On the eve of New Year, an event that ushered students, their parents and schools into 2020 was the proclamation of Primary Leaving and Ordinary Level Examination results – December 30th 2019.
The best students were rewarded with laptops and were excited to enroll to the next level of education after crossing 2019 in style.
It all started as expected. Students reported to their respective schools, some with school fees, others negotiating a grace period with school bursar because they failed to sped wisely at the year-ender festivities.
Some schools were yet to collect school fees from all students until March 14 when a pandemic that was thought to be far away-COVID-19 was confirmed in Rwanda.
No one could imagine the direct implication or impact of Covid-19 on schools, but in short while, it was clear that the pandemic will cost a lot to the sector.
On 16th March 2020, the ministry of education found that the cost of maintaining students at schools would be higher under covid-19 pandemic than having them back in their families.
The communiqué was released telling day scholar students not to come back to school until further notice and the following day, buses were hurried to pick boarding students from schools back to their families to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Within one week, it was decided that the whole country should enter into a COVID-19 lockdown and the students had to spend their time with parents-24/7.
Parents and children in “a retreat”
In the first week, students were somehow idle, but, later on, the Rwanda Education Board (REB) and Ministry of Education started planning ways to keep students and teachers in touch despite all odds.
E-learning was proposed as an alternative option though the issue of internet costs and lack of gadgets hampered it. However, television and radio programmes struck a balance.
The former Director-General of REB, Dr. Irénée Ndayambaje told KTPress that the YouTube channel was also launched as a way of helping studento continue learning during the covid-19 lockdown period.
“The content was shot earlier from different classes to facilitated an audio visual revision. Teachers can also learn from them and understand how others prepare lessons,” Dr. Ndayambaje added.
In the meantime, private school teachers saw their contracts suspended with school owners citing financial crisis; the teachers knocked on every door to have their voice heard. But it was not an easy task.
The government advised that schools should cater for its staff through a business recovery fund that was put in place to support businesses. However, this call might have yield little or no result.
Teachers didn’t sit back and relax, some looked around the community to find some jobs and managed to put food on the table. Valentine Uwamariya, the minister of education said that the teachers faced challenges during the lockdown but they can seek ways to cope.
“Many schools started dismissing their staff due to financial constraints. However, this is not the right approach; they should instead apply for the appropriate relief package as businesses from the government’s economic recovery plan to cater for the welfare of their staff,” she said.
Towards Education New Normal
With time, Rwanda could see clearly the trend of Covid-19. The government started preparing education players to a new normal. The main activity was first and foremost the construction of new classrooms.
Contracts with developers were signed and a huge projects of 22,505 new classrooms was launched across the country. The objective was to make sure that the teacher to student ratio is improved and conversant with measures of fighting against COVID-19; physical distancing among other Covid-19 preventive measures.
Similarly, the government started an effort to hire new teachers – about 29000 who had to write recruitment exams.
“The recruitment exercise was halted from the application process; we shall resume it, verify teachers’ qualification documents, and start their placements in schools before September,” Dr Ndayambaje said.
The idea was to ensure that nothing else interrupts reopening of schools if COVID-19 slows down.
By August 2020, speculations about the date of schools’ reopening started, but the cabinet remained reserved because Covid-19 cases kept shockingly increasing from time to time. However, as more businesses were reopened, reopening schools was added among items on agenda of the cabinet.
Schools’ assessment started to see the level of preparedness and without further due, the cabinet meeting announced the gradual reopening of schools.
Back to school, but don’t touch!
In October, reopening started with International universities including the African Leadership University (ALU), African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA), Carnegie Mellon University-Africa (CMU-Africa), University of Global Health Equity (UGHE), and Oklahoma Christian University.
On November 2, the second phase started with other universities and tertiary institutions with year three, four and five given priority.
This phase also included upper primary and upper secondary, TVET schools’ upper level, and Teacher Training Centres(TTCs). Still waiting are the pre-primary and lower primary pupils.
Back to school, students are known for creating light moments socializing, but this time the pandemic has them fromrohibited them from touching each other. Physical distance applies from home to school and from class to hostels, among other venues.
Other Covid-19 preventive measures including handwashing stations, a class setup which allows physical distancing, wearing face masks apply at school.
During the break time students are allowed to stand up, go out, but still in a supervised setup. They can stretch a bit, talk to each other while keeping social distancing, and then return to classes after the usual break time.
“We were pleased to see that students are ready; they all come to us wearing face masks, and they are used to them. Physical distancing is also adhered to,” said Gerardine Umutaboba, a chemistry teacher at Groupe Scolaire Protestant in Remera sector, Kigali.
She said that it is a big challenge to teach under a face mask, but to prevent the spread of Covid-19 there is no alternative.
“To communicate easily with students we keep moving but keep a physical distance,” she said.
Are students safe?
To assure safety at school, mid-November the Ministry of Health conducted mass testing in schools and said that there were some isolated cases of Covid-19 since schools reopen doors.
The ministry of health however, noted that the few COVID-19 positive cases that were found will be treated from school.
“Out of 70 schools, only seven schools had about one or two Covid-19 cases,” Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana, Director General of Rwanda Biomedical Centre(RBC) said.
As school students enter into the second month of studies, however, some private universities did not reopen. The Christian University of Rwanda and Indangaburezi College of Education were by the ministry of education over administrative challenges that compromised the quality of education.
Other closed private universities were the University of Kibungo (UNIK), formerly Institute of Agriculture, Technology, and Education of Kibungo (INATEK).
The latest private university to close for its own challenges was the Kigali institute of Management (KIM) but, the University of Kigali was quick to buy the KIM facilities to expand its premises.
Some students from universities that were closed are still struggling to get admissions from other universities despite the ministry of education’s call to facilitate a smooth reintegration.
In this year, some cases of accountability were registered, the Minister of Sate in charge of Primary and Secondary Education Isaac Munyakazi was sentenced to ten 10 years over corruption in school rankings while top officials at REB including Irene Ndayambaje and his two deputies were suspended over delaying teachers’ placement exercise.
Dr. Emmanuel Muvunyi, former Executive Director of Higher Education Council was also dismissed and later on blacklisted.
In the areas of appointments, Valentine Uwamariya replaced Eugene Mutimura as minister of education together with two Ministers of state including; Gaspard Twagirayezu in charge of primary and secondary, and Claudette Irere in Charge of ICT and TVET.
Dr. Rose Mukankomeje replaced Emanuel Muvunyi at HEC.
At the University of Rwanda(UR), Dr. Philip Cotton concluded his term as Vice-Chancellor, a few weeks after acquiring Rwandan Nationality while Dr. Charles Murigande retired as a Deputy Vice-Chancellor.