SEATTLE, Washington — During the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries are closing schools and encouraging students to continue learning from home. However, learning from home is not always as simple as it sounds. Insufficient access to educational materials and distractions at home can hamper a child’s ability to learn effectively. That is why UNICEF has partnered with Inspire. Educate. Empower. (IEE) and the Rwandan government to broadcast lessons through national radio. These actors are leveraging radio education in Rwanda as a tool to keep primary students engaged while learning at home.
Education in Rwanda
Rwanda is known for having one of the best educational systems in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is reflected in the country’s high rate of school enrollment, with ninety-eight percent of Rwandan children enrolling in primary school.
The country has a 6-3-3-4 education system: six years for primary school, three years for junior secondary, three years for senior secondary and four years for university. In primary school, Rwandan children learn basic literacy and numeracy skills and are taught in Kinyarwanda. Then in their fourth year of primary school, students transition to English-based instruction.
Despite such a high enrollment rate, however, only 71 percent of Rwandan children complete primary school. Furthermore, those students who do continue are often taught in less than ideal conditions. Class sizes, for example, frequently exceed 62 students per teacher.
As a consequence, Rwandan primary school students are scoring lower than expected in numeracy and literacy. Gender inequality also impacts those who attend classes. That means that males tend to do better in school than females. This gender gap is prevalent in 26 of the 30 districts in Rwanda.
UNICEF and the Rwanda Government Begin Radio Education in Rwanda
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rwanda’s 2.5 million students must now learn from home indefinitely. If not handled properly, this time spent away from the classroom could severely negatively impact their education. Hence, the Rwandan government’s turn to radio.
The motivation behind the push for radio education in Rwanda lies in the medium’s accessibility. With up to 99 percent of the country’s population receiving broadcasts from the Rwandan Broadcasting Agency, there is simply no other medium that has such a broad reach across the socioeconomic spectrum. This makes it the perfect tool for making sure Rwanda’s students do not find themselves left behind amid the pandemic.
The radio education curriculum that UNICEF has built in conjunction with the Rwanda Education Board and IEE targets these primary students by broadcasting 20-minute interactive lessons focusing on numeracy and literacy skills. Students can listen to the broadcasts at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily.
Although this solution appears to exclude children with disabilities, UNICEF is working with the NGO Humanity and Inclusion to create alternative options, such as sign language translation and online learning platforms. These steps towards greater inclusion are especially significant because only 70 percent of students with disabilities attend primary school in Rwanda.
Radio Education in Rwanda Part of Larger Strategy to Improve Rwandan Economy
Radio education in Rwanda not only grants greater access to education for primary students amid the pandemic, but it also aligns with the Rwandan government’s goal of making Rwanda a knowledge-based economy.
This goal is a part of both the Vision 2020 project and the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy proposed by the government. These plans seek to improve the quality of life in Rwanda to that of a middle-income country, an achievement only possible with an educated populace.
While the COVID-19 pandemic presents many challenges for education globally, UNICEF and the Rwandan government are working tirelessly to make sure no student is life behind. Radio education in Rwanda is an essential component of that.
– Tiara Wilson