Public Schools in Rwanda

Public Schools in Rwanda

Having spent a year as a volunteer teacher at a secondary school on the outskirts of Kigali, I felt a quick note on the public education system wouldn’t hurt. Obviously, there are no expat children enrolled in Rwandan public schools, but for expats wanting to volunteer as teachers in Rwanda, this might provide some useful background information.

Primary education in Rwanda is free (but – and this is a big but – students still have to pay for school uniforms, materiel, and transportation).  Most primary schools decided to keep Kinyarwanda as the language of instruction for the first three years, before switching to English for the remaining three years.  Originally, the government wanted all schools – primary and secondary – to be taught in English ‘over-night’, but has since settled with the fact that more time is needed for this linguistic transition. Some secondary schools still teach in French and Kinyarwanda, but on paper all schools are Anglophone.

Many public secondary schools in Rwanda are boarding schools, where a big proportion of the student body lives at school during the academic year. The size of schools varies, but normally there are 50-70 students in each class. The upper classes usually have fewer students, typically due to the fact that students are unable to pass exams or pay school fees.

The Rwandan secondary school system is divided into two levels: Ordinary Level (O Level), and Advanced Level (A Level), each level consisting of three years. As in Western school systems, the grade levels are numbered; in Rwanda the grades in secondary school go from Senior 1 (S1) to Senior 6 (S6). Primary school grades are numbered from P1 to P6.

Students in O Level all take the same classes. Certain schools offer subjects such as art, philosophy and psychology, but more commonly the subjects taught are math, languages, computer science, natural sciences (sometimes with practical lab), history, economics, and PE. A recent push for more entrepreneurship in schools, has made room for this subject as well – usually at the expense of computer science, which truth be told isn’t that big of a deal seeing as there rarely are working computers available to more than a few students anyway.

After completing the three years of O Level, the student goes on to A Level, where there are several academic ‘lines’ of which to choose from. Each line consists of three main subjects, for example PCB (Physics, Chemistry, Biology) or HEG (History, Economics, Geography), and the student is placed in a line according to his/hers scores from O Level. Though the three main courses take up much of the academic workload, the students continue with other subjects as well. I will say this much though: A PCB student is not likely to learn an awful lot of geography, and a HEG student will most likely do poorly in physics (though compared to American students, they’re probably light years ahead anyway…)

The Rwandan school year starts in January, with final exams in November.  The year is divided into trimesters, with no more than three-week vacation in between. I say ‘no more than’ because there really is no way of knowing. The exact dates of holidays are kind of decided spontaneously in this country, or at least not made known until the school year has started. Good way of getting pleasant surprises though!

One thing should also be said about school materials and equipment available to the students and teachers.  At the school I worked, the classrooms were made out of concrete with rows of old wooden benches.  In the bigger classes three students would squeeze together, though usually it would be two to a desk.  None of my students had their own textbooks, though a small number of books were provided by the government.  The idea of the textbooks, however, is for the teacher to read and then convey to the students.  In general, this translates to a lot of chalk-and-talk, where the teacher writes summaries and notes on the board, and the students copy.  Concepts like critical thinking and creative problem-solving are known to a few, but rarely exercised. With more funds being put into public education, however – as well as teacher training and creative workshops – I’m sure that class-room learning will take on the form of comprehend and implement, rather than copy and memorize.

Okay, so this didn’t end up being quite as ‘quick’ as I originally envisioned.  Oh well, no harm done, I guess.  If you scrambled your way through this whole thing, then you might actually be passionate about education, in which case… may I suggest you contact a public school to ask about sponsoring children with limited funds!? Most schools have a list over students who have asked for sponsors, and all you need to do is pick a child and pay to the administration! Or maybe you have books to donate o schools with libraries!? Yeay! Or hey, apply to a volunteer program (such as WorldTeach) so you can come here and teach!

Hehe… haven’t you learned yet, that any lecture on issues regarding development always ends with a desperate cry for help…? Well, not that desperate I guess… after all, it’s only education we’re talking about here – the only REAL solution to end ignorance and poverty which, in turn, will lead to political stability and steady economic growth, which will lead to increased health care and quality of life, which in turn, my friend, will lead to eternal world peace… and pools of sour candy, free for anyone to swim in with their mouths open. Oh wait! That was just me dreaming.


About Inga

Born and raised in Norway, culturally transformed in the US, and now residing in Rwanda. Studied biology, but teaching English in Kigali while finishing up my Master's, and debating future career options. At the moment starting up a cocoa plantation is at the top of my list, closely followed by founding an improv society. Severely technologically challenged, but somewhat creatively gifted. A great lover of the Universe, as well as cakes and salt. A passionate hater of small concrete rooms.