Working to improve learning outcomes in English and Mathematics for 4.2 million children in Rwanda
BLF’s English for Teaching course brings online language learning to rural Rwanda

As part of our UKAID funded Building Learning Foundations (BLF) programme in Rwanda, 1,598 lower-primary English teachers have completed a 6 months online English for Teaching (EfT) course.

This first phase of the course roll-out combined online self-study with live English lessons via video conferencing and was the first of its kind in Rwanda.  BLF provided tablets with 4G internet connection, and a team of 26 international e-moderators hosted the live sessions and supported teachers to complete the self-study part of the course.  88% of the teachers who took part in the course successfully passed and were awarded end-of-course certificates. 

As part of BLF’s sustainability strategy, 50 Rwandan school-based mentors also supported the teachers as locally-based online learning tutors.  The tutors have now completed a course in e-moderation and teaching live online through Consultants-E, in preparation to lead on course delivery to thousands more lower-primary teachers in phases 2 and 3.

Xaverina Niyoyita is a year 2 English teacher in Mugambazi primary school, located in the remote Rulindo District of northern Rwanda. She says that her confidence in English speaking has greatly increased because of the opportunity she got to practice her skills at the live sessions and in frequent discussions with her e-moderator.

“I have never had an interesting training course like this one offered by BLF since I joined the teaching profession 24 years ago. I could not imagine myself being able to hold a 10 minutes conversation in English with such confidence, but now you can hear how we can converse in English

Xaverina said that her experience has inspired her to start an English club in her school and continue engaging her colleagues to use more English around school. She was nervous at the start of the course as she had no experience in using this kind of technology, but by the end of the course she and her colleagues were more tech savy: “I didn’t know how to use email and to engage with others on the online forum, but thanks to our moderators now I am very good at using technology” Xaverina added.

BLF hopes to continue offering this course to teachers in all of Rwanda’s thirty districts over the next year, in order to meet its language proficiency goals of increasing the percentage of teachers across Rwanda with a minimum of B1 level English.

English language training for teachers is one strand of BLF’s support for improving learning outcomes in primary English and Mathematics. We also continue supporting teachers nationwide through school-based communities of practice, provision of self-study CPD toolkits, and provision of high-quality pupil activity books.

BLF Digest #7 is out!

Welcome to the BLF Digest Magazine issue #7. This issue focuses on how BLF is supporting MINEDUC to get all students back to school. Read more BLF Digest#7_December 2020 

Supporting teen mothers to return to school safely

One of the impacts of Covid-19 is an anticipated rise in the number of pregnant girls who face many challenging consequences, including dropping out of school.

According to health researcher and reproductive health expert Dr Aniceth Nzabonimpa, family poverty, child labour, early marriages, domestic work, teen pregnancy and unsafe abortion escalated during the pandemic – issues that might prevent many young girls from going back to school unless rapid intervention takes place.

As part of the Back-to-School Campaign, vulnerable children are targeted for support to ensure that they do not miss out on their education.  Pregnant and new mothers are one of the focuses for this campaign, and SNECOs and SLFs have been working tirelessly with schools, Head Teachers, Sector Education Inspectors and other officials to assist with this.

Nshuti  Jean de Dieu, a SNECO from Rulindo District, has been covering the district of Nyarugenge for the last month.  At GS Kubusunza the Director of Studies Mukarufonsi Marie Claudine and Focal Teacher Louise Tuyambaze explained to Nshuti that the school is very favourable to all students in order to enable them to learn. They accept and support learners according to their needs, which has encouraged several mother learners studying there.

SNECO Nshuti at a hospital with a student mother and grandmother

One of these is a P5 student, Umutoni (not real name), who has been studying at the school despite having an 11-month-old baby.  The mother is from Nyakabanda Sector, and the school told Nshuti that they are trying their best to integrate her in school activities, responding to her needs as a mother.  For example, if the child is ill they give her permission to leave school and try to repeat the lesson that she has missed in her absence.

At EP Muhima, Alice (not real name) is a 16-year-old student in P5 who delivered a baby at the beginning of January.  She was taken straight to the hospital from school with help from the school and sector officials who provided a car.  During her pregnancy, the school would provide her with healthy food in order to have a balanced diet for her and her baby, and the School Accountant explained to Nshuti that the school had made alterations to the uniform to enable her to continue wearing this.

