I have recently returned from my third and final visit to Rwanda through a contract with UNICEF to work with the Rwandan Education Board (REB) and the Ministry of Education to develop a Guide to Inclusive Education and provide associated training in support of a more inclusive approach across pre-primary, primary and secondary education.
Rwanda has made significant commitments to providing inclusive education, with the right to education for all enshrined in the constitution, and the national legislative and policy framework supporting this. It is also a signatory to various international conventions and initiatives that promote equity and equality in educational opportunity. Inclusive education is now embedded as a fundamental principle within the values which underpin the new curriculum, and is seen as a cross-cutting issue across all sectors and subjects. The project therefore was an exciting opportunity to not only build on previous pilot projects in Rwanda that have included children with disabilities in mainstream schools, but also to set inclusion in the broader terms of improving the quality of teaching and learning for all learners. This will be achieved through supporting schools to identify and reduce the barriers that may lead to educational exclusion, and developing an inclusive culture that responds positively to diversity and difference.
Whilst the primary aim of the project was to develop the guide and related training materials, the contract also provided an opportunity to provide some direct training to REB officials to strengthen and reinforce their understanding of inclusive education, especially in relation to the new curriculum.
The main part of the assignment involved working with REB and a wide range of stakeholders, including district and sector officials, teacher trainers, NGO representatives, head teachers and teachers. This cross-sector representation was critical to the success of the project, using a series of workshops to gather their input, guidance, and comments during the development of the guide.
At the initial workshop we agreed the target audience, format and outline of the guide. It was decided that as the move to increased inclusion has implications across the entire system, so the outputs of our work would need to be used not just by teachers, but by people working within the education system at all levels. The guide then naturally fell into three main sections:
- General information on inclusive education –including activities for schools and teachers to evaluate their own situation and identify targets to work towards
- How to adapt and differentiate the curriculum to ensure the inclusion of all learners – including activities and guidance on developing lessons and learning materials
- Identifying learners who are experiencing difficulty in their learning – including strategies and interventions to help and support learners to overcome these.
I then returned home and prepared a first draft of the guide for further development with the group of stakeholders on my return to Rwanda. The group’s wealth of experience and varied backgrounds provided me with excellent feedback to strengthen the draft. Working together closely on each section of the draft intensively for a week meant we all learned from each other and developed new friendships too. During group work, the participants developed example differentiated lesson plans and case studies for inclusion in the guide, which ensured they were based on real experience and suited to the context.
A group of stakeholders developing examples for the Guide to Inclusive Education
Another group of stakeholders working on the development of the Guide to Inclusive Education
Back home again, I finalised the guide, returning it for further comments before completing the final copy.
The next step was to develop training materials based on the guide and facilitate the training of the trainers. This training prepared the trainers to be able to subsequently conduct a four-day orientation training programme on the content of the guide for a teacher in every school in Rwanda – this would also help teachers to understand the tools and activities within the guide, so that they can support other teachers to use them effectively within their schools.
The training of the trainers was conducted in two batches of just over 40 participants each. It was participatory, modelling the training the trainers would deliver themselves and following the topics and activities within the guide itself. We did have a lot to cover in the few days we were all together, and this was made even worse by some flooding and landslides which caused severe difficulties for the second group travelling, with some of them having to spend the night at the roadside unable to move. Any feelings of frustration at the delayed start on my part were quickly overshadowed by the strength and resilience shown by the participants, and then by their determination and engagement to complete the training programme.
Throughout the project it was a privilege to work in such a dynamic and positive environment, with people at all levels clearly committed to improving education opportunities, especially for those who are currently excluded or at a disadvantage. The strong stakeholder engagement ensured ownership and allowed for the guide to be developed based on the situation in schools in Rwanda, providing a complete, country-contextualised document perfectly matched to the existing circumstances. I wish them every success in their endeavour towards increased inclusion for all.