Educational Challenges in Rwanda: a promising path

Written by Florian Dams

Rwanda is a presidential republic that was, in its current state, only formed in 2003 along with its constitution. It emerged from being colonized by Germany and Belgium consecutively before falling into a civil war followed by a genocide founded on ethnic lines promoted by colonizing countries’ ethnic divisionism (Rwanda – History, n.d.). Through this history of exploitation, oppression and ethnic tensions, education, specifically access and quality of it has been neglected. How does this historical neglect play into Rwanda’s current obstacles to education? Which groups are specifically affected by bad access to education, and do these lines perhaps run along the same ethnic lines that have previously been associated with the genocide in 1994? Has politics taken measures to improve access to education and have these been effective? These are just a few questions that are commonly asked when investigating obstacles to education.

Rwanda has a low Human Development Index, ranking 165th out of 191 countries and a GDP per capita (Rwanda HDI, n.d.). This has a significant influence on taxable income which stands proportionate to the public funds available for spending on education. In 2021, Rwanda spend 15,2% of its national budget on education, making it the sector with the second highest spending. Of this budget, which has significantly increased over the last few years, 44% go to primary education, 32% to secondary and post-secondary education, and 22% to tertiary education (UNICEF, 2020). This high share of spending on education accurately reflects the role ascribed to education by the Rwandan government which sees human capital as its biggest resource as they are not gifted by natural resources.

UNICEF, 2020

Despite these factors, there are still significant obstacles in education, rooted in causes that require even bigger investments to be effectively challenged. The most significant of which are the following:

The gap between primary and secondary school enrollment 

The Rwandan education is structured as a 6-3-3 system, six years of primary school, three years of lower secondary school, and three years of upper secondary school. While 98% of children aged seven and above were at least enrolled in primary education, there is a high dropout rate of 7%. The transition rate to the secondary level also is rather low at 46% in 2021 (Dufitumukiza, Wanjala, & Khatete, 2021). Although the government follows a 9-year basic mandatory education plan, far from all school-aged children complete these nine years which is enabled through non-enforcement of applicable law. Previously the government focused its resources on increasing primary school enrollment rates which turned out to be successful however neglected secondary school enrolment rates. This focus was shifted within the “Vision 2020 Rwanda” which put greater emphasis on increasing secondary enrolment rates, of which the effects are still to be seen (Rwanda Ministry of Education, 2021).

Low quality of teaching

Teaching quality is vital to students’ learning outcomes and thus for their future life as a citizen contributing to a prosperous society. A 2014 study has shown that replacing a teacher from the lowest 5% of teaching quality with a teacher in the median increases lifetime income by 250.000 USD per classroom, which is significant considering the Rwandan average income (Bower, 2019). In Rwanda, the quality of education has been identified as a major shortcoming in the achievement of the goals set (UNICEF, n.d.). In 2008, English became the official teaching language in Rwanda from the third grade of primary school, replacing French as the main mode of instruction (Eysette, 2022). Still, in 2008 only 4% of the population spoke English, which significantly increased to 38% in 2018 due to effective policy (English Proficiency Index, n.d.). However, there is still a significant number of teachers, with little to no English proficiency which leaves students ill-prepared for a possible secondary or tertiary education where English proficiency is considered a must. Additionally, inadequate teacher training and antiquated teaching methods have been identified as a challenge in Rwanda’s education. While teachers’ salary has increased in the last years, spending on professional teacher training has decreased proportionally (UNICEF, 2020).

Teacher to student ratio

Next to the previously mentioned challenges, teachers are also dramatically overworked and overstrained with classroom sizes. The average classroom size in Rwandan primary schools is 62 students per teacher. While this ratio improves in lower and upper secondary schools, the primary school lays the basis for future learning and are thus is in desperate need of more well-educated teachers. The government has taken action to reduce classroom sizes by measures such as having primary school teachers work two six-hour shifts per day to decrease classroom size, which surprisingly has shown a positive effect on both teacher and students side, reducing stress for the former and improving education for the latter (ATHANASE, 2015). Still, there certainly are more sustainable solutions with a greater effect on the educational quality that could be achieved by the employment of more teachers.

5 points of action for resilient schools in Rwanda. (n.d.). VVOB.

