The introduction of universal primary education in Rwanda in 2003 led to a remarkable increase in the number of children completing six years of primary from 2008 onwards. This created a heightened demand for secondary education. Meeting this demand was prioritised by the Government of Rwanda. In 2009, a ‘fast track’ approach was initiated to provide an additional three years of lower secondary so as to achieve nine years of basic education. The objectives of the Nine Year Basic Education programme were: ensuring equitable access to nine years of basic education for all children, and providing them with quality education and skills necessary to achieve their full potential and at the same time reducing repetition and drop-out rates.
A core element of the programme involved rapid construction of classrooms and latrines. The strategy drew upon the Rwandan tradition of Umuganda, which is a culture of community participation in developmental activities. Monthly community activities were conducted at village levels throughout the country and Nine Year Basic Education fast tracking strategies were planned and implemented, with local communities contributing labour, resources and locally available building materials (such as stones, water, wood and sand).
Construction was accompanied by adaptations to the school system to ensure the quality of education. The strategies adopted included: the extension of double shifting to the full primary cycle as an interim measure; teacher specialisation to improve utilisation of teachers and their skills; a realignment of the curriculum and course content allowing students to obtain a more solid foundation of core literacy and numeracy skills; teacher training; and decentralisation of procurement and delivery of learning materials.
The community-based approach was very cost-effective. A single classroom built using the new community approach cost almost 50 per cent of the cost it would take using the traditional approach – saving the Ministry of Education an estimated US$49 million just in one financial year.
Impact and effect
The Nine Year Basic Education fast tracking programme saw a rapid increase in enrolment, retention and completion at primary and lower secondary levels. The number of students in primary schools increased by 34 per cent between 2001 and 2011. The overall net enrolment rate in primary schools increased from 91.2 per cent (2003) to 95.9 per cent (2011) with 97.5 per cent for girls. The transition rate from primary to lower secondary reached 94 per cent in 2010 against a 2012 target of 92 per cent; by 2011, it stood at 96 per cent. Some 6,008 new classrooms and 14,899 latrines were constructed in 2009 and 2010. Primary repetition rates fell from 15.3 per cent in 2008 to 13 per cent in 2010; and drop-out rates fell from 15.2 per cent in 2008 to 11.4 per cent in 2010.
In 2012, with the success of the Nine Year Basic Education programme through consolidating and building upon the gains made over the past three years, the Government of Rwanda took a more ambitious move of extending the programme to 12 years of basic education. The decision was based on a number of positive lessons drawn from the Nine Year Basic Education programme, including: (a) the ownership of the school programme by the communities in the villages, which had increased the communities’ involvement in school affairs including school management; (b) the designs, standards and approach used in the programme’s school construction which provides a platform to ensure that future infrastructure is durable and sustainable; and (c) the government commitment to providing a full cycle (six years) of secondary education ensuring that the programme has ongoing political commitment. All children who completed the nine-year basic cycle from 2011 onwards can look forward to continuing their studies to the full secondary cycle of 12 years and beyond.