Gender and Inclusive Education: Lessons from Rwanda
Ensuring equality between men and women, boys and girls is critical to achieving U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives. With this understanding, USAID promotes education programs that respond to the needs of both girls and boys by reducing gender-based violence against children and mitigating its harmful effects. USAID also works to increase the capability of learners to realize their rights, determine life outcomes, and influence their decision-making so that all learners—especially girls—have access to safe, quality education programs and services.
In Rwanda, USAID-funded projects like Soma Umenye (Read and Know), Mureke Dusome (Let’s Read!), and Huguka Dukore (Get Trained and Let’s Work!) promote gender equality in education, while working to improve reading and learning outcomes and developing young people’s work readiness skills. Good practices from these projects—as discussed below—illustrate the positive impact of raising awareness of gender issues across all levels of the education sector.
Working to Ensure Inclusive Education
Rwanda is currently ranked sixth in the world in ensuring equality between men and women (the U.S. is No. 28). Women also hold 64 percent of seats in the lower house of Rwanda’s national legislature, the largest share of any country in the world. Even with these significant accomplishments, many cite a patriarchal social structure and “traditional” beliefs that intrinsically limit the power of girls and women. People with disabilities hold even less power and often miss out on opportunities related to education and employment.
Much progress has come out of conflict and extreme hardship. In the wake of Rwanda’s genocide in 1994, the Government of Rwanda sought “to eliminate all the causes and obstacles which can lead to disparity in education, be it by gender, disability, geographical, or social group.” Laws and policies supporting women and vulnerable populations in Rwanda demonstrate a profound desire to protect, support, and empower girls, women, and people with disabilities.
Progress in education has been significant on a number of fronts. Rwanda’s education system currently boasts the highest participation rates in East Africa and has achieved gender parity in net and gross enrollment at pre-primary, primary, and secondary levels. In fact, girls’ enrollment surpasses boys’ enrollment at primary and secondary levels.
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However, dropout rates for both boys and girls, as well as disabled learners, remain a challenge. Boys younger than 13 are more likely to repeat and drop out than girls; and at age 14, the dropout rate for girls surpasses that of boys. Among children with disabilities, deaf and hard-of-hearing children of primary school age in Rwanda are the most likely to drop out compared to children with other disabilities.
Rwanda’s education leaders are working hard to close the gap between policy and practice. Within this context, USAID and its Rwandan education partners are working with government and local officials, gender experts, disabled persons’ organizations, parents, and teachers to raise awareness of gender issues and to integrate good practices throughout the country’s education sector.
Good Practice in Action
Successful gender integration and inclusivity within education requires engaging a variety of stakeholders, including teachers, men and boys, the community, potential employers, the government, and more. The following best practices demonstrate this principle in action.
Engage men to promote a culture of reading. The Let’s Read project engaged men in rural communities to encourage parents’ participation in their children’s education. In Gafumba Primary school in the northern Burera District, fathers who participated in a gender training pilot activity were transforming negative perceptions related to male involvement in children’s education and other activities. As a result, both fathers and mothers are helping reduce absenteeism and participate in extracurricular activities like the children’s reading club after school. Students from Gafumba recently won a district reading competition, and parents—many of whom cannot read—helped ensure their success.
According to Fabien Nkurunziza, a father who took the training: “Men used to spend their money drinking, which caused fights and chaos at home. Through the training we received, we learned that when there’s a peaceful home, it helps children to study. Men play an important role.”
Leverage teachers and textbooks to help promote inclusive education. As part of the Read and Know project, gender experts have worked with the Government of Rwanda to create textbooks and learning materials that promote gender equality. Women book writers were engaged with government and project staff to help reexamine the narratives. For example, illustrations in textbooks show boys and girls equally sharing responsibilities, empowered women and girls, fathers caring for their children, and children with disabilities who can learn, among other scenes.
Through Read and Know workshops, teachers learned to teach reading through a participatory and student-centered approach. For example, at a recent teacher training session at the Groupe Scolaire Muganza in Kamonyi District, Alphonsine Mulabutera engaged her “class” (a group of fellow teachers) in the “I do-We do-You do” approach. This approach, which was introduced in schools to make sure all children experience a fun and inclusive learning environment, helps children interact with teachers and groups in order to focus on the lesson at hand.
Connect youth with disabilities to jobs via inclusive education programs. The Get Trained and Let’s Work! project is helping to develop Rwanda’s human capital through training and job placement opportunities for youth with disabilities. The project provides access to jobs for some of the country’s most marginalized youth. As part of these efforts, the project recruits male and female trainers and trainees, some of whom have disabilities. For example, in the Northern and Western Provinces, the project worked with small businesses, including a shoemaker in Rulindo district who took on three young men and two women with disabilities, all of whom are now integrated into his shop (See EDC’s story on Building an Inclusive Economy.)
What’s more, when child care was a problem for many of the young mothers participating in training, the project helped organize day care so that young women could participate. Training was also held during daylight hours so that female participants could safely travel to and from the training. Co-located project offices also allowed those in the youth workforce development project to benefit from sexual and reproductive services provided by DREAMS, (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe), a public-private partnership supported by USAID and designed to reduce rates of HIV among adolescent girls and young women in high HIV-burden countries.
Guide to Strengthening Gender Equality and Inclusiveness in Learning MaterialsDownload now
Additional lessons learned: According to USAID Mission and project staff working in education in Rwanda, additional lessons learned include:
- Include gender analyses and recommendations in scopes of work.
- Missions and projects benefit enormously from having a full-time gender advisor on staff to provide staff coaching, project guidance, and counsel; ensure that gender and inclusion are integrated in interventions; and liaise with country officials when necessary.
- Mission staff, project leadership, and trainers—basically all involved—benefit from taking time at the beginning of the project to examine their own inherent biases to successfully guide staff and implement training on gender and inclusion.
- Education projects benefit from good coordination with programs in other sectors.
- Projects succeed when they establish trust and create a safe and friendly environment in which children and youth can participate and express themselves freely.
- Contract out and partner with disability organizations to create more sustainable interventions.
- Facilitate funding of training infrastructure for people with disabilities, including access to WASH (water and sanitation, hygiene) facilities for girls, and facilitating transportation to school, and work for girls with disabilities.
- Projects gain knowledge by having exchanges with progressive programs being implemented in the country and region.