ICT skills

In an increasingly connected world, computer literacy and ICT skills are important as ever. To sustain in a competitive job market and drive the future Rwandan economy these skills are imperative, however, to develop these, access to technology is necessary. Still, many schools lack the necessary infrastructure to support technology use, such as electricity or internet connectivity (UNICEF, 2020). Furthermore, limited funding for technology initiatives and unequal access to technology creates unequal opportunities for students, especially along urban-rural lines where the former has better access and the latter worse (Gahima, 2009). Additionally, some students and teachers may not have the necessary digital literacy skills to use technology effectively. The Rwandan government has launched initiatives to improve access to technology in schools and train teachers on how to use technology in the classroom. However, there is still much work to be done to ensure that all students in Rwanda have equal access to technology and the necessary skills to use it effectively.

Inaccessibility of education

The UN Sustainable Development Goals manifest an accessible and equitable education as a common goal. In Rwanda, this goal is pursued, however far from reached . Although free, many families cannot afford the indirect costs or lost income associated with education, such as expenses for uniforms, books, meals, and school supplies, or lost income though children not being able to help on e.g. parent’s farms. These barriers are amplified by some cultural practices that prioritize household work over education, particularly for girls, which can prevent them from attending school leading to unequal access to education along gender lines. As is the case in most countries, there is a significant urban-rural divide on said factors, with education generally being more accessible in urban than in rural areas and there being fewer cultural barriers to education.

Educate! Launches in Rwanda. (n.d.). Educate!

Furthermore, children with disabilities face significant challenges in accessing education. Many schools in Rwanda lack the necessary infrastructure to support students with disabilities, such as ramps or accessible toilets which leads to significantly lower enrollment of disabled persons into primary school (UNICEF, n.d.). In addition, there is a shortage of trained teachers who can provide specialized education and support for students with disabilities.

To address these challenges, the Rwandan government has, along with providing free primary and secondary education, built more schools in rural areas and has launched initiatives to improve infrastructure and access to education in remote areas. Additionally, the government has introduced policies to promote gender equality and inclusive education which leads to the unusual observation in low-income countries that girls now outnumber boys in primary and secondary school (Rwanda Ministry of Education, 2021).

Post-genocide society 

As a post-genocide society, Rwanda has adopted a unique approach to ensure that history does not repeat itself. Instead of collectively processing embracing and learning from history Rwanda adopted an approach of forbidding any debate on history and instead providing one incontestable version of history. As the winners write the history, this version of history very much aligns with the perspective of the Tutsi that ceased power in 1991 and are still in power today. Under this approach to addressing history, any form of ethnic self-identification is prohibited and punishable. These factors lead to critical thinking being absent from education, specifically of history and political nature (Hilker, 2010). While ethnic lines are not the basis for systematical educational challenge anymore, Rwanda’s addressing of history very much embrace forms of intellectual control and suppression.




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Educational Challenges in the Republic Democratic of Congo

Written by Esther Musau Tshimanga


The Democratic Republic of Congo is the largest sovereign nation in the African continent with a population of over 84 million inhabitants. The DRC is considered one of the richest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of natural resources, however, its population is further away from experiencing its wealth. According to the World Bank, 64% of the population lived under the poverty threshold with less than 2.15$ a day in 2021 (The World Bank, 2015). The DRC is faced with a wide range of political, socio-economic, and health issues coupled with ongoing armed conflict, and the state of the country continues to experience a steady decline following the Covid-19 pandemic (Pinshi 2020; Sasidharan and Dhillon 2021).

The Education system in the DRC is one of the national structures that has suffered the most from the lack of access to that national wealth. The educational system of the DRC has been reported as weak due to the low prosperity level of the country and plagued by poor quality and deep social inequalities. According to USAID, more the 45% of children begin school later, after the age of 6 which is the recommended year to begin primary school (The Global Economy, 2021), of those who successfully enter the first grade, only 67%  will reach the 6th grade (USAID, 2023). The two main challenges hindering the education system in the DRC are poor quality and low coverage on the structural level when national challenges such as war, conflict, gender-based violence, food insecurity, and poverty have major repercussions on accessibility to equal and equitable education.

Figure 1 Image by The World Bank, 2020.

The following article will explore the current educational challenges and experiences in the DRC. An overall description of the DRC education system will be provided, followed by an exploration of their challenges, and will conclude by mentioning recent educational reform and their potential implication on the education system.

The DRC Education System, an Overview.