During her pregnancy and since the birth, sector officials visit her both at home and at school to ensure she is integrated and receives the support she needs.  The Focal Teacher Nyirandegeya Emmerence, who is currently acting as a headteacher while the headteacher is on medical leave, said that she was able to mobilise teachers, delegating responsibilities to ensure that they were all able to contribute to the student’s welfare.  The school bought her hygiene materials and one of the teachers attended hospital with her, along with her mother, when she went into labour.

One of Nshuti’s neighbours had a 16-year-old house maid called Therese.  Nshuti was able to convince his neighbour that Therese should go to school and to support her to do this. BLF SNECO and Sector learning Facilitator talked to Therese who said that she had completed P6 and a national exam at GS Kivumu, Rutsiro District.  Therese comes from a family that is placed under the first category of Ubudehe which means the government will support her education and she can study for free. Therese was worried that the school may deny her an education and they will want her to pay fees, so BLF team in collaboration with local authorities in Rutsiro district are going to arrange for her to return to school.

In Rulindo District, BLF SNECO Diane has been supporting GS Murama, Kisaro Sector, with a girl who, when she found out she was pregnant, had refused to come back to school.  The Head teacher and inclusive education Focal teacher went to visit her and her parents and after discussions, were able to persuade them that the girl should come back to school, and that the school would do all they could to keep her safe and well cared for. The school supported her and another pregnant student with free healthy food, and take extra time to explain lessons to them that they may miss.

In Burera district, SNECO Jean Claude Sabato has been supporting the Focal Teacher and Head teacher at GS Jean de Lamennais to reach out to 4 pregnant girls who fell pregnant during the covid 19 national lockdown in March 2020.Together, they managed to persuade three of them to come back to school.

These examples demonstrate the importance of working together with schools, as a team, to include one of the most vulnerable groups of students and to enable them, as mothers, to be able to receive an education that will serve them with job opportunities and future prospects for themselves and their child.

An inclusive return to school for children with disabilities in Rwanda

This year has been an especially challenging one for education around the world, but as we mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities which falls on every 3rd December, we must acknowledge that in many places, the Covid-19 pandemic has deepened the barriers to learning faced by children with disabilities.

Radio broadcast lessons have provided a key means of education continuity during the period of school closures, but some children with disabilities have faced challenges in accessing these activities. As schools reopen, the UK Government funded Building Learning Foundations (BLF) programme is supporting the Rwanda Education Board to bridge this gap, focusing on ensuring that children with disabilities are returning to school and continuing their education.

As part of BLF’s work, 35 BLF Special Needs Education Coordinators (SNECOs) work with 476 targeted schools to improve the identification of children with disabilities, to promote inclusive teaching methodologies, and to add value to the work of school leadership and local authorities in their efforts to support inclusive education. A key role for SNECOs is to mentor Inclusive Education Focal Teachers (one teacher per school), to champion the education of children with disabilities in their schools.

Continued engagement with focal teachers and schools during lockdown and school closures has been vital in ensuring that children with disabilities continue to be supported – especially those who struggle to follow the remote radio learning programme. The SNECOs therefore adopted new approaches to ensure the continued mentoring, coaching and support for teachers of children with disabilities during the lockdown period. They also worked with schools to reach out to parents of children with disabilities, as one of our SNECOs, Jean D’Amour, explains:

“Before Covid-19, I used to visit schools face to face to mentor teachers on how to support SEN students. We had to adapt how we worked during lockdown as we could no longer meet in person. During lockdown, I was able to continue to support teachers, headteachers, and parents remotely. I was able to give very specific ideas to head teachers and Inclusive education focal teachers as we had already identified these children with learning difficulties and disabilities. I tried to find ways that inclusive education focal teachers could reach out to parents about ways they could help these students to follow the lessons taught through radio. However, I quickly realised that children with learning difficulties were struggling to learn. Some families didn’t have radios and televisions, or even electricity, and a big number of parents from rural areas were not able to support their children.”

The Ministry of Education has been assessing the situation for school reopening on a weekly basis. In mid-October, it was announced that schools would start a staggered reopening from 2 November, starting with older students, with children in lower primary returning in January 2021. BLF is at the forefront of the national ‘Back to School’ campaign and is working in partnership with the Ministry of Education to mobilise schools, parents, communities and children to make sure everyone starts school on time, including new Primary One pupils.

