Ann's Rwanda trip in full

Rwanda Teachers’ Team 2017

Planning for a visit to Kigali of a team of retired teachers began in July 2016 after the possibility had been explored with Manasseh Tuyizere and Bishop Louis and the decision that it would be feasible was taken. Under the auspices of the link between the two dioceses of Ely and Kigali, members of a small charitable organisation for retired Christian teachers (Senior Volunteer Network) were circulated with the framework of the visit and some members were able to see a display at the organisation’s conference in November and talk to me about what was anticipated. The response was overwhelming and a team of 8, led by myself, began to prepare for two weeks to be spent working in the church schools in Kigali diocese and a day of workshops for teachers in those and joint church/government schools in the diocese. The dates and some ideas for the visit had been agreed with Manasseh and Annet Ikiiriza, who had been appointed to the headship of Solid Foundation Primary School, having formerly headed the diocesan youth team.

As SVN is a national organisation, not all team members were from within Ely diocese. 5 of us live in or near Cambridge, one person lives in Sheffield, another in Derby and our eighth member near Oxford. We had one initial meeting at a garden centre on the A1 near Grantham which was easily accessible to us all and were joined by a ninth person, Mary, who would be in Kigali coinciding with the dates for our visit with a few days spare to join in with our activities. Some of us have been to a number of countries with SVN in the past and so were confident in the work we would be doing in Rwanda. Others were guided by email and phone calls, but as our expertise was varied and clearly defined, we knew that individual plans would not overlap with those of anyone else in the team. Michael Priestley was offering guidance for headship, while his wife, Barbara is an early years expert. Janet King offered primary English and Colin Davis primary and lower secondary Maths. Sue Claydon, Simon Rowe and myself were offering a variety of subjects at secondary level (ICT, Maths, English, Entrepreneurship) and George Case is an expert in all things agricultural.

There were regular (almost daily!!) emails between myself and Manasseh and we were very happy to hear that the diocese of Kigali finally managed to put together a small education team made up of Alex Mushumba (head of Martyrs’ Secondary School, seconded two days a week to the diocese as Director of Education), Marleen T’Hart, a Dutch volunteer, who has responsibility for primary schools and Catrin Tuyizere, Manasseh’s wife, responsible for early years. Working with the dedicated education team, we put together a programme of activity for the time we would be in Kigali, and I am very grateful to them for their hard work in liaising with schools, and in sorting out accommodation, transport and meals for us. It was a real bonus to be just us in Mercy House with room to eat and work and sit, and for the catering team to bring meals to us there.

I had intended to arrive a few days before everyone else in order to make sure everything was in place and to sort out any last minute hitches, but, as it happened, Sue flew out with me on May 29th, Mike, Barbara and Janet followed the next day, and Simon and George the day after that. Only intrepid explorer Colin came at the end of the week – by bus from Kampala, where he’d spent a few days visiting an old friend.

The programme began on Thursday, June 1st and we barely paused for breath until we left in the evening of Monday, June 19th. Breakfast was usually at 7am or 7.30am, dinner at 7pm or 7.30pm

The programme was as follows:

June 1st                 Meet the team, change money and practise the worship songs we were going to sing in the Cathedral on Sunday.

June 2nd                All day visit to two schools – Gicaca and Gikomera

June 3rd                Morning walk in local area, Biryogo, afternoon Genocide Memorial event at the Cathedral

June 4th                Pentecost service at the Cathedral, afternoon free.

June 5th, 6th, 7th Programme in schools and rural communities (Mike, Barbara & Janet in Solid Foundation; Simon, Ann, Sue and Colin in Martyrs’ school, and George in rural locations with pastor Andrew

June 8th                Preparation for Teachers’ workshops

June 9th                Morning Visit to National Genocide Memorial, afternoon continue workshop preparation

June 10th              Workshops at Martyrs’ School for 100+ teachers (each of us offering a different workshop catering for all the needs of the teachers attending. Hot lunch provided for all, funded jointly by us and the diocesan team)

June 11th              Worship in Kicukiro Parish

June 12th, 13th, 14th           Programme in schools and rural communities (Mike, Barbara, Janet and Colin to Nyamata Bright Primary school, Simon and Sue to Maranyundo Secondary school, Ann to CEFORMI, George out with Andrew

June 15th              Follow-up at schools from week one

June 16th              Whole day visit to schools in Gashora; dinner at the Bishop’s new house

June 17th              Free day (Mike and I had sermons to prepare).

June 18th              Worship at Gasagara ‘chapel’ (plant from Ruhanga); Visit Ruhanga memorial; Farewell meal with all the teams and Bishop Louis.

June 19th              Pack, tidy up, depart.


Our remit was to work, as appropriate, with teachers in the schools we were visiting having observed classes first. In some instances, tasks other than teaching became a priority. For example, although some of the schools had rooms that were optimistically called libraries, much work was needed to make them useable as such. So, in addition to working in classes, Janet worked tirelessly in Solid Foundation and Nyamata Bright primary schools to sort out and set up really useable libraries with good resources, some of which we supplied. Ann, Sue and Simon worked on one of the days at Martyrs’ secondary to weed out the many, many books that were inappropriate (having been inappropriate as well as out of date when they arrived years ago via an American charity) and get some semblance of useable resources visible and accessible to staff and students. (We are yet to find out if Alex has secured a deal with one of Kigali’s French speaking schools to sell to them around 200 new Maths textbooks in French which are of no use in a school required to teach in English.)

