Susy Ndaruhutse Head of International Development and Education reflects on when Education Development Trust (then CfBT) was first invited to Rwanda in 2001 – 7 years after the genocide that killed around 1 million Rwandans. Her remit was to support the ministry of education rebuild the country's education system.
At that time, the ministry of education was functioning and it had core staff in place – but there were a number of challenges to face. The consequences of the genocide were still being felt and while there were schools, there were not enough, and while there were teachers, many were either under-qualified or simply unqualified. The official language of instruction had been declared as French in government schools and teachers' competency in the language was poor, especially in primary school. Learning was generally by rote – and not to a very high standard.
There was also a noticeable difference between urban and rural schools; in towns and cities, schools were generally well resourced and attracted better quality teachers whereas in the countryside, classrooms were overcrowded in spite of low attendance with some 70 children to one teacher.
The government however made it clear from the outset that they were very committed to education. They prioritised opening schools after the genocide and were putting in place lots of different initiatives to make education work.
When we arrived in 2001, our task really was one of large-scale co-ordination, we did less at classroom level but rather focused on building sustainable systems. We applied our extensive knowledge of different education systems around the world and added in efficient project management skills to co-ordinate all the different activity that was going on.
Education Development Trust was instrumental in developing Rwanda's very first Education Sector Strategic Plan. This rolling plan is updated annually and, as well as providing a framework for the country's education system, it also helps to measure progress. The plan ensures that activity is strategic and co-ordinated – and it goes hand in hand with the budgeting side of things.
Getting the budget together was another significant part of what we achieved in Rwanda, alongside the Education Sector Strategic Plan. Understanding who was financing what enabled resources to be used efficiently. Bringing together the budget and the planning was key to Rwanda's success and I am particularly proud of Education Development Trust's role in this – we helped to support and put in place a system that defined the success of the ministry of education. What is important to recognise is that our approach was always, and still is today, to build local capacity; we were not in it to create dependency rather, we took the ministry of education along with us in creating this system so they would then be able to run it themselves.
In addition to Education Development Trust's overarching work with the ministry in terms of education planning and budgeting, CfBT also placed specialist advisers to deliver technical support. Four advisers worked in different areas; as well as an adviser covering curriculum development and standards and one looking at education for all, there was also a specialist looking at distance training. Centres in different rural areas delivered intensive training to teachers such as weekend workshops to upskill the workforce. A fourth adviser looked at higher education.
This was quite a political area and an important one. The civil war and genocide meant that a lot of the educated population had fled or been killed which in turn had resulted in a lack of trained leaders and managers. While the government had rapidly reopened the national university as well as an additional three higher education centres, costs had spiralled out of control and the growth had been unregulated.
Our role was therefore to work with the government to create a strategy and framework for the sector: a regulatory framework, a costing framework and a legal and policy framework. We also oversaw the introduction of a student loan scheme as, due to the intensive building and start-up costs, one year in higher education cost 140 times as much as a year in primary school education.
What stands out most about all of our work in Rwanda is our approach. Education Development Trust staff and advisers were embedded within the ministry. We shared offices with local ministerial colleagues and we worked on a day-to-day basis with ministry staff. We constantly reinforced the idea of national ownership and worked transparently, demonstrably transferring knowledge at every stage. This was our way – and we had already seen proof of its effectiveness through our work in Laos and Cambodia.
While many of the principles Education Development Trust employed were to some extent universal - knowledge of education planning, national-scale implementation of policy - the post-conflict setting creates additional complexities.
The government was stridently anti-corruption so this, thankfully, wasn't a factor on a significant scale for our work however, following the civil war and then genocide, our different stakeholders often had very different standpoints. Some people had returned from exile, some had stayed in Rwanda and while today's message is very much "we are one Rwanda", at the time, it was a nation still in recovery and we had to manage issues of trust and language and cultural differences and barriers on a daily basis.
Ultimately, the Rwandans proved themselves to be incredibly resilient and they have done a remarkable job in terms not only of rebuiliding their education system but also the health service. While we played our role, none of this could have been achieved so quickly without the will and the commitment of the Rwandan government and the Rwandan people.
I am proud of what was achieved in Rwanda at that very sensitive and critical time. We worked hand in hand with the ministry and created a series of tangible outputs that provided the foundations for the Rwanda of today:
Today, we continue to build on this legacy with our UK-funded Building Learning Foundations programme that is working with every government-funded primary school in the country to improve English literacy and numeracy.