From 28 April to 4 May, Ms Annick Biesmans and Mr Bram Verdoodt, lecturers from the Erasmus University College (EHB) in Brussels, visited Rwanda to explore the education system in general, and mathematics teaching in particular. The visit also aimed at sharing experiences on capacity development of teachers in primary mathematics, among other things.
The lecturers visited a primary school and a teacher training college (TTC) in Eastern Rwanda where they observed maths teaching and interacted with school leaders, teachers and students.
“We discovered some similarities between education in Belgium and Rwanda. For instance, in our schools, some students learn in a language that is different from their mother tongue, which is also the case in Rwanda where English is the tuition language since 2009. This means we can learn from one another as far as education is concerned”, said Mr Bram Verdoodt, head of lower secondary teacher training at EHB.
Training of trainers for maths
After visiting the schools, Ms Biesmans and Mr Verdoodt facilitated a training of trainers for maths in Kigali for two days. The training participants included seven lecturers from the University of Rwanda and 12 maths tutors from six TTCs who will also train maths teachers in different schools.
Mr Theophile Ngizwenimana is a tutor at TTC Matimba in Nyagatare District, Eastern Province and has been a tutor since 2014. He said the two-day training improved his skills and knowledge, especially about how to handle students and teaching maths. “The training reminded me that we should always give equal opportunities to all learners. For instance, we teach students from poor families, from middle class, children with disabilities, and children who do not face the same learning challenges. Considering students’ backgrounds informs the learning and teaching process and enables teachers to deal with individual education needs”, Mr Ngizwenimana said.
Students will no longer fear maths
Regarding maths teaching, Ngizwenimana said that students used to fear math due to the way it was taught. “Many students perform poorly in maths because it was taught in an abstract way, teachers do not connect math to real life clearly, hence students loose interest in the subject. The facilitators reminded us that we should teach maths in ways that students can easily see its relevance to their everyday life. When you teach fractions for instance, you should show students how parents can use it in distributing items or properties to their children”, he said.
According to Theophile Nsengimana, a lecturer at University of Rwanda - College of Education (URCE) who also attended the training, maths is a key to the social economic development of a nation. It enables learners to think critically to solve the problems. He added that math is essential for learners expected to pursue applied sciences.
Regarding the training, Nsengimana pointed out his take-home message. “In teaching maths, we should apply three techniques: base it on students’ pre-requisite knowledge, teach it in a concrete way (connect it to real life), but also teach it in an abstract way with challenging questions so that students develop mathematical thinking.” He added that ideally these techniques should be combined for effective math teaching but observed that many teachers were focusing on a single approach (the abstract one) which may make students hate the subject. “I believe this will change when we start training math teachers”, he noted.
Why we focus on math
VVOB and its partners Rwanda Education Board and URCE are implementing a new programme “Leading, Teaching and Learning Together (LT)2/Umusemburo w’Ireme ry’Uburezi programme”. It promotes the quality of basic education through enhancing school leadership and setting up an induction system for newly qualified teachers. This programme focuses on advancing the implementation of the competence-based curriculum while supporting the improvement of learning outcomes in mathematics for girls. Even though there is an impressive participation of girls in the first years of primary education, the number of girls who complete nine years of basic education is lower than that of boys, leaving the proportion of girls in upper-secondary and especially in higher education at a lower level.
The visit of Ms Biesmans and Mr Verdoodt partly addresses this issue. VVOB Rwanda will train maths teachers in 1297 primary and secondary schools in 17 districts by 2021.
Ms Biesmans and Mr Verdoodt were excited that that participants are interested in what they shared. “When you teach you also learn, you see challenges…it gives you new energy. We are here to share ideas. We’ve realised that there is a lot of knowledge in Rwanda. You have the right people, qualified people who can help teachers deal with existing challenges to improve quality education”, Ms Biesmans said.