Due to poverty, military conflicts, and a lack of infrastructure, the school system in the Republic Democratic of Congo (DRC) suffers several difficulties (Education Cannot Wait 2023). Although, the country’s constitution recognizes the right to an education as a fundamental one, numerous youngsters remain out of school as a result of exorbitant tuition fees and subpar instructional materials (USAID 2023). With limited access to intermediate and university education, primary education in the DRC is free but not mandated (Kingiela 2018). An estimated 77.04% of people are literate, however, there is a large gender gap because women are more likely than males to be illiterate (UNESCO 2020). When compared to other African nations, the government’s expenditure on education is small, which causes teachers shortage and subpar classroom facilities (Kingiela 2018). Additionally, the colonial-based curriculum of the nation’s educational system, which disregards regional contexts and cultures, restricts the level of education that can be provided to children.

The education system of the DRC is mainly organized across ideology and social groups, of which the catholic, protestants and unsubsidized schools form 80% of the country’s educational network, furthermore, urban provinces count the highest number of children enrolled in schools, the highest number of girls enrolled in schools and highest number of educators available as high as 20% for each construct, while predominantly rural and provinces affected by armed conflict represent the lowest number of enrolled children, enrolled girls, as well as available educators (Cellule Technique pour les Statistiques de l’Education (CTSE) 2015)

Challenges in the DRC Education System

Poor quality

Inadequate finance is one of the biggest problems facing the DRC’s educational system (Education Cannot Wait 2023). Only a small portion of the total government expenditure on education is spent on raising standards. The government’s investment in education has decreased over time, which has caused a drop in educational quality (Sasidharan and Dhillon 2021). The lack of finance has led to inadequate teacher preparation, a shortage of classroom supplies, and a lack of school infrastructure. UNESCO reports that the government only devotes 2.3% of its Gross Domestic Product to education, which is much less than the 20% suggested by the Dakar Framework for Action (UNESCO 2000, 2020). Due to little funding, education is of poor quality. There were just 16,500 elementary schools and 2,700 secondary schools in the nation in 2013 (Cellule Technique pour les Statistiques de l’Education (CTSE) 2015).

Corruption is another issue that results in insufficient funding. Officials embezzle funds intended for education because corruption is rampant in the country’s educational system making it challenging for schools to deliver high-quality instruction, particularly in rural areas where schools have few resources (Centre de Recherche sur l’anti-corruption 2022).

Low coverage

In the DRC, it can be difficult for children to get access to education, especially if they live in remote areas. About 3.5 million children of primary school age do not attend, with girls being disproportionately impacted (USAID, 2023). Children in remote locations have a tough time getting to school due to a lack of transportation options, including roads (World Bank, 2005). As a result of many youngsters being obliged to labor to support their families, poverty is another big impediment to schooling (Musarandega et al. 2021).

The fact that many institutions offer low-quality education just makes the lack of access to education worse (Kinsala, 2020). The ineffectiveness of instruction is hampered by the shortage of textbooks and other educational tools (World Vision, 2023). Additionally, many teachers lack the necessary credentials and have poor training (Kinsala, 2020).

Lack of infrastructure

The lack of infrastructure is another issue that has hampered education in the DRC. Most schools lack basic amenities such as water, electricity, and proper sanitation facilities (The World Bank 2015). This lack of infrastructure has contributed to the high dropout rates, particularly for girls who have to walk long distances to attend school (Musarandega et al. 2021). In addition, the lack of infrastructure makes it difficult for teachers to deliver quality education.

Impact of Conflict on Education

The ongoing conflict in the DRC has had a significant impact on education in the country. The conflict has disrupted the education system, with many schools being destroyed or closed down (Jones and Naylor 2014). Children have been forced to flee their homes, and some have been recruited as soldiers, denying them access to education. The conflict has also created a sense of insecurity, making it difficult for children to attend school. Many parents fear for their children’s safety and choose to keep them at home, even if they have access to education (Omaamaka 2015). This has contributed to the low enrollment rates in many parts of the country.


Education is essential for the development of any country. In the DRC, however, education faces many challenges, including inadequate funding, limited access to education, inadequate infrastructure and materials, and the impact of the conflict on education(USAID 2023). Addressing these challenges will require a collective effort by the government, civil society, and the international community. This includes increased funding for education, improving access to education, investing in infrastructure and materials, and promoting peace and security in the country. Only by addressing these challenges can the DRC fulfil its potential and provide quality education for all its citizens.



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