In the primary sector, Mike worked with heads Annet (Solid Foundation) and Bosco (Nyamata Bright) and they valued greatly his expertise and wisdom. Barbara worked with early years teachers helping them with ideas for learning through play. Janet demonstrated cross-curricular activities as well as sorting out the libraries and Colin offered ideas in Maths. In the secondary schools, Simon worked with teachers of Maths, ICT and Science and Sue mainly with those teaching English, but other subjects also. I worked with Entrepreneurship and Economics teachers, looking in particular at teaching in English and communicating at a level pupils could understand easily. At CEFORMI, I taught basic enterprise to all the students over three days. We were very sorry that illness prevented Mary from joining us in the schools during the second week, but pleased to say she recovered for her flight home. George worked separately with Andrew from Kigali diocese, concentrating on the rural communities and subsistence farming. He had the opportunity to advise on farming methods and running a smallholding as a business, and his advice was very well received.

As well as working in the schools, we had prepared material for the workshops we were offering to a larger group of teachers and were pleased to welcome 105 across all phases. We began with George emphasising to the whole group, the value of a competence based curriculum after which teachers dispersed to the workshops. Each of us offered a workshop according to our expertise and teachers chose the one appropriate to them. Barbara was pleased to have Mary to help in the pre-school workshop as it was very popular! In the schools during the following week we were able to see some ideas being put into practice very successfully!

We have been humbled to see the dedication and commitment of the teachers in the schools we visited and encountered in the workshops, despite the often difficult conditions in which they work. Their regular worship together, their prayer and worship time with the pupils and their Christian love for the children they teach is a lesson we can learn and bring home with us. The value placed on education by the government, the teachers, the families and the children themselves is a great example to us in the developed world, where the right to an education is taken for granted and rarely valued.

But it is obvious that the Rwandan schools are facing a number of challenges. The government has introduced a new, competence based curriculum, which, in itself, is a good thing, giving pupils the opportunity to investigate and discuss ideas within groups, and so gradually move away from the rote learning that has been the norm. However, it involves a different way of teaching and assumes that teachers are equipped to deliver this. They are not. They do not have the resources to teach the new curriculum which can only be really successful if pupils have sight of a text book. Teachers themselves did not even have access to textbooks for the new curriculum – schools do not have the finance to purchase them, but, in fact, books have not yet been published for every subject. With donations from our home churches, we purchased textbooks for as many subjects as we could find from a school book shop we happened to spot on the way to Remera. We tried to provide at least one pupil’s book for each subject at each level for the teachers to use (teachers’ guides are not yet available) in each of the 100% church schools with which we worked closely. Sample exam papers are not yet available and so teachers do not yet know what the format or requirements of the public examinations will be.

 We also visited schools which are 50% Government, 50% church (GA) schools. Even there we noted a great disparity. Some of the 50/50 schools are well resourced and their buildings well-maintained (Gikomera and Remera), but there are others which are poorly resourced and are having great difficulty coping with the huge numbers of pupils (Gicaca and Gashora). We asked why parents would choose to pay, despite struggling to meet the cost of fees, when there is a free government aided school nearby. The answer is that classes in the private church schools rarely have more than 30 pupils (often less), but the government aided schools often have in excess of 60 pupils in a class. We cannot imagine how a teacher could possibly teach the competence based curriculum to classes of that size, even if resources are available. Parents also value the example set by Christian teachers and church schools can ensure their staff is Christian, whereas that is not necessarily the case in GA schools, although there is church influence in the appointment of the head teacher.

The government has stipulated the size of classrooms, the size of the windows, the installation of flush toilets and a secure compound for all schools and the minimum outdoor play equipment required to function as a preschool. These are ideals and not easily attainable, if at all, by many of the rural schools or those in poorer areas of the city such as Kicukiro. The government has given time to achieve these standards, but it is a real concern for both 100% church schools and 50/50 Church & Government schools.

An issue is the teaching of ICT. The government has supplied up to 100 laptop computers to some of the government aided schools (but not to all – some do not have the power to charge them, in any case). It has been suggested by the government that pupils in private schools (ie the 100% church schools) should purchase their own laptops at a cost of around £200 each, the make, model and supplier having been specified by the government. After meeting with heads and ICT staff at Martyrs’ and Remera schools, we are optimistic that the GA Remera school will work with CA Martyrs’ to allow them to use their government supplied laptops, so pupils will have a hands-on experience of ICT.

Enabling closer working relationships between schools and regular opportunities for the networking of teachers to share experiences, ideas and challenges is a way to boost morale and overcome feelings of working in isolation. Building supportive relationships is a lesson the world can learn from our brothers and sisters in Rwanda and is as valuable in the world of education as it is across communities. Everyone is aware that change takes time, and it will be years before the new curriculum is securely embedded in schools. This does not mean it can be ignored. Every teacher must begin to adapt gradually as the new methods are a valuable tool even if some classes are still, for the moment, working to the old curriculum.

I hope that this initial co-operative working between teachers from the UK and from Kigali diocese will continue and flourish, and that our counterparts in Kigali feel similarly. There are such opportunities for us all to learn from one another and to grow together. We pray that the Holy Spirit will work in all our lives and enable us to do God’s will for the benefit of all.