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
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.
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 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.
Welcome to the 4th 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 Sustaining Learning. Follow the link to read more.
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
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
Welcome to the 3rd 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 Inclusive education.Enjoy the read.
Felicite is a Head teacher of G.S Kabirizi which is located in Karembo sector, Ngoma District of Eastern Rwanda. She is a BLF National Leader of Learning. In this story she talks about how she initiated a club that aims at protecting the environment and making teaching and learning materials. Read her story.
My name is MUSABYIMANA Felicite. I am a head teacher at GS Kabirizi. I have been involved with BLF since 2017 as a National Leader of learning. After being trained on how to make our own learning materials, I got an idea of creating a club that does recycling of things we do not use.Recycling means converting waste material into something usable.Together with teachers and neighbouring community we named our club Marere Club.
The aim of the Marere Club is to turn waste into new material or product and reuse them as teaching aids and maintain an everlasting green and clean school as well as educating children about the importance of maintaining a clean enviroment thereby decrease universal carbon emissions.
Another reason for creating Marere Club was due to the fact the children litter around paper in the school yard making it look dirty. I called upon all and taught them how those papers can be recycled and reused.
I advised them not to throw away any of their old papers because for example out dated calendars can be used to practice number writing, multiplication tables, and learning roman numerals. Old textbooks can be used to practice important skills, such as having students find and circle vocabulary words, verbs, and nouns, or reinforcing grammar and punctuation.
Under the guidance of the BLF staff, we come together every week as teachers, learners and community members to learn how to make low or no cost teaching and learning materials from old cardboard, bottle tops, plastic bottles and scrap paper. We create materials for use in class and even items for the playground such as small footballs.
The learners and community members make “show me boards” from old cardboard. We have even introduced “numeracy corners” in classrooms where teachers and learners can use and manipulate materials to support their mathematical understanding.
Making these low-cost materials has saved the school a lot of money which would have otherwise been used to buy expensive learning materials.I encourage parents through the meeting with the school general assembly committee to always bring to school empty plastic water bottles, cups, containers, cartons, old cardboards baskets, boxes, pawns, paper towels, and plastic lids so that they can be recycled by Marere club members.
My plan is to share this innovative idea with my fellow head teachers (local leaders of learning) in Ngoma district to through Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) so that they can emulate and create their own materials at no cost.
My name is Georgine MUKARUGIRA, Headteacher at G.S. St Paul Muko, in Rusizi District, Western Rwanda. I have been the headteacher of this school since 2015. It’s a 12 years basic education, government aided school, owned by the Catholic church. St Paul Muko is a large school with 3,012 students, 48 teachers and 3 administrative staff. My school is one of the best performing schools in the district.
I am passionate about Education and I try my best to keep improving the quality of teaching and learning in my school. In 2018, I got the opportunity of being selected as a National Leader of Learning (NLL) by the Building Learning Foundations programme (BLF). My learning journey with the support of BLF has been an incredible one. Through the CPD Certificate in Leadership for Learning course, I have learned about effective school leadership, particularly how to set school direction, lead teaching and learning, and involve parents.
I have understood the importance of working collaboratively with all stakeholders, which is crucial when developing a large school like mine. The introduction of Communities of Practice (CoP) meetings in lower primary has generated a sense of collective responsibility amongst English and mathematics teachers and other members of the school community. Every term, I work together with the teachers, the School Bursar and the Director of Studies to plan for the monthly CoP meetings. This includes designating time for the meetings, delivering training for teachers on reading skills and the use of the dictionary, encouraging them to read the toolkit units and giving support when they face any challenges. It is my responsibility to make sure fruitful discussions and exchange of ideas takes place during every CoP meeting in relation each of the toolkit units studied that month.
CoPs have helped me, my teachers and students to increase the use of English in school, to be more active and to innovate, feeling confident in preparing and developing our own teaching aids and materials. Teachers do not complain anymore about lack of teaching resources ever since they were given the skills to create their own. From the regular visits to the classroom I conduct with the Director of Studies, I have noticed that students are working independently or in small groups and are more responsive. Communication among teachers and students has greatly improved as teachers do more of the listening and engage students. Students are highly motivated and interested in manipulating the teaching aids, they are eager to acquire new knowledge and as a result drop out has decreased. In addition, the success rate in lower primary in English has increased from 44.7% in 2017 to 57.7% in 2019.
I am now a role model. For instance, I now use English to speak to all my teachers in school during meetings and school activities. I encourage them to also speak to me and to each other in English because the more practice we make, the better our language proficiency becomes. Students try to practice their English during play time. Every week, I participate in the school’s English Club activities. It is a platform for students to develop their speaking and listening skills through songs and poems. It is also an opportunity for teachers and students to meet and discuss education related issues, especially about the role education plays in the development of our country.
All these initiatives have made our school one of the most successful schools in the area. All parents want to bring their children to our school. Our School General Assembly Committee (SGAC) members also recognise our achievements and have noticed the changes since the introduction of CoPs. Its members share with parents the information on what is being done differently in the school and it is recognised that children perform better in Mathematics and English. Our results have also been acknowledged by our Sector Education Officer, who regularly participates in the school activities and is very supportive of our work.
As an NLL supporting District level Professional Learning Communities, I have been happy to share my school’s best practice in relation to how well CoPs can be organised. I have been encouraging colleagues in Rusizi district to develop their own ideas based on my experience and with my support. I believe BLF is giving headteachers of Rwanda the opportunity to become successful leaders of learning aiming at improving the quality of English and Mathematics in P1-P3 in Rwandan primary schools. I am looking forward to completing the first year of my CPD Diploma course, which has given me the leadership tools and strategies I need to continue strengthening teaching and learning in my school.