Committed to developing a knowledge-based economy, notably based on information and communication technologies, Rwanda is now devoting more than $310 million in education, which represents nearly 10% of its annual budget ($3.4 billion for the 2020/2021 fiscal year). That financial effort benefits in particular the national program«Smart Classroom».This initiative, operational since 2016, aims to equip Rwandan schools with an IT infrastructure that facilitates the digitization of learning and teaching processes at all levels of education (primary, secondary, higher education as well as vocational training centers) and for all subjects (IT but also history, biology, chemistry....). In total, some 1,783 secondary schools and 365 vocational schools (52% of the total number of schools involved) had access to this "smart classrooms" system by August this year, according to data from the Rwandan Ministry of Education, which manages the program alongside the Ministry of ICT and Innovation and Innovation and partners such as UNICEF. As for elementary school, more than 4,000 of them (35% of the total) were connected to the Internet by the same date.
Classrooms equipped with laptops connected to the Internet and a projector
Concretely, the classrooms labeled "smart classrooms" have, besides the usual school furniture (blackboard, tables, chairs...), laptops connected to the Internet as well as a projector. The number of smart classrooms varies from school to another (usually between two and four), and each smart classroom cannot exceed more than 50 computers for as many students.
Located in the city of Kigali, the Kagarama Secondary School is one of the facilities equipped with such rooms, to the great satisfaction of the director of studies, Sam NKURUNZIZA. "Previously, students graduated without any ICT skills. A real problem because it is a necessity in the job market. But today, with smart classrooms, we are able to give our students what they need. Hands-on experience and real-world skills," says the school official. Better yet, far from benefiting only students, smart classrooms also benefit teachers. Since 2016, the Ministry of Education, in partnership with the Ministry of ICT and Innovation, has been "regularly training cohorts of teachers on these new digital tools, with ongoing training sessions that continued during the COVID-19 confinements," recalls Christine NIYIZAMWIYITIRA, the Head of the Department of ICT in Education at the Rwanda Basic Education Board.
A system that remains out of reach in many regions
Nevertheless, while Rwanda aims to expand the program to 82% of primary and secondary schools by 2024, its effective implementation remains out of reach in many regions due to limited infrastructure (lack of electricity and connectivity) and insufficient classrooms. In fact, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda, 34% of Rwandan households do not have access to electricity and only 35% of the population is able to use the internet. That situation makes Prudence IRAGUHA, teacher and student rights activist, say that these schools outside the "Smart Classroom" program will be the most difficult to cover, because of the heavy investments required. "While I welcome the political will of the government...I think it will take much longer to equip schools with electricity and internet and to address the problem of overcrowded classrooms," adds Prudence IRAGUHA.
More than 22,500 classrooms, worth $212 million, built across the country until the end of September 2020
However, this is not discouraging the Rwandan authorities, who are now redoubling their efforts to connect schools to electricity and the Internet, "the teams of the Ministry of Education [collaborating] with those of the Ministry of Infrastructure to prioritize the construction of schools and the electrification of existing facilities," says Christine NIYIZAMWIYITIRA. In total, more than 22,500 classrooms, worth $212 million, were built in all 30 districts of the countryuntil the end of September 2020, with financial support from the World Bank.