Getting children with disabilities back to school is more important than ever.  When children return, their learning will be assessed to see if they should be enrolled in catch-up lessons. Early results from the BLF assessment of access to learning during school closure shows that learners with disabilities were less likely to have done any learning during school closures than children without disability, meaning that many children with disabilities will need catch-up lessons – especially if they have never previously been to school.  BLF is therefore working with schools and communities to make sure there is a specific focus on those children at risk of not returning to school, including those with disabilities. Guidance is already being rolled out to schools and local authorities to help them identify and support these individuals.

This is a critical period for all learners in Rwanda, but especially learners with disabilities who already faced challenges in accessing education. We are delighted that BLF is rising to this challenge and helping to make sure that learners with disabilities are not left behind. 

BLF Digest #6 is out!

Welcome to the BLF Digest Magazine issue #6. This issue focuses on women leading learning with support through the Building Learning Foundations programme. Read more.

BLF Digest issue #5

Welcome to the 5th edition of the BLF Digest, our quarterly magazine that focuses on what we are doing to  improve learning outcomes in English and Mathematics at lower primary children in Rwanda. This is a special edition that focuses on Remote Learning. Follow the link to read more. BLF Digest Issue #5

Remote mentoring of teachers during COVID-19 pandemic

Two days after the first covid-19 virus case was recorded in Rwanda, the Ministry of Education immediately shut down all the schools in an effort to contain the spread of the virus. It goes without saying that this measure was essential to protect the health and safety of millions of children and thousands of teachers in Rwanda. However, faced with the daunting and uncertain situation of the total lockdown, the Building Learning Foundations (BLF) team conducted a rapid information and communications technology (ICT) assessment during the first few weeks of April to help inform the design of a learning platform to remotely support teachers in their continuous professional development activities during covid-19 pandemic.  

The rapid ICT assessment revealed that 41% of the teachers have their own smartphones but less than that are willing to use their own internet data bundle when participating in BLF activities. It was then clear that remote mentoring cannot be done solely using online platforms. BLF needed to find an inclusive and equitable approach to continue its support to teachers’ development.  

During the last week of April, BLF piloted its new structured approach to remote mentoring dubbed, “Virtual School Visits” (VSV). In this new approach, the same principles used in face-to-face mentoring are applied, but are executed via different channels of communication suited to low-resourced situations. Among these channels of communication are phone calls, SMS messaging, and instant messaging using WhatsApp. Every two weeks, a Sector Learning Facilitator (SLF), with support from the District Teaching Advisor, visits all the schools virtually in his/her assigned sectors using the three modes of communication.  

On May 18, 2020, I joined SLF, Prosper Tuyishime, in his group meeting with the English teachers of CS Nyakinama 2 in Nkotsi Sector. Prior to the group conference phone call, Prosper had already sent an SMS message to the head teacher and lower primary English teachers informing them of the schedule and activities of the VSV. Prosper used a group conference call as a platform to conduct the group meeting because many of the teachers had poor network connection. Three teachers joined the meeting and talked about unit 6 of the BLF English Toolkit Book 2. SLF Prosper started the meeting with a short and simple warm up song, “Good Morning.” He asked the teachers to listen to a recording of the song and invited them to sing along. Then, he asked some questions to help the teachers recall what they have learned from unit 5, Supporting Learning, which he used as springboard in introducing unit 6, which is all about Pacing Learning. All three teachers who joined the group conference call had their BLF English Toolkit Book 2 with them, so SLF Prosper proceeded to do an activity from that book with the teachers. Together they answered the activity under ‘Discover and Find Out’.  

The teachers were given 5 minutes to do the task and after 5 minutes, through SLF Prosper’s guided questioning, the teachers discussed the different factors that affect the pacing of a lesson. The teachers were also given the time during the group phone call to practice speaking the classroom English from the unit being revised. To ensure equity in participation, SLF Prosper nominates a teacher during the group call to respond to a question or share his/her answer in one of the activities. The group meeting lasted for 40 minutes and ended with SLF Prosper reminding the teachers which unit from the BLF English Toolkit book 2 to study for next time and encouraging the teachers to listen to the REB radio learning programs.  

After the group meeting, SLF Prosper phoned the Head Teacher, Clementine Dushimemariya, and informed her of the activities that had transpired during the meeting. He also shared the agreed action points made by the teachers which will be followed up in the next virtual school visit. An electronic copy of the school visit report was also sent to the Head Teacher via WhatsApp.  

