Mastercard Foundation, the Ministry of Education (Mineduc) and Rwanda Private Sector Federation-ICT chamber have explained the country’s drive in education technology.
In EdTech Monday Rwanda, a program that will be aired every last Monday of the month at KT Radio, the three partners in education elaborated on achievements, strengths and weaknesses, together with opportunities available in education technology.
The Minister of State in charge of Primary and Secondary Education Gaspard Twagirayezu, while giving the background reminded an important event of March 2020 where schools were closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 which was confirmed in Rwanda-March 14.
Efforts started to find a way to keep students connected; several online and radio broadcasting learning options were explored and it was successful to some extent.
The Minister said, that with the reopening of schools, the acquired assets in the area of online learning/teaching technologies should continue to be relevant and even strengthened more.
“The current debate now is on how this technology should continue to be put to good use; you know for distance learning a lot is needed; be it computers, tablets, and most importantly, content,” Minister Twagirayezu said while presenting the relevancy of the program to millions of KT Radio listeners.
Mastercard Foundation, a partner of Ministry of Education in this undertaking supports private companies that provide technology in education.
During the lockdown for example, the foundation sponsored programs that enabled online learning in Rwanda.
“Among the companies we work with include those that offer online content. However, we found it important to also include companies which offer offline solutions, and we partnered with Eneza,a company that enables offline options using a mobile phone in distance learning,” said Joseph Nsengimana, Head of Regional Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning, Mastercard Foundation.
In Mastercard Foundation philosophy, a program should touch several edges to be accessed by all communities across the country.
“With Radio or television, one may follow but cannot ask a question; to complete the communication process, we partnered with a company like Eneza where students who follow courses on radio and television, have an opportunity to ask questions via SMS,” Nsengimana said.
There are 12 partners working with Mastercard Foundation in area of promoting Technology in Education and they are members of the Private Sector Federation.
According to Alex Ntare, the Head of ICT chamber at PSF, the private sector has already developed ICT solutions that would allow schools to afford online learning.
“From the information I have, IT entrepreneurs are already present in more than 300 schools, not only in Kigali, but also across the provinces,” Ntare said.
According to Ntare, since the start of EdTech Mondays’platform in 2019, more than 20 companies came up with several solutions, with some proposing products that allow schools to evaluate students’ performance, others proposing digitization of/online content.
“Most of them are in Kigali and it makes more sense because they find more people interested in what they offer. It is clear that the investors still have hindrance to reaching out to countryside much as most of them are the youth who are still finding their way out,” Ntare said.
That’s where Mastercard Foundation comes in. Nsengimaba said that their mission is to make sure that education technology is accessible to the community at large.
“Just see this; when we started, we sponsored a project in 9 schools, but the partner has now upgraded to 405 schools which means they are now across the country. We do not want any student to miss out because they are in a village or such kind of challenges,” said Nsengimana.
The Ministry of education admits that there is still quite a number of challenges ranging from access of equipment like computers and connectivity-internet and electricity especially in countryside schools.
In fact, Minister Twagirayezu indicates that for a complete technology in education, five pillars have to be brought together and those are: (1) access and then (2) content, (3) training of users, (4) community awareness and (5) enabling infrastructure.
“Our partners, when they come, they choose an area where they can work with us because we (Mineduc) cannot pretend to do everything alone. For example, the Rwanda Education Board(REB) is planning to digitize content, but we know that for sure, we shall need partners,” Twagirayezu said.
Looking at these pillars, Minister Twagirayezu shares a view with many, that indeed there is still a long way to have every school embrace technology in education, but the Ministry is still working on a formula, which still, will require the intervention of partners like Mastercard Foundation.
“I agree there is still a long journey especially on teachers’ side. We know that if a teacher only gets access to a computer while at school, his computer literacy is not that good,” he said.
“At the ministry, we have shifted to a new mentality to make a teacher the first focus; believe me, if a teacher has skills, students will largely benefit. We shall also strengthen training so that they are able to use the computers in teachings.”
During the lockdown period, the ministry trained 6000 teachers and more will be trained in computer literacy.
To make sure that the training does not become burdensome, the Ministry has made it a point to equip Teacher Training Colleges (TTCs) to make sure that at graduation, teachers are ready to embrace online teaching without any hindrance.
“We are lucky that we have partners like Mastercard Foundation and the Private Sector Federation who support our efforts,” said Minister Twagirayezu.
One of Mastercard Foundation’s support in this area could be Leaders in Teaching, an ongoing five year project that is training teachers to use a computer in teaching.
Some listeners wanted to know how Mastercard Foundation can support their initiatives in ICT and they were told that, the foundation makes an open call for proposal where applicants from several domains of intervention submit their pitches.
“That’s the way we selected the 12 companies we are working with,” said MsterCard’s Nsengimana.
“Our wish is to work with both private sector and government to help the youth develop their country and Africa at large,” Nsengimana said.
For PSF’s Ntare, the challenge encountered by the Private Sector is the mindset where some people still think that the use of technology is a thing of the city or international schools.
Low access to finance is also still a critical component for the private sector to tap into available opportunities.
The Private sector is further concerned with the procurement procedures which are not adjusted to the new technology.
Among other efforts to further improve technology in education, the Ministry of education is building a multimedia studio that will help in diversifying content’s formats.
The Ministry is also working on policies and platforms that would allow more options in education technology.
“We recently got someone who was proposing an online secondary school. It is such a challenge that we need to work on and put in place standards,” said Minister Twagirayezu.