As laid out in Vision 2020, Rwanda wants to shift from an economy heavily dependent on agriculture and mining towards a service- based, ICT-led knowledge economy. Hence, there is an urgent need to develop a skilled labour force, to improve literacy and numeracy, and to promote gender equity. Despite progress in enrollment and retention, learning outcomes remain very low and girls still hesitate to choose STEM-related fields. In general, secondary enrollment rates remain low. By strengthening school leadership and enhancing teachers’ skills and competences at primary and secondary level, particularly in the field of STEM, VVOB aims to improve the quality of education and to ensure a smooth transition to secondary education and beyond. STEM education facilitates economic development and job creation. This enables Rwanda to meet Vision 2020 and provides opportunities to the country’s 2,606,000 adolescents.
Challenging entry into secondary education
While the gross enrolment rate at primary education soared in recent years, only 38.2% of the school-age population attends secondary education. To stimulate access to secondary education, the Rwandan government lifted school fees at the secondary level. Still, only 74.5% of primary school learners pass the national examinations required to transition to secondary education. Various factors are at play, of which low learning outcomes are probably the most significant. Only 75% of pupils completing primary education is able to read. What is more, many pupils do not participate in the national exams because they have dropped out of school prematurely. Others are above the expected age when taking the exams, having repeated grades. Increasing access to secondary education and improving its quality therefore requires efforts at primary level too.
Investing in teachers is investing in learning outcomes
The quality of teaching is the single most determinant factor of learning outcomes. Therefore, VVOB aims to influence the motivations and capacities of teachers to create a learner-friendly school environment and, ultimately, improve learning outcomes. Across 800 secondary schools and 612 primary schools in 17 districts of Rwanda, VVOB is training school-based mentors (SBMs) and STEM subject leaders to coach and mentor their colleagues to enhance their teaching competences and skills. The training is co-organised and certified by the College of Education of the University of Rwanda (UR-CE) and the Rwanda Education Board (REB), key partners of VVOB.
VVOB also supports SBMs and subject leaders to set up professional learning communities* (PLCs). Teachers gather in a PLC to discuss common challenges, learn from each other, and identify contextualised ways forward. Since the introduction of a new competency-based curriculum, primary mathematics teachers have to teach statistics and probability theory. In a PLC, they help each other make sense of the content and develop appropriate teaching resources and lesson plans. Research shows that PLCs are a very effective way of learning and, above all, they empower teachers to improve their own practices and deal with the challenges they face.
Supporting a learner-friendly school climate through school leadership
Second only to teaching quality, is the impact of school leadership on learning outcomes. School leadership matters firstly to the quality of teaching. Effective school leaders motivate teachers to invest in their professional development and encourage exchange and learning from each other. PLCs can also only run effectively when supported by school leaders. School leaders play an important role as well in creating and sustaining a learner-friendly school environment where learners can prosper. In cooperation with UR-CE and REB, VVOB implements a continuous professional development diploma course ‘Effective School Leadership’. Over the course of 8 weekends, school leaders of 17 districts learn to implement Rwanda’s 5 professional standards of effective school leadership:
- creating strategic direction for the school
- managing the school as an organisation
- working with parents and the local community
- leading teaching
- leading learning.
Among other things, they learn how to motivate teachers, how to create an inclusive and gender-responsive school environment, and how to lead school-based professional development for teachers.