Groupe Scolaire de Musange, a secondary school in Nyamagabe district, Southern Rwanda is now a cattle grazing ground. Classrooms have turned into cowsheds.
The school is just one of the tens of other schools that have closed due to accumulated debts, tax arrears and bank loans.
Rose Mukamana, who worked as secretary at Groupe Scolaire de Musange, says by 2012, the number of students had decreased to 300 from 1000 and every teacher had not been paid.
The school had an unserviced loan worth Rwf100m. By 2013, the school had only 40 students. They also did the ultimate obvious, quit.
“The Baptiste Church School opted to close to avoid accumulation of more debts”, says Munyamasoko Gato Corneille, the church’s chairman.
He says another school, out of the remaining 46 schools across the country, has also closed.
The chairman of the association of private schools in Rwanda, Jean Marie Vianney Usengumuremyi, says at least 20 schools have closed in two years. Hundreds of others have a handful of students and are likely to close soon.
Government Policy to blame?
KTPress has learnt that about 200 private schools in Rwanda largely rely on students with government scholarships. Majority of other students enroll into public schools where education is free.
The government’s universal education programme (Twelve Year Basic Education), established in 2009, provides for every Rwandan child to study Primary and Secondary school for free.
Last year, 19% of the national budget, Rwf182.6b (US$260m) was allocated to education. Over 60% of it went into primary and secondary education.
From the budget, which is largely donor funded, Rwf14b (US$20m) was spent on the construction of 2,679 classrooms for the the 12YE program, increasing secondary school enrollment by 49%, from 31,106 in 2013 to 46,236 in 2014.
under this program, most of these schools have been provided with modern facilities such as computers connected to high speed Internet, electricity, qualified teachers, food for students, books, which most private schools don’t have.
Every year, the ministry of education hires publishers to supply books to public schools across the country. Every student in Primary and Secondary education is entitled to a book for every subject.
Every child from primary 4 to 6 is entitled to a laptop, under the One Laptop Per Child Program (OLPC).
Over 250,000 free laptops, each costing $200, have distributed to 450 public schools. Private schools have to buy them from the ministry of education.
Private schools blame this program as cause for their collapse.
“You cannot be operating next to a school where education is free and expect to compete,” says Narcisse Mudahinyuka, the director of GS ESPANYA, a renowned school that was founded in 1980 and has now lost about 1000 students in three years.
Another school, GS Scolaire Aceper, in Southern Province, teachers have not been paid for five months and no new students have enrolled this year. Teachers are now searching for other jobs.
Athanase Hamenyimana, District education officers (DEOs) for Nyamasheke district in the far West of Rwanda was surprised to see two of the five private schools in the district closed by the beginning of 2015.
He is aware that “students prefer [going to] public schools which give them enough teaching materials, such as books which private schools struggle to get.”
According to Dr. Michael Tusiime, an education expert, “private schools are just making the government program their scape goat.”
He says all private schools acquire loans, build schools, but a few consider employing qualified teachers, for their schools to compete with public schools.
Tusiime says owners of many private schools are taking the funds from schools accounts and investing into other projects.
Maurice Toroitich, the Rwanda Managing Director for Kenya Commercial Bank, says private schools should not only invest in areas where the government has not ventured yet, and create an option that attracts parents to send children to their schools.
Indeed, in October last year, as the association of private schools appealed to government to hire their idle classrooms and equipment especially for technical skills,” says Usengumuremyi, the chairman of the association.
The Prime Minister has tasked Jerome Gasana, the Director General of Workforce Development Authority (WDA), to look into the proposal.
Meanwhile, while tens of private schools are closing, especially in the rural areas, those in urban areas are actually thriving.
But, the success of the 12YE program does not spare them either. Thousands of students in urban areas are enrolling into public schools.