A girls’ education and gender lens on our Building Learning Foundations programme
Our Building Learning Foundations (BLF) programme is taking a system-wide approach to improving girls’ and boys’ learning in Rwanda, tackling inequality through teacher development, school leadership, system strengthening, inclusive education and safeguarding. This also involves addressing gendered inequalities within the education system. In this case study, we focus on the elements of the BLF programme that specifically aim to improve gender equity in learning and enhance female leadership for learning.
Rwanda has made great strides in achieving equitable education for girls, having attained and surpassed gender parity in primary education. The country also has a number of national political commitments to eliminating discrimination against girls and women in education. However, girls in Rwanda – particularly those of adolescent age – continue to face barriers to achieving their full potential. Prevailing socio-cultural norms place burdens on girls that can negatively impact on their school attendance and performance. There are persistent gender disparities between male and female school staff, and few women in leadership, leaving girls without female role models in school. Policies to promote girls’ education have faced implementation gaps, compounded by a lack of disaggregated data.
Building Learning Foundations (BLF) is a programme of the Rwandan Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) and Basic Education Board (REB) funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) as part of its Learning for All (LFA) Programme in Rwanda, implemented by a consortium led by Education Development Trust. The programme is focused on improving learning outcomes at P1 to P5 in English and Mathematics. This is intended to improve the students’ learning achievement in higher grades, thereby increasing equitable access to primary and secondary education in Rwanda. Here, we focus on the elements of the programme that specifically aim to improve gender equity in learning and empowerment outcomes and enhance female leadership for learning.
Our approach to improving gender equity in the BLF programme
BLF is designed to improve Rwanda’s education system by strengthening teacher development, school leadership, the country’s overall education systems, and inclusive education and safeguarding.
As part of our work through the BLF programme, we have developed a specific Girls Education Strategy to “contribute to the progressive elimination of normative, infrastructural, and governance-related barriers hindering girls’ access to equitable education in Rwanda”. The strategy adopts a gender-transformative approach that works at the intersections of gender equality, diversity, and inclusion. In this work, we are combining general and girl-targeted interventions through school and community-centred methodologies.
Working across the whole education system allows us to provide a holistic approach to supporting girls’ education and addressing gender-specific barriers.
Our work includes:
- A combination of general and girl-targeted interventions to increase the likelihood of girls’ attending and learning in school and progressing into secondary and tertiary education
- Technical assistance and professional development for teachers and school leaders, as well as education leaders at local and central government levels
- Data system strengthening to collect accurate data and use it to make informed decisions at local and national levels
- Emphasis on gender-responsive pedagogy, safeguarding and inclusive education to ensure specific educational needs of girls and boys are addressed in a safe environment that is conducive to learning
Our overall approach has ensured that more girls stay in school and achieve 12 years of quality basic education.
Here, we present an in-depth look at the actions Education Development Trust is taking to improve girls’ education through the BLF programme.
Increasing the likelihood of girls attending and learning in school
Our teams are raising gender awareness in families and across communities through the use of local media. Increased awareness contributes to positive behaviour change and helps to break down some of the barriers faced by girls looking to continue their education. As an example, sexual abuse is a huge barrier to girls’ learning, rendering a focus on safeguarding girls essential – both in school and in the community.
To raise this awareness, we organise talk shows on safeguarding and child protection using different popular radio and television stations operating across Rwanda. Talk shows are attended by our BLF Gender and Safeguarding Specialist, together with senior officials from national education and child safeguarding agencies (Ministry of Education, Rwanda Basic Education Board, Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion and National Child Development Agency), local education authorities (e.g., District Vice Mayor in charge of social affairs and/or District Director of Education) and parents. Safeguarding discussion topics include:
- Emerging risks of abuse among children as a result of Covid-19, especially corporal punishment and online sexual abuse
- The roles of parents and siblings in safeguarding children and proper behaviour management approaches
- Existing avenues for reporting safeguarding incidents.
We have also created ‘dos and don’ts’ posters for schools that can be read by children, families and members of the wider community.
Furthermore, the BLF programme has significantly contributed to the establishment of safeguarding teams in schools. Monitoring data collected in February 2021 from 2,531 schools and their satellites (94% of schools in receipt of support from the BLF programme) indicated that only 52% of schools had a safeguarding focal teacher, and no school had a dedicated safeguarding committee. We therefore produced a concept note and collaborated with the Rwanda Basic Education Board and other statutory agencies to set up school safeguarding teams. Following the rollout of the safeguarding teams, we are now working on a framework for supporting pregnant teenagers, teen mothers and young fathers. The framework is built on three pillars: 1) procedures, 2) collaboration and 3) information. Our wider safeguarding work provides a link between what may happen at home and action at the school level.
We are also working with the government to co-construct a Girls’ Clubs pilot to improve girls’ self-confidence and emotional wellbeing. Through these clubs, adolescent girls in upper primary will be provided with a safe, supportive, fun and inspiring environment to share their life and learning experiences. The clubs will allow girls to discuss and receive support to overcome barriers hindering their life opportunities as well as enrolment, continuation and performance in education (with a particular focus on STEM and Math). We plan to challenge normative barriers associated with girls in STEM and higher and vocational education using role models and girls’ ambassadors.
