4 December 2018

Rwanda: How 'Green Schools' Can Impact Quality of Education

Few children in Bugesera District are happier than Solange Ishimwe, the 15-year-old who has just been promoted to primary six.

Ishimwe - a pupil at Kigusa Primary school, which is located in Nyagihunika cell, Musenyi Sector - treks about six kilometres every day to and from school.

The school borders Lake Cyohoha, and is the "furthest part" of the district from Nyamata town.

Solange Ishimwe. Photo/Athan Tashobya.

Her home is not connected to electricity. So, when regular school time, instead of participating in co-curricular activities, she would resort to revising her books before sunset.

She didn't want to miss a minute of daylight because she was about to sit for exams.

Even as Ishimwe describes herself as "social but focused", circumstances surrounding her school and community sometimes forced her to forego her social life in order to concentrate on her studies.

"We never had electricity around our school and we don't have it at home either. It is hard to play with your friends when you know that you won't be able to study when you get home because there's no power," Ishimwe said.

But when The New Times visited the school, it was about a month after solar panels had been installed and the school lit.

Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) in partnership with the Ministry of Education installed a solar system at Kigusa Primary School, as one of the initiatives to enhance the greening programme in remote schools.

The solar system generates 800 Watts on a normal bright day.

It was around 3:30 pm when we met Ishimwe and delved into her past story. Unlike in the past, this time she was taking part in co-curricular activities, trotting around the school compound with her friends.

"We are very lucky to have our school connected with solar system," Ishimwe says thoughtfully. Now that the school has electricity, we will be able to study computer lessons. There are chances that we, the primary six pupils, will be able to stay longer at school to revise and perform better in national exams (in 2019)," Ishimwe said.

With 3,200 pupils, Kigusa Primary School has just over 80 laptop computers, which it received through the Government's One Laptop per Child scheme.

However, the students had never used the computers until when the solar panels were installed.

Eugenie Akingeneye, who doubles as a teacher and a parent to one of the pupils at Kigusa Primary School, told The New Times that they used to borrow computers from the neighbouring school in order to deliver practical ICT lessons to pupils.

Recently, they had opted to charge their own computers from the neighbouring trading centre.

"It was a big challenge to teach children computer lessons. But now that we have solar power it will not only benefit the school but also the neighbouring community. Students will stay until late at school to study. This is a big very addition to the education programme of this area," Akingeneye said.

Alphonse Musabyima, a Science Teacher acknowledges that it was a challenge teaching students computer lessons before the installation of solar-powered electricity around the school.

"It was really difficult trying to demonstrate how a computer works when you don't have it working. This made computer lessons rather imaginary. But things have changed from the time solar panels were installed. Kids are able to start computers and learn a few functions in detail," Musabyimana said.

Under the greening school programme, Kigusa also got six huge water tanks of 10,000 litres each to harvest rain water.

The greening programme aims to o measure and reduce school's "large ecological footprint", while making the school environment healthier for students and staff, and getting the community thinking about solutions to the environmental problems, according the Environment Minister Vincent Biruta.

The pillars of a green school is to; strive to be toxic free, use natural resources efficiently, create a healthy and green space; and, teach the young generation of sustainable development and consciousness about environmental protection.

As for Kigusa primary school, water tanks are such a great boost to promoting hygiene.

"Whenever it was time to clean our classrooms, we would go fetch water in the swamp because we don't have tap water. This is an excise that would take half a day to carry out," Gloria Nyiransegimana, a 12 year old pupil.

This interrupted normal school programme, Nyiransengimana added.

"Now that we have water tanks it will make the excise much shorter and easy. And we won't go for weeks before we mop our classrooms. I think this will also promote hygiene around our school." Ishimwe said.

According to Musabyimana, the school usually cooks porridge for the pupils but getting water has always been a daunting task.

"Now it is easy to prepare food for our kids because we have water in the tanks within the school compound," he said.

As part of recently concluded African Green Growth Summit, the Green Schools initiative was officially inaugurated. During the activity, top government officials plus over 1000 policy makers, experts, investors and financial specialists from across Africa - whore were in Rwanda for the inaugural African Green Growth week-long forum - joined pupils of the remote Kigusa Primary School in planting 500 trees in efforts to promote environmental protection culture in schools.

Among the trees planted include avocados, mangoes and orange trees among other eatable fruits.

According to Bugesera District Mayor, Richard Mutabazi, the district is one part of Rwanda that experienced severe droughts due to deforestation back in late 80s and early 90s. This also explains why planting a tree around this school is such a big deal.

"With solar system, water harvesting tanks and hundreds of trees planted around this school, climate change impacts has been dealt with sustainably. This will also more certainly improve education experience for these children," Mutabazi said.

Ishimwe noted, "This place gets really hot during dry season. Trees will give us shade, and as we have learned trees also give off oxygen that helps us to breathe, and form rain."

Speaking at the launch of Green schools campaign, Minister Biruta stated that initiative such as harvesting rain water and use of clean energy such as solar-powered electricity could well fit into building climate resilient communities and building a future worthy of the aspirations of the next generation.

"Installing water tanks and solar panels on our buildings are some of the things we can do to offset climate change impacts," Biruta said.

Biruta's comments were echoed by Education Minister, Eugene Mutimura. He said that his ministry is committed to ensure that schools foster climate-friendly initiatives.

"We want to reiterate our commitment as the Ministry of Education to continuously work with various stakeholders to ensure that our schools across the country become green," Mutimura said.

As for teacher Musabyimana, it is important that they continue to plant more trees and take good care of the water tanks and solar system such that the students live health and probably perform much better going forward.

So far five remote primary schools in Bugesera have benefited from the greening programme.

The initiative is being rolled out in all schools across the country.

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