While Rwanda strives to provide inclusive and equitable quality education in a digital transformation era, the government has been re-assessing and making changes in some aspects of how education is delivered.
Annually, Rwanda joins the rest of the world to mark the International Day for Education on January 24, globally themed "To invest in people, prioritize education."
In an exclusive interview with The New Times, Joan Murugi, Head of the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Materials development at Rwanda Basic Education Board (REB), elaborates on the challenges of providing teaching and learning materials into the classroom and what the government is doing to adequately increase them in line with improving quality education to all children.
Below are excerpts.
Today as Rwanda marks International Day for Education, Why should schools embrace effective use of teaching and learning materials?
Teaching and learning materials play a crucial role in supplementing and enhancing learning experiences for students. They provide additional knowledge for students to use as reference, offer alternative explanations and perspectives, and provide opportunities for students to engage with the material in different ways.
For example, materials such as text books, manipulatives, digital contents, Science kit materials, play kits, videos and interactive simulations provide visual and interactive learning opportunities that may appeal to different learning styles and help students to better understand and retain what they have learnt.
Additionally, they also help to support the needs of diverse learners, such as those with learning disabilities.
Why did the Ministry of Education opt for an In-house Textbook Production initiative?
Before 2009, the Teaching and Learning Materials (LTMs) provision in our schools was centrally organized. MINEDUC procured Textbooks from publishers while the then National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) distributed them to schools through Districts.
From 2009 to 2014, textbook distribution was transferred to publishers who distributed textbooks directly to schools and with the introduction of Competence-Based Curriculum in 2015, the textbook procurement and distribution approach did not change.
However, due to a number of challenges, the approach of contracting publishers to provide schools with CBC-compliant textbooks was not successful, hence, the government opted for the "In-house textbook production Initiative."
What challenges did the government encounter?
Textbooks had quality issues and the content was not aligned with the new CBC National Curriculum nor the Rwandan context. For instance, books published in the region reflected either a Kenyan or Ugandan context or elsewhere.
And due to repeated factual errors in some books such as grave mistakes around Rwandan history and Kinyarwanda, the government had to recollect them from schools which cost a lot of money and time. This is while the insufficient uptake of tenders by publishing houses for at least 3 rounds of procurement resulted into serious shortage of Math, Science and other textbooks particularly for the Advanced Level and schools not completing the curriculum.
While the ministry did not own copyright for any of the textbooks and teachers' guides, it was therefore difficult to make timely edits on any of the teaching and learning materials in schools.
Other serious issues rotated around distribution of books to destination schools. REB lost hundreds of thousands of books abandoned in bars, restaurants, plantations and other unknown warehouses.
In 2017, thousands of books that had been abandoned in unknown stores for three years in Gakenke District were swept by the storm that hit the area at the time. Other similar cases include Janja, Rusasa and Mugunga where over 20,000 textbooks were recovered and redistributed to schools after laying idle in one business owner's store for two years.
To respond to these challenges, the Ministry of Education, different development partners, and other stakeholders resolved to start an In-house Textbook Production Initiative as a home-grown solution aligned with Made-In-Rwanda policy.
How did REB build the internal capacity to take on this assignment after shifting from outsourcing textbook provision services?
Textbook writing is a collaborative exercise that engages many experts. REB has had a team of technical experts in charge of writing the National Curriculum. The team now oversees the whole process of textbook development right from textbook elaboration to printing.
They develop guidelines aligned to National Curriculum that inform the write-up of textbooks until they are print ready. The Department engages local experts including university professors, lecturers, graduate teachers, authors, printing houses and other technical experts in education such as illustrators and designers to form a pool of expert teams that work on the book supply chain.
In their capacities, panels work around content elaboration, proof reading and textbook design, carefully making sure that all pedagogical requirements are met. Books are then signed off for mass printing after approval.
So far, this has had fruitful gains in various ways. The government now owns copyright for the missing science textbooks. It is now easy to edit or update the content. In addition, books can be re-printed and multiplied whenever the budget is available to reduce the student-textbook ratio. This has monetary returns in terms of job creation for young professionals and other local experts around textbook development.
That said though; the elaboration of supplementary readers (Atlases, Globes, Literature Novels, leveled story books etc) for schools is a challenge in terms of expertise and time. These materials are often outsourced from publishing houses. So far, close to 1.3 million supplementary readers are supplied to schools by local and international publishers every two years.
You mentioned the challenge of publishers delivering non CBC-compliant quality textbooks, how did you address it?
In 2019, REB in partnership with the British High Council under the Building Learning Foundation initiative acquired 115 copyrights from publishers that enabled in-house editing and alignment of textbooks to the CBC.
