students were killed and others fled the country. Infrastructure was destroyed and equipment pillaged.
The transitional government that was established in July 1994 had a herculean task to rebuild the education system, almost from scratch. The Ministry of Education was assigned the mission of ensuring equitable access to quality education, with a focus on combating illiteracy, the promotion of science and technology, critical thinking and positive values.
To do so, the ministry initiated a wide range of policies to rebuild education and meet the national needs, including revisiting the education structure, providing all citizens with easy and equal access to education without any discrimination, promoting science and technology education, and the use of English as a medium of instruction to boost the national economy.
What was your biggest successes in office?
The biggest was our reform of the curriculum from a knowledge to a competence-based one, based on students demonstrating that they had learned the right knowledge and skills. Before launching the new curriculum in 2015, the ministry organized teacher training using a cascade model in which the trainers would train other trainers. Unfortunately, the system did not work well and the ministry had to set up training centres for teachers where they came during the holidays!
There were a number of other successes. We promoted free and universal education through the Nine and Twelve Years Basic Education programmes, which were initiatives aimed at retaining the maximum number of students from primary to secondary school.
As Rwanda has only limited natural resources and arable land, we also promoted science and technology education. This strategy was aimed at helping Rwanda to become a technology hub in Africa and for students to have the ICT skills needed to compete in the regional job market.
We also enforced the teacher mentoring program initiated by the ministry in 2012. Indeed, mentoring is a powerful tool to promote teacher professional development. Successful mentoring nurtures face-to-face interactions, class modelling opportunities and observation coupled with constructive feedback. We assigned the programme the overall goal of helping teachers to develop their pedagogic skills and English language proficiency – English has been the medium of instruction in Rwandan schools since December 2008.
What was your greatest obstacle?
I faced many obstacles while in office. They included the distribution of new textbooks, because suppliers often delayed the delivery of new editions and editors were slow to correct mistakes. The government has also found it challenging to digitalise textbooks for easy and quick access by students.
Another obstacle included trying to encourage teachers to do more research. While I received positive feedback from teachers, many found it challenging to adopt to a research-based mindset and said that doing research was very demanding on their time.
I also believe that teachers were not involved enough in training programmes, which were organized from the top-down.
Do you have any regrets from your time in office?
I had been pushing for a programme for ICT in education, but the bill had not been submitted to the Cabinet when I left. If the legislation had passed, it would have fuelled key education projects like One Laptop Per Child and enrolling 60% of higher education students in Open and Distance Learning.
Furthermore, when I left office I had not yet completed the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Higher Education. It became stuck after Phase 1 was complete.
Teachers in Rwanda still have low qualifications and salaries. Many are overworked and still lack the basics like adequate housing and enough light to work.
What is the one unsolved issue or measure that you think would make the biggest difference to education in Rwanda?
I believe ICT in education would make the difference in Rwanda. This would need to be implemented through Open, Distance and E-learning (ODeL), as well as through getting more computers into schools. An ICT project is needed to help the country to meet its strategic goals.
What are your reflections on the status of teachers in Rwanda and how it can be improved?
Teachers in Rwanda still have low qualifications and salaries. Many are overworked and still lack the basics like adequate housing and enough light to work. While the government has made significant efforts in establishing a banking scheme for teachers, there is still a long way to go.
What was the greatest obstacle to reform in the education system during your time in office?
The greatest obstacle was the assurance of quality education. There were many challenges related to the scarcity of funds and budget to cover infrastructure, scholarships for teachers, and acquisition of modern teaching and learning materials.
In this series, former ministers of education reflect on their time in office and talk about the lessons they learned in government – and what they left undone. Contributors are members of the Atlantis Group, an elite body of former ministers of education and heads of government that works to provide counsel to current ministers.