Promoting quality education for all.

Reversing privatization of education: Case study of Rwanda

by Rukabu Andy Benson, 

By Rukabu Andy Benson, Watoto Vision on Africa, Rwanda

After the introduction of nine year basic education in 2007 and 12 year basic education by the government of Rwanda in 2010, many of the private schools have lost the majority of their students. Some of them even ended up closing the doors. Private schools leaders blame these two programs as the main cause for their collapse, but the government did not intend to close private schools. Through its efforts of bringing positive changes in public and government aided schools, they are making public schools more affordable to parents and students which has made it difficult for some private schools to compete. 

What was the status of the problem before the government policy was introduced?

Having endorsed and then deciding to implement the MDGs and EFA goals, the government of Rwanda is under pressure to ensure universal enrolment.  The net enrolment rate in primary which was 62.5 % in 1990, 91.7% in 2010, is targeted to be 100% by 2015.  There is also an aim of increasing the percentage of children (NER) enrolled in lower secondary schools from 21% to 40%, and in upper secondary from 25% to 42%.

In order to respond to the pressure, the Government launched the Nine Year Basic Education program in 2007 which was later on reinforced by the 12 Year Basic Education program launched in 2010.

These two programs were exclusively implemented in primary and secondary public schools as well as in Government aided primary and secondary schools (mainly held by religious groups).

 What was the policy and what changed in terms of government practice?

The Nine Year Basic Education program launched in 2007 aimed at facilitating   “All children to be able to get education made up of six years of primary education and three years of a general cycle of secondary education without paying school fees.” The 12 Year Basic Education program aimed at facilitating children who reach the end of 9YBE with an entitlement to a further three years of education either in Teacher Training College (TTC), General Secondary or in TVET (Technical and Vocational Education)

The government strongly supported the implementation of these two programs by:

  • Allocating 19% of the national budget, Rwf182.6b (US$260m) to education and over 60% was invested into primary and secondary education. This amount of money was spent on the construction of 2,679 new classrooms for the 12YE program--increasing secondary school enrollment by 49%, from 31,106 in 2013 to 46,236 in 2014.
  • Providing these schools with qualified teachers, electricity, computers and internet facilities which most private schools don’t have.
  • Hiring publishers to supply books to public schools across the country with the aim that every student in Primary and Secondary education is entitled to a book for every subject.
  • PayING Capitation Grant: With the abolition of school fees, the Rwandan government introduced a capitation grant which in 2010 was equivalent to RF 3,500 (6 USD) per pupil for primary schools, but higher for lower secondary where it was 11,000 for day students and 21,000 for boarding students.
  • Providing a “bonus payment” to teachers as a top up to their salary.
  • Providing free laptops to public school children under the One Laptop per Child Program (OLPC). Over 250,000 free laptops, each costing $200, have so far been distributed to 450 public schools.  Private schools via parents contributions have to buy them in case of needs
  • Support to the school-feeding program in the 9 and 12-year basic education programs

It is through these incentives of the government that parents, most of them being poor to afford high costs of private schools, are now deciding to join public schools because they hope that their children will go to school and learn comfortably.

As a result, private schools became the losers. The 2013 Rwanda education statistics showed that 210 primary private schools counted 31,571 students, 2.5 % whereas 678 public schools coupled with 1762 government aided schools totaled 1,187,287 students, 97.5 %. Similarly in secondary schools, 241 secondary private schools counted 96,187 students, 16.9 % whereas 425 public schools coupled with 836 governments aided schools counted in total 470,203--83.1 %

How many private schools have been closing? Some concrete figures.

According to Jean Marie Vianney Usengumuremyi, the Chairman of the Association of Private Schools in Rwanda, “at least 20 schools have closed in two years and that hundreds of others have a handful of students and are likely to close soon”. This was acknowledged by the Minister of Education, Prof. Silas Lwakabamba who reported to “Izuba rirashe”, a local newspaper that “some of private secondary school has lost a good number of their student population from 1000 to 200”. The closed schools or in the process of closing include some of the following examples:

  • Groupe Scolaire de Musange, a private secondary school in Nyamagabe district, Southern Rwanda which, according to Rose Mukamana, who worked there as secretary, “the number of students had decreased to 40 from 1000 by 2013”.
  • GS Scolaire ACEPER, a private school located in Southern Province where teachers have not been paid for five months and no new students have enrolled this year. Teachers are now searching for other jobs.
  • Groupe Scolaire ESPANYA which has now lost about 1000 students in three years. According to Narcisse Mudahinyuka, the director of the school “You cannot be operating next to a school where education is free and expect to compete.”
  • “The Baptiste Church School which, according to  Munyamasoko Gato Corneille, the church’s chairman, opted to close the school to avoid accumulation of more debts”
  • Athanase Hamenyimana, the District education officer in Nyamasheke district also reported the closing of two of the five private schools in the district by the beginning of 2015. According to him  “students prefer [going to] public schools which give them enough teaching materials, such as books which private schools struggle to get.”
  • The Head teacher of College St Francois Xavier known as APEBU, a private secondary school located in Bugesera district reported that in 2011 they had a total number of 520, but now they have 331 only. The school administration has decided to transform this school into a technical school supported by a government funded institutions known as Workforce Development Agency (WDA)

Meanwhile, while tens of private schools are closing, especially in the rural areas, those in urban areas are actually thriving. But, the success of the 12 Year Basic Education program does not spare them either. Thousands of students in urban areas are enrolling into public schools.

Rukabu Andy Benson is the Executive Director of Watoto Vision on Africa in Rwanda, a child-centred community development organization without political, religious or governmental affiliation that is dedicated to community development through school education. Watoto, which means “young ones,” helps teachers improve their skills and knowledge through support and regular training courses. Watoto Vision on Africa is a member organization of Rwanda Education for All Coalition and you can contact them at

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