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Great expectations: aspiration, uncertainty and schooling in Rwanda

Timothy P Williams

This report on schooling in Rwanda aims to shed light on children's experiences of their own education. It is from the second winner of Education Development Trust's Tim Morris Award, 2013.

Rwanda's redevelopment efforts have concentrated on establishing a new economic trajectory for the country, one which places a strong emphasis on transformation from a subsistence-based society to a knowledge-based economy. Becoming educated has been cast with a sense of urgency. Radio broadcasts now declare education, rather than cows or land as in the past, to be 'children's inheritance' and the key to unlocking children's developmental potential.

Through its basic education policy, the government has focused on extending access so that more children, particularly those from poor households, have more access to post-primary levels of schooling.

By 2012, the number of girls and boys attending government-run primary and secondary schools had never been at higher levels. While access to the formal education system has successfully and quickly been expanded, commensurate efforts to ensure children receive a quality educational experience have proven challenging. Recent policy reports have suggested that, in the context of rapid expansion of access, materials such as books and laboratory equipment are in short supply; teachers are underpaid; and the country's recent shift to English as the medium of instruction has impacted on learning outcomes to a significant extent.

Within this set of opportunities and constraints, little is known about how children understand this push for education for themselves and the ways in which schooling informs how they think about their lives and the possibilities for the future. This study draws upon data from 11 months of ethnographic research in a rural setting in Rwanda's Eastern Province in order to shed light on children's subjective experiences of their education. Students occupy distinctive social roles and spaces within the institutional context of the school. This study aimed to use their unique vantage point to support a more comprehensive understanding of the ways in which national education policy is understood and experienced within the local sphere.


Tim Morris (1982-2012) was dedicated to providing education to those less fortunate in the developing world. As a key player in CfBT's Business Development department (now Education Development Trust's Development Centre), Tim was instrumental in designing and providing education and employment opportunities for the world's most disadvantaged people. Tim's experience in international education and economics led to the completion of his Masters in Educational Planning, Economics and International Development at the Institute of Education. Tim's dream was to use this foundation to launch his career on aid projects in the developing world. However, Tim was just 29 when his life was tragically cut short by cancer. His unwavering passion and dedication to improve education for public benefit worldwide is why CfBT Education Trust set up the Tim Morris Award in his name. While Tim is now unable to continue working to help those most in need, his legacy will continue to make a difference.

Launched in May 2012, Education Development Trust's Tim Morris Award offers £2,000 in financial support to a PhD or MPhil student in the field of Education or International Development. The award's aim is to support field research in a developing country.