Our work with teachers and school leaders to improve outcomes for girls
Our aim is to create gender-sensitive schools linked to district- and sector-level governments, which can shape gender-responsive management of schools.
We are delivering training on gender-responsive school management, planning and budgeting to district and sector officers, school leaders and the inspectorate. Our approach of delivering training across all levels of the system is designed to harmonise and fully embed gender-responsive management of schools in the system.
As well as school management, our training includes guidance on gender-responsive classroom management, covering:
- Gender-responsive language, including eliminating derogatory or insensitive language
- Promoting gender-neutral language to challenge biases on gender roles
- Thinking about classroom set-up.
We are beginning to incorporate gender-related thinking and gender-inclusive content directly into the curriculum for maths, inclusive education and English.
Our work with education leaders at local government level
Our teams are supporting district officials to use data more effectively by delivering training on gender-responsive monitoring, planning, evaluation and budgeting. We are working with local education leaders to create an accountability framework that will strengthen the collection and application of data.
Our Sector Learning Facilitators work closely with Sector Education Officers, who are heavily involved in safeguarding. The Sector Learning Facilitators assist with safeguarding incidents in schools, including sexual abuse involving school community and wider community members.
We also have Special Needs Education Coordinators in each district to engage with families and collaborate with disability officers at the district level.
Our work to increase the number of women in leadership
The BLF programme is actively increasing the proportion of women in leadership roles in the Rwandan education system (previously just 26%), as part of the teacher development and school leadership strengthening pillars. We created guidelines and are working with schools to support them in appointing women as School Subject Leads. This is a recognised role that helps individuals to develop and position themselves for more senior leadership roles. As a result of our work, the majority of School Subject Leads are now women.
We are supporting the Rwanda Education Board’s School Leadership unit to increase the number of women in leadership positions. Our work has included collating and presenting data on the common barriers and issues preventing women from becoming school leaders. We are now collaborating with the unit to find practical solutions to the barriers identified and to encourage women to apply for school leadership positions.
Our work with central government
We regularly engage with policymakers and civil servants in central government departments to further the impact of our work. The departments we work with include:
- Rwanda Basic Education Board (REB)
- National Examination and School Inspection Authority (NESA)
- Ministry of Education (MINEDUC)
- Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF)
- National Child Development (NCD) Agency.
For example, in 2021, we worked with MINEDUC to review the Girls' Education Policy – specifically updating statistical data, redefining the context and proposing policy actions for girls’ education. The policy is being updated to address persistent inequities in the context of Covid-19.
We also worked with MINEDUC to renew a second phase of the back-to-school campaign following pandemic-related school closures. We helped schools to develop a systematic approach to getting students, including girls, back into education. Working closely with the MINEDUC, we built capacity at a central level to use gender-disaggregated data to inform the process. At the same time, our teams also provided technical support and drafted guidance on how to implement the campaign – with a strong focus on the most vulnerable. Within this, we developed specific guidance on how to mobilise teachers, parent committees, religious leaders and other stakeholders that might know the students and would be able to influence their return to school. This guidance was provided to all mayors, who in turn passed it on to school leaders. Following the implementation of the new approach, 95% of students re-enrolled.
Additionally, we took action to identify and support the 5% of students that did not re-enrol. We used data patterns to identify the students, including girls, as a key sub-group (including pregnant girls and new mothers). We used extensive field networks including Special Education Needs Co-ordinators and School Governance and Accountability Committees to support the ministry initiative.
Alongside this, we have participated – and continue to participate – in the child protection sub-cluster of MIGEPROF, attend child protection meetings, and engage with local and national partners and Gender Officers at district levels. Community mechanisms are aligned with MIGEPROF, the coordinating agency for all gender matters at the local level.
Our work in strengthening data systems
To raise awareness of the importance of data, and to build data-based decision-making capacity, we work with the Director General of REB and Director General of Policy and Planning from MINEDUC. Our work includes presentations, training and guidance on the process of data analysis, and we recently obtained buy-in to share data on the gaps around girls’ education and women in work. We used this data to constructively challenge the narrative that Rwanda has achieved gender parity.
We are supporting with two different Information Management Systems as part of our systems strengthening and inclusive education activities. Working with the Education Sector Strategic Plan Management Information System (ESSPMIS), we ensure that data is used to inform decision-making at a national level. We have strengthened data quality by developing a guidance document for the district- and sector-level stakeholders on collecting accurate, quality data through a systematic approach. We are in the process of updating the MIS to ensure gender-disaggregated data is also collected and used for policy planning (e.g. human capital index relating to dropout and transition to work).
Following the Covid-19 pandemic, we developed a Comprehensive Assessment Management Information System (CAMIS) to allow the government to identify schools and learners most in need of remedial learning. The system is used to conduct a comprehensive data assessment at the school level to inform teaching and identify schools that are struggling at the district and national levels. CAMIS enables data-based decision making to effectively target students that would benefit the most from remedial learning.
To find out more about our BLF programme, click here or visit https://buildinglearningfoundations.rw/.