Meanwhile, those teachers who were not able to join the group conference call for a variety of reasons, were sent SMS messages containing BLF related activities that they can do as part of their professional development. 

Although the BLF field team uses different modes of communication in carrying out their virtual school visits, group conference phone calls seem to be the most effective and efficient way to reach out to the teachers. In Musanze district’s weekly record of school visit activities for the period of May 22 to 29, 270 English and Maths teachers participated in the group conference calls, while 133 teachers joined the WhatsApp group chat conversations. I have participated in both group conference calls and WhatsApp group chat conversations, and I noticed that teachers are more engaged during the group conference calls. They seem to feel more confident in expressing themselves orally than in exchanging written conversations via group chat. Also, group conference calls are more cost efficient on the side of the teachers because BLF shoulders the cost of the calls.  

 “In participating in the BLF virtual school visit activities, the teachers are getting new knowledge and skills not only in English and Mathematics but also in using digital communication tools. VSV enables teachers to feel occupied and productive even if they are in their homes. Those teachers who are shy are given the opportunity to express themselves in a platform which is less dominated by the outspoken teachers. VSV is likewise a means for the teachers to stay in touch with their colleagues and feel connected” SLF Prosper said. 

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Prosper BLF’s Sector Learning Facilitator supports teachers remotely 

The virtual school visits will never replace the face-to-face mentoring approach of BLF but is a way to bridge the gap that the covid-19 virus has created in these unprecedented times.  

My teaching experience in a strange environment

My name is Josiane Ingabire. I am a Mathematics teacher at GS Remera Catholique School where I teach P2 and P3 pupils. I have been in the teaching profession for 10 years now. I was involved with BLF for the first time in the pilot phase when I got involved in trying out some activities from a sample unit from the mathematics toolkit in 2018. It was a great learning experience for me.   

As soon as the COVID-19 lockdown began in Rwanda in late March 2020 and all schools closed, I was worried about my learners and how I would continue supporting them to learn. By chance, I was approached by the Building Learning Foundations programme – they asked me to volunteer to teach children via radio. I was very happy and immediately agreed. However, since it was my first time  producing a radio lesson, I was nervous when I recorded my first lesson. It was very a strange environment, having no classroom and no pupils. Just an empty room with computers and microphones, seen for the first time in my life. Scripts were developed by the BLF technical team and then recorded from the national radio studio every week.   

Interactive lessons delivery 

The art of teaching by radio is very tricky. You need to engage your learners from a distance. I record one lesson per grade per week which is broadcast on 7 radio stations in Rwanda. Weekly schedules are shared through radio advertisements, social media and through BLF local staff. 

The BLF team ensures that the lessons are interactive when designing them. When I am recording, I ask pupils to follow instructions and engage them in responding to them. They also do activities during breaks provided in the lessons. 

Depending on the lesson of the day, I also encourage them to have low cost learning materials available ahead of time, these include counting stones, bottle tops with or without numbers, flash cards and much more. I end every lesson by mentioning materials the learner will need for the next lesson. During the lessons, parents/siblings and caregivers are encouraged to join in and support pupils in activities.   

I would like to encourage parents, siblings or caregivers who support children at home to help the children to listen to the instructions given during each lesson. For example, when I say, “now it is time for you pick up your counting stones and place them on the table or the ground” here parents or caregivers can verify whether the children have the counting stones or sticks ready. I want to encourage parents e to always support their children. The support does not require you to know how to read or write. For example, you can check if the child is doing what the radio teacher asked them to do. Check if they are writing or counting or reading numbers on flash cards as per the radio teacher instructions. Some activities also require the children to tell their parents/siblings the answers or just to discuss something with them. 

Using my time creatively at home 

Usually during the rest of the week when I am not recording lessons, I make the  time to create learning materials that I will use in my class when schools reopen.I also help my own children to learn and follow the radio lessons. BLF staff call me weekly to find out if I am doing self-study and sometimes, they help me online when I have challenges navigating the toolkit. 

I would like to encourage my colleagues to use their time very well at home by doing self-study as it improves our teaching skills. The lockdown and school closure should not prevent us from continuing to learn. It is an opportunity to upskill ourselves with the help of BLF staff who are in touch with us constantly. I thank BLF for training me to be a good teacher and for giving me the opportunity to support learners during the COVID-19 lockdown period.  