The first copies of these textbooks were printed and delivered to schools starting from fiscal year 2020/21, however, the plan was adversely hit by the Covid-19 restrictions that slowed down the process.
Meanwhile, softcopies have been uploaded on the REB e-learning platform for easy access and the target is to deliver 24 million books to schools by 2025 to bridge the student-textbook ratio gap.
The REB In-House Text Book Production has earned government savings of Rwf7.7 billion in the last 4 years alone and there has been a 59 percent increase in textbooks provision to schools from 6 million in 2018/19 to over 14.8 million at the end of July 2022.
How was REB able to adapt to Covid-19 crisis that setback education gains made and what have you learnt?
Similar to other countries around the world, the pandemic was a major blow to our education system. However, REB in collaboration with development partners provided remote learning opportunities for learners on TV, Radio and internet. More than 2,544 scripted lesson videos and audios covering all subjects were developed.
So far, several initiatives to promote learning like edutainment cartoon episodes targeting learners in nursery and lower primary grades are aired on various national TVs to support learning at this level. These episodes can be accessed through REB YouTube Channel at youtube.com//watch?v16hR63.
The pandemic taught us that learning does not only happen in class. The government plans to incorporate blended learning (both face-to-face and online learning) for future shocks. It is important, however, that partners adapt their supplementary teaching and learning materials co-developed with REB into inclusive and accessible digital learning materials.
We applaud programmes supported by the British High Commission like Building Learning Foundations (BLF) and USAID who have plans to digitize teachers' and learners' activity books for Math, English and Kinyarwanda. This will enrich our learning environment with diverse ways of acquiring knowledge.
How is REB preparing the next generation to acquire 21st century skills?
Apart from introducing schools to smart learning where the provision of smart classrooms is close to 50%, the plan is also to reinforce one laptop per teacher campaign to improve digital literacy skills at school level. The initial design of the Competence-based curriculum and the competence-based pedagogy is to respond to the 21st century skills for learners.
Learning in classrooms is also supported by a lot of supplementary self-reading, and research coupled with modest infrastructure to support math and science.
That said, in collaboration with partners like BLF, the World Bank & AIMs, REB has supplied over 3700 and 575 Mathematical kits (including manipulatives) to primary and secondary schools respectively and more than 1291 and 1171 science kits have been supplied to the respective education levels.
To ensure that kits are effectively used by schools, REB has developed an experimental user guide available online on REB website for schools to have access and teachers to use. However, many more primary and secondary schools still lack enough facilities/provisions in science and mathematics. It will require continued government and partners 'support to walk this journey and ensure that schools are well equipped to improve learning outcomes.
Do private schools benefit from the resources that REB provides?
Online versions of all textbooks and other learning resources are available on the REB e-learning platform for private schools to access and use for free. Private schools may also acquire physical versions of these textbooks through a framework put in place by the Ministry of Education for private schools to make their acquisition plans in consultations with parents.
A request for learning and teaching material with a detailed list of textbook-titles, grade levels and quantities in attachment is submitted to REB for procurement. REB then informs private schools when books are ready so they can pay and pick them from respective printing houses. Only private schools using government programs are eligible to use this framework.
A few private schools have responded to use this framework.
The ratio of learning materials to students is still low. Is there a plan to address this in the near future?
I agree that we still have a challenge of insufficient supplies of teaching and learning materials to our schools. REB needs 24 million textbooks to attain the textbook-student ratio of 1:1 by 2025.
To realize this goal, at least 4.9 million textbooks need to be printed annually. On the other hand, REB has opted to digitize all teaching and learning content to increase access. It is within this line that the department is finalizing inclusive and accessible digital content for pre-primary, lower and upper primary grades to supplement physical textbooks.
The plan is to improve the textbook supply chain process and introduce the use of technology to promote the effective use of both print and digital textbooks in schools. We need strong support from the government and partners to realize this goal.
For effective usage, over 20,000 copies of National School library guidelines have been distributed to schools while 32,125 school leaders and librarians (where available) were trained on how to effectively use and manage textbooks. Schools were encouraged to put in place the Teaching and Learning resources committee for better management and accountability.
There are claims that the education sector is underfunded, how do you intend to achieve these milestones by 2025?
The Ministry of Education will continue to advocate for budget negotiation around increasing learning materials to schools. Alongside our development partners' sector support and other stakeholders, we are optimistic that our goal will be achieved by 2025.
However, the cost of printing books (tax on printing services) locally remains relatively high compared to other countries in the region while the supply of raw material like paper ink and gum has been affected by Covid-19 and the Russian-Ukraine Crisis causing unnecessary delays in textbook supply to schools.
Government intervention in the printing sector is critical if we have to get timely textbooks to schools for improved learning outcomes.