Case study

Building Learning Foundations in Rwanda

Education Development Trust has a long history of working in Rwanda. Our teams worked with the ministry of education in a post-genocide Rwanda in 2001 to design the education sector strategic plan, the framework of which is still in use today. Our five-year programme, Building Learning Foundations, is about getting the foundations in place to positively effect the rest of Rwanda's education system.

Our UK-funded Building Learning Foundations focuses on establishing solid foundations at lower primary level (P1 to P5) in all public and government-aided schools. Improvements in learning outcomes in primary grades are intended to improve children’s learning achievement in higher grades and so increase equitable access to primary and secondary education for girls and boys across the country. Cutting across our interventions is a focus on enhancing inclusive education approaches and rigorous monitoring and evaluation. 

The challenge

Following many years of success in improving access to education, Rwanda’s primary net enrolment rate in 2017 was 93.93% (source: UNESCO). However, as the 2016 Learning Assessment in Rwandan Schools illustrated, while there have been improvements, too few of Rwanda’s students are experiencing quality teaching and learning at lower primary level.

Equally, while there has been significant improvement, primary completion rates are still significantly below target, and as the mid-term Education Sector Strategic Plan review illustrated, dropout at P5 is a real issue, with a quarter of P1 pupils not reaching grade level. Building Learning Foundations has an ambitious response to the pressing need to dramatically improve early grade attainment and continue dropout reductions. 

The switch at lower primary to English as the medium of instruction is a critical impediment to pupils’ learning in Rwanda. In the LARS II literacy test in English for P5 pupils illustrated that the majority of learners in rural schools were reported as facing difficulties with reading comprehension and struggling to derive meaning from sentences. 

The role of the headteacher in Rwanda is largely administrative and there is a pressing need to scale-up support. There is a need to build on existing initiatives, bringing much-needed national momentum to help transform perceptions of leadership for learning within the education system and beyond. 

Our approach 

Our programme design is based around three foundations: teacher development, system leadership for learning and system strengthening. 

Teacher development 
To improve the quality of teaching English and mathematics at primary level (P1 to P5) we are developing teachers’ self-directed learning skills as well as providing support and resources to enable teachers to participate in continuing professional development at school level. 

We provide self- and peer-learning toolkits to all teachers of English and mathematics at lower primary level. The toolkits consist of printed books with supporting audio-visual materials on removable media. The toolkits have been designed to be used on teachers’ own mobile phones and, in addition, each school has been provided with two smartphones so that teachers can watch the instructional videos and film their own classes for self-reflection and peer discussion. The subject-specific toolkits cover maths- and English-specific teaching pedagogy as well as general pedagogy and provide vital subject knowledge. 

System leadership for learning 
The leadership for learning approach focuses on transforming headteachers’ practices through a system of coaching and academically-accredited, workplace-based, continuing professional development courses. At least 532 headteachers selected as National Leaders of Learning (NLLs) and Local Leaders of Learning (LLLs), and all Teacher Training Principals and Vice Principals as well as all District Education Officers, benefit from accredited, modular, workplace-based CPD courses led by the University of Rwanda College of Education as well as coaching, led by our programme specialists.

With a focus on school-to-school collaboration, the national and local leaders of learning come together at district and sector level 'professional learning communities', supported by BLF, to focus on specific school development and learning issues and model a coaching programme. On a national scale, this means that all primary school headteachers in the country benefit from this peer-to-peer study and coaching model. 

System strengthening 
Our programme supports efforts and initiatives by the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) and the Rwanda Education Board (REB) to strengthen systems at national, district, sector and school levels. At the national level, we provide strategic and responsive advice as well as capacity development on performance-based planning and management of teaching and learning, with a specific focus on pupils with special educational needs. 

Our carefully selected specialists are delivering targeted inputs on both a long- and short-term basis. We are responding to existing and emerging demands and undertake capacity assessments and relevant training in identified key priority areas: 

  • data collection and data use; 
  • budgeting and financial planning and tracking and improved public financial management practices and;  
  • decision-making and accountability practices. 

Girls Education

Girls in Rwanda, particularly those of adolescent age, continue to face barriers to achieving their full potential. This has implications not only for individual girls and communities, but will continue to be felt at societal and economic levels if left unaddressed.

Analysis by BLF reveals that girls in Rwanda face normative, infrastructural, and governance-related barriers to achieving full gender parity in education. While looking at the barriers and challenges, and considering the BLF programme design and its intended outcome as well as matching it with the Government of Rwanda and FCDO’s priorities, BLF has selected a number of priorities aligned with its' girls’ education strategy. The strategy has adopted a gender transformative approach that responds to the practical and strategic needs of girls and women throughout the programme implementation. These include the establishment of safeguarding teams at the school level as well establishing girls’ clubs in 10 districts of Rwanda. 

Our impact

Following the success of our work in Primary grades 1 to 3, the Ministry of Education expanded the scope of our work into grades 4 and 5. 

Building Learning Foundations is working to improve learning outcomes for 4.2 million Rwandan children. We are reaching more than 42,000 teachers of mathematics and English at primary level in all 3,300 public and government-aided schools in Rwanda. In order to better support classroom teachers, we are providing English training to all 2650 school-based mentors.  

Through our Leadership for Learning programme, we are supporting 2,500 headteachers, 13,250 members of school general assembly executive committees, and 506 education officials at district and sector levels to lead successful reforms at all levels. This includes: 

  • 2,650 Deputy headteachers
  • 16 Teacher Training college Principals
  • 16 Deputy Teacher training college principals
  • 40 National Inspectors
  • 5,300 School subject leaders 

As a result of the excellent achievements detailed in the figure above, BLF scored an ‘A’ in its annual review by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) for the fourth year running. We also supported the production of guidelines for the Rwanda Education Board (REB) on catch-up programmes as schools reopened, helping to ensure both successful back-to-school campaigns and girls’ continued access to learning.