Education in RWANDA

15/06/2011 15:39





Official Country Name:

Rwandese Republic






Kinyarwanda, French, English, Kiswahili (Swahili)

Literacy Rate:


Academic Year:


Number of Primary Schools:


Compulsory Schooling:

6 years

Educational Enrollment:

Primary: 1,104,902


Secondary: 94,586


Higher: 1,987


Primary: 18,937


Secondary: 3,413


Higher: 331

Student-Teacher Ratio:

Primary: 58:1



A small, landlocked nation in Central Africa, Rwanda faces significant economic, social, and political challenges. In 2000, Rwanda had an approximate population of 7.23 million and was the most densely populated nation in Africa. With an extremely low per capita income and a life expectancy of 41, Rwanda is one of the poorest and most underdeveloped nations in the world (CIA 2000). A horrific period of genocide in 1994 severely undermined the nation's institutions, infrastructure, and social fabric. Since 1994 there have been extensive government and international efforts to rebuild. However, many challenges remain including poverty reduction, human capital formation, national reconciliation, and the rampant spread of the HIV virus that leads to AIDS.

The population is divided into two primary ethnic groups, the Hutu (approximately 84 percent) and the Tutsis (approximately 15 percent), who share a common language, Kinyarwanda. These groups have a long history of conflict, including the 1994 genocide in which approximately 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, nearly two million Hutu refugees fled to neighboring countries, and approximately 300,000 children were separated from their families or orphaned.

Rwanda is divided into 11 provinces of prefectures and 147 communes. Kigali, the capital, is the largest urban center. Approximately 90 percent of the population live in rural areas and farms for subsistence. Some agricultural products including tea, coffee, and rice generate export earnings. Availability of food is a continual concern in the region due to high population growth, deforestation, and lack of development.

Rwanda was a German colony from 1900 until the end of World War I. Belgium administered the country from 1917 until its independence on July 1, 1962. Under Belgian rule, the minority Tutsis dominated the government. The education system was also controlled by the Tutsis and favored enrollment of Tutsi children. In 1920 the Ruanda-Urundi (now Rwanda and Burundi) territory had 123 schools and only 6,000 students (Duarte 1995). From World War I to World War II, Belgium, under a League of Nations mandate, developed a plan to offer primary school to as many children as possible. Most schools were administered by religious institutions and received government funding if they followed the curriculum and other guidelines established by the Belgians. Secondary service was limited to training for civil service and the priesthood. After World War II, Belgium pledged in a United Nations' agreement to improve the education system under a trusteeship system. Education remained limited by inadequate government inspections, few resources, and limited accessibility. By 1957 fewer than three percent of children finished six years of primary school (Duarte 1995). Under Belgian rule, no institute of higher education existed in Rwanda and by 1960 only 100 natives had received postsecondary education abroad. Religious schools provided adult education, literacy, and religious instruction to approximately 650,000 adult students (Duarte 1995).

After independence in 1962, the First Republic (1962-1973) opened the educational system to all children and founded the National University of Rwanda (NUR). Since 1962, the Rwandan government has actively sought to democratize educational access and to use the education system to produce a skilled labor force.

In 1994, the genocide and refugee crisis dramatically impacted the education system through destruction of schools, communities, and infrastructure and massive social displacement. Since 1994, the government and international organizations have been committed to rebuilding and enhancing the education system as a fundamental strategy for broad development. However, education services remain limited and challenges raised by the genocide, subsequent refugee flight, and economic underdevelopment continue. A 1996 survey by the government and United Nations Population Fund found that 59.6 percent of the population age six and over had a primary education, 3.9 percent had completed secondary school and only .2 percent had a university education (CIA 2000).

Since 1995, the Rwandan government has worked closely with local and international nongovernmental organizations to provide services to children. The government has been committed to improving educational services and to reuniting children separated from their families or orphaned by the 1994 genocide and 1996 repatriation. By 1999, some 85 percent of these children had been reunited with their families or placed in foster homes (CIA 2000). In January 2001, President Paul Kagame reported that since 1995, the number of students in tertiary institutions increased from approximately 3,000 to approximately 7,000, and enrollment in secondary schools rose to 124,000. Rwandan schools have also eliminated an ethnic quota system for admittance, which had existed since the 1960s (Rwanda News Agency 2001).



The Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) centrally controls the Rwandan education system and there is a national curriculum in public schools. Many other ministries operate educational programs including literary classes offered by the Ministry of Local Government; special programs for girls' education implemented by the Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Affairs; and the operation of a continuing education center system by the Ministry of the Interior. The Rwanda National Examinations Council coordinates a unified national examination system. In the late 1990s, some efforts were made to decentralize education and to encourage more community involvement and management.

Rwanda has ratified the 1990 World Conference on Education for All and has established a target for achieving universal primary education by 2010. MINEDUC's other goals include improving the rate of transition to secondary schools; increasing the number of teachers; improving teacher qualification; introducing new curricula; increasing the supply of instructional materials; and improving human resource development (CCA 2000).



Rwandan students are required to begin school at age seven. Both primary and secondary school are six years in length. The academic year is centrally determined and lasts from September to July. Entry into secondary school is by examination and most primary school students do not continue on to secondary school. Rwandan families are required to pay school fees and to purchase uniforms to enroll their children, but the government routinely waives fees for orphans.

International organizations have been influential in Rwandan education since the Germans and Belgians colonized the area. Religious and private schools have been active since colonization and remain significant today. Since 1995, international aid agencies, foreign governments, and international financial institutions have been actively involved in reconstructing the education system.



Prior to 1991, preschool education was provided informally by parents and/or communities. In 1991, the Division of Preschool Education was created. This division seeks to set standards, train teachers, and promote enrollment of children from age two-and-a-half to age six. The Rwandan government has prioritized the expansion of facilities for and quality of preprimary education with a focus upon a community-based approach. In 2000, the World Bank reported that there were approximately two million children under the age of five and that the preschool-aged population was likely to double by 2022. In 2000, Rwanda had approximately 160 to 200 privately run early child education programs with an enrollment of about 6,000 children (less than 1 percent of children under seven) (World Bank 2000).

The 1994 genocide dramatically impacted primary school education. UNICEF estimates that approximately 600 primary schools (32 percent of the pregenocide total) were destroyed and 3,000 or more primary school teachers were lost. In 1998, just 45 percent of primary school teachers were qualified creating a 124:1 student to qualified teacher ratio. By 1999, there were 2,061 primary schools in Rwanda and the net primary enrollment ratio had reached 65 percent. Gender equity is improving with 69 percent male and 61 percent female net enrollment.

Despite improvements in the education system, the task of educating children under age 14, who make up 43 percent of the Rwandan population, remains enormous. Although net enrollment rates are increasing, they have not yet reached pregenocide levels of approximately 71 percent (CCA 2000). Additionally, enrollment figures vary substantively across prefectures. Completion and attendance figures suggest high drop out rates, although accurate data is difficult due to the substantial population shifts that occurred from 1994-1996.

The six-year primary school curriculum is nationally determined and teaching instruction is formal. The curriculum was revised in 1996, but the new version had not been widely disseminated by 2000. The new curriculum will include civics, peace education, national reconciliation, and new life skills approaches. Textbook coverage is limited, with UNICEF estimating only 22 percent coverage in 1998.



Transition rates from primary to secondary school are low. Approximately 20 percent of students who finished primary school in 1998 continued on to public secondary schools, and another 10 percent enrolled in private schools. The gross enrollment for secondary schools was only 7 percent in 1998. Nearly half of secondary students are female (49 percent). Secondary school admission is no longer based on a regional or racial quota system. However, many schools are associated with ethnic conflict, as many were damaged and others were used as torture centers during the genocide.

The six-year secondary education program in Rwanda includes two cycles—a common core focusing on basic skills, and a second cycle providing more academic choices. Students can also complete the second cycle at teaching, nursing, or technical training schools. Student-to-teacher ratios are greatly reduced in secondary school, with estimates at about 22:1 (CCA 2000).

