Rwanda: Govt Invests Heavily in STEM Education in Schools

13 February 2020

Ask any Rwandan, even in the remotest place, what this country's education priorities are and you are likely to get one of these: ICT, science, girls' education. All are correct. Rwanda has given the teaching and learning of Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) a special place in the education system. Girls' education, too, has been at the forefront, but even here STEM takes front position.

The country has made significant strides in STEM education. In this second part of our series on education, we will turn our attention to what the government has been doing to promote the teaching and learning of science and technology.

Why STEM?

One may ask: why the emphasis on STEM Education? The simple answer is that it is considered a driver of socio-economic transformation. The subjects are relevant to everyday life. But beyond that, they have pedagogical worth and are of value to individual students.

According to the ministry of education, they develop critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills to support better learning in other areas. They also generate skills that are directly applicable to everyday life. Ultimately, these become the basis of a mindset of innovation.

What is being done to promote STEM

Another question: what is the government doing to ensure that STEM leads to the desired outcomes? In one sentence, it is building the necessary infrastructure, providing the equipment and other materials required for the teaching and learning of those subjects, and training teachers in how to deliver lessons that not only enhance learning but also provide a link between classroom learning and the environment.

Anyone familiar with the history of science education in Rwanda knows that there were hardly any schools with a laboratory. Students learnt science as a story told by their teachers. This carried on to university.

In the last twenty-five years, especially in the last ten, this situation has drastically changed. In that period, over 380 secondary schools received science equipment. A further 44 will be equipped this year. Where no laboratories exist, science kits have been provided. Over 2000 such kits have been provided in the last ten years.

In order that competency-based curriculum (CBC) provides STEM skills, the Ministry of education has partnered with technology-enabled (Tech-Enabled) companies such as Microsoft, O'Genius Panada, Zora Robotics and Class VR, Keza company among others to use ICT and technology to promote and better develop better of transferable skills - such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity - and improved use of ICT as a tool for learning. The use technology to enhance STEM teaching & learning through Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality, as well as robotic programming, has been launched in secondary schools starting with 150 schools, five in each district with the aim to scale and roll out to all schools nationally.

These are facilitating better delivery of practical experiments. Tech-enabled teaching in schools is enhancing efficiency of student/teacher collaboration and communication within the teaching and learning process, whereby teachers administer quizzes and assessments and get feedback in a quicker way. Microsoft Tech teaching, use of robotics to enable improved engagement of students in hands-on activities are deployed into schools to enforcing students' abilities in computer programming or to develop students computational thinking to logically solve real-life problems by modelling problems and designing solutions.

Is this enough? Not at all, but it represents determined efforts to have science taught in our schools as it should be. More can and should be done to get science education to a level comparable to the best in the world.

ICT in Education

One of the earliest innovations in technology in our schools was the introduction of Information, and Communications Technology (ICT). It was personally driven by President Paul Kagame. It meant schools acquiring computers which at the time were still considered equipment well beyond the needs of schools. For this reason, the drive for ICT was initially met with scepticism and even disbelief. That soon gave way to a wait and see attitude and finally to conviction that it was actually workable.

Everyone knows the One Laptop Per Child programme (OLPC) that started in primary schools. It became synonymous with ICT in education and was a popular programme, although sometimes drawing strong criticism. In a sense that was proof of its importance. Indeed, the abbreviation, OLPC, has become so widespread that it may be taken for a Kinyarwanda word.

Then it spread to secondary schools. Finally, computers were made here to make it easier for schools to acquire them. Every student knows about Positivo computers made in Rwanda, maybe not always fondly.

Situation of ICT in schools today

At the moment, ICT coverage in schools stands at 64% and 55% in primary and secondary schools respectively. Schools are increasingly using digital content and textbooks. For instance, those using ICT in the teaching and learning process now stand at 64.7%. The ministry of education has provided schools with 1289 projectors and 1,613 Content Access Points (CAPs) over a ten-year period.

Four years ago, the government enhanced this sort of learning by introducing smart classrooms in secondary schools. Each school was to have two such classrooms and each classroom was equipped with 50 computers, a projector, internet connectivity and access to digital content. As at the beginning of this year, this programme had covered 55% of secondary schools.

The latest development in digital technology in education has been the establishment of the Rwanda Coding Academy. It was set up, among other things, to prepare Rwandan youth into future software developers, cybersecurity systems experts, and embedded system programming to develop artificial intelligence systems such as robotics.

It is clear from all the programmes that have been initiated over the last decade or so and their integration in the entire education system that the government of Rwanda places a premium on STEM in general and digital technology in particular.

There is still a long way to go, but education policy and implementation is on the right road and travelling rather well.

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