Teachers learning together

Teachers in Gicumbi district learning together

35,000 teachers across Kenya and Rwanda are currently taking part in an exciting new professional development programme, with the potential to impact the learning of over 2.6million learners.Through two ambitious UK-aid funded initiatives, teachers have the opportunity to participate in school and cluster based communities of practice (CoPs) where, in collaboration with their colleagues, they take charge of their professional development agenda by sharing experiences and supporting each other to improve teaching practice.Early signs have  been promising. We believe these two initiatives are a vital opportunity for the global education community to learn more about ‘what works’ at scale to improve quality teaching and learning. In this report, we outline some of our early insights as we begin to analyse the findings from the baseline research phase in Rwanda.

Read the full report here

Creativity at Ecole Primaire Cyendajuru

In Huye District, Ecole Primaire Cyendajuru is located in Simbi sector.  It is one of the schools fully embracing the support of the Building Learning Foundations programme. Being located in one of the last districts to commence the programme, it is a mere six months since the first ‘self-study toolkits’ were introduced to teachers but already  significant changes in teaching and learning are being made at the school.

School leaders feel very positive about the programme and believe it is unique and important  because of the structured follow-up support received after orientation days, helping to embed the knowledge gained through the tool kits. 

The school’s deputy-headteacher said, “The monthly visits from the Sector Learning Facilitator Jean Marie provides teachers with the necessary motivation and reassurance that they are progressing well with self-study.  He provides crucial advice on how teachers can transfer knowledge learned from the toolkits and embed it effectively into their teaching.  His visits to the school have truly helped to inspire teachers, develop their pedagogy and they are very keen to be part of a mentoring programme.   

One key area improved through the introduction of the BLF programme is within the English teaching in Lower Primary. School leaders and teachers testify that before the introduction of self study most teachers were shy  and reluctance to speak in English, even for those trained in teaching the subject.  The rural location of the school makes it difficult to speak English and many teachers were initially educated in French meaning that they had only a basic foundation of English and developing fluency is still a l challenge.

Nyirambonimana Beatrice, a P1 English and mathematics teacher, said that she always felt unsure whether she was pronouncing words correctly but now with the support of the audio and video toolkit, as well as the SLF mentorship support , she now feels a much more competent English teacher, with far more confidence that she is communicating the language well to her students.  When planning lessons, she now uses the toolkit to prepare a short script of the key expressions to say and occasionally uses it  during lessons.  She believes that in time she will rely on her scripts far less and one day soon will deliver whole lessons very confidently and effectively in English. 

 I am now able to teach in English throughout the whole lesson and this practice was not the same before the BLF programme,” said teacher Beatrice.  ”

This confidence is having a profound impact upon the children’s learning, with an excellent improvement in their speaking and listening skills and an improved ability from them to remember vocabulary, which Beatrice attributes to BLF advice to make wall posters using rice sacks with English vocabulary.  

The school is also being considered a role model school in the sector for its use of locally made materials being used as teaching aids, particularly in mathematics and teachers from other schools within the sector have visited E.P Cyendajuru to gain ideas for how to make their classrooms and lessons more attractive and engaging.  Through learning about the importance of using concrete materials in Mathematics, an important theme throughout the Maths self-study programme, teachers reflect on how pupils are now  far more motivated and engaged in lessons than before. 

The school-based mentor of EP Cyendajuru said that before teachers used to think that the children were lazy, but now they realise  that this lack of engagement was related to their teaching methodology  which was passive and too focused on the abstracts in Mathematics.  He added that it is truly wonderful to see learners engaged and with more confidence and understanding in Maths lessons.  

As we continue to visit the school and many others in Huye District, the teachers  are optimistic about the impact BLF is having on their learning and their overall exam results.  And not only is the transformation happening in P1 – P3, but the knowledge gained is also spreading to upper levels, as leaders communicate effective teaching and learning practices  to their colleagues  through general CPD programmes. at school level.

Six months has brought great progress to this small school in Simbi sector.  It looks promising that in a further six months, more progress will be made.  

By Joanne Kirkham and Bizimana Jean Marie Vianney

The Building Learning Foundations Programme (BLF) is a programme of the Rwanda Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) and Rwanda Education Board (REB); it is funded by the United Kingdom’s Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) as part of its Learning for all Programme in Rwanda.
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