Data on secondary schools and evaluation of the quality of their instruction is limited, as numerous schools were constructed or opened after 1995. Secondary education quality concerns include low standards for entrants, insufficient instruction materials, poorly qualified teachers, and curriculum with low relevance to employment opportunities or life skills.



Higher, or tertiary, education opportunities dramatically increased after independence. Since 1967, the National University of Rwanda (NUR) has graduated approximately 450 students per year (CCA 2000). However, in 1994, nearly the entire staff of the NUR was lost. Since then, the university has depended on visiting professors, who in 1996 made up 71 percent of the faculty (CCA 2000).

Although the NUR is the largest tertiary institution, there are also religious, military, and other vocational and technical institutions. Several ministries and private institutions provide opportunities for apprenticeships and training in specific employment opportunities. Since 1995, new institutions have been opened with international support including the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), the Kigali Institute for Education (KIE), and the Kigali Health Institute (KHI).

Higher education suffers from weaknesses similar to those of secondary education. Students are often under prepared by secondary curricula, instruction materials are limited, and many instructors lack doctoral degrees. Additionally, there is a significant gender gap at the tertiary level, with women making up only 28 percent of students (CCA 2000).



Prior to the 1994 genocide the Rwandan government emphasized education spending. In 1984, for example, 27.5 percent of Rwanda's national budget was allocated to education (Dorsey 1994). Although education expenditures after the genocide were reduced, possibly due to a need to focus on security issues, they have been steadily rising since 1996. In 1999, some 22.7 percent of the national budget was devoted to education (World Bank 1999). Additionally, Rwanda has received extensive financial support for its educational programs from international sources. The government's broad goals for improving education require an extensive, ongoing financial commitment to education and continued international support.



Vocational training institutes operated by the Ministry of Youth serve out-of-school young people and adults through both six-month and three-year training programs. There is also a growing system of apprenticeship available through the private sector.

Distance learning courses are being conducted at both KIST and the NUR. It is hoped that distance learning can help to overcome a lack of qualified professors at Rwanda's institutions of higher learning. Nonformal education is hampered by a lack of media and technological resources. There is no daily paper in Rwanda, although there are several privately owned weekly papers. The government owns one national radio station and the only television station, which offers five hours of daily programming. The government is also the only Internet service provider (CIA 2000).



Teacher training begins with the second cycle of secondary education. Training occurs in Primary Teachers' Colleges. The government is striving to open teachers' colleges in each prefecture. Religious and private schools also continue to train teachers. The rapid expansion of the educational system has led to a shortage of teachers at all levels.



The education system in Rwanda, despite extensive efforts, remains inadequate for the current and rapidly expanding population of children. Nearly 70 percent of children do not continue beyond the six years of primary school. Although illiteracy figures vary, estimates are that at least one-third of the population remains illiterate. Teacher shortages, lack of supplies, rapid population growth, and limited school facilities continue to negatively impact the educational system. In some western border regions, disruptions from regional conflict have continued and many schools have been closed.

A large number of children remain in economic or social circumstances that make educational attendance difficult. UNICEF estimates that there are over 60,000 children age 18 or younger who head households that include 300,000 school-age children. Child labor is a problem as evidenced by street children, underage domestic workers, and agricultural labor. Additionally, increasing HIV/AIDS infection rates are challenging both the nation and the education system. There is growing government interest in incorporating HIV/AIDS education at each level of the education system. However, curriculum limitations and teacher training have made implementation of this goal difficult.

Thus, Rwanda faces numerous challenges as the government, in cooperation with international organizations, seeks to rebuild and to expand its educational system. Current efforts to decentralize, to implement new curriculums, to improve organizational efficiency, and to address quality concerns may help meet these challenges. At higher education levels, emphasis upon developing instruction that facilitates future employment and has life-skills relevance, as well as efforts to move beyond reliance on foreign instructors, should continue. Addressing current educational needs and meeting the demands of a rapidly increasing population will require a significant, on-going financial and political commitment from both the Rwandan government and the international community.