In Rwanda and other countries, restarting schools once the COVID-19 pandemic recedes will pose unprecedented challenges that need new policy responses, says the World Bank.
For Rwanda, government in its economic recovery plan released last month estimates that more than 60% of the population or over 8million people, need help after losing their entire livelihoods when lockdown was imposed in mid March. These people need food, the most basic of their needs.
Schools are closed, and government decided they will open in September, fresh with a new academic year which from 2020 will start in September. With all these millions of Rwandans needing food aid, the biggest other worry on minds of many parents in where they will get school fees when schools open.
The World Bank in a new report gives one of the possible initiatives.
“Removing or waiving school fees can improve student enrollment and attendance,” reads the report “The COVID-19 Pandemic: Shocks to Education and Policy Responses“.
Based on lessons from Mexico’s Oportunidades and Brazil’s Bolsa Familia – both unique mass school re-enrollment programs, experts say without such help from government, many parents wont be able to send children back to school in many countries during this coronavirus pandemic.
Post-Ebola, the Sierra Leonean government waived tuition fees for two years, and development partners, along with civil society organizations and NGOs, – provided books, uniforms, and school supplies to offset education costs borne by families.
In China, between 2000 and 2006, government reformed its education enrolment program, allowing tens of millions of children to attend school. The government explored various ways to alleviate the financial burden of schooling for poor families.
Reforms included (i) tuition control; (ii) tuition waivers, free textbooks, and living stipends for children from poor families; and (iii) tuition waivers for rural families.
The World Bank report reads: “The tuition waiver, combined with subsidies (free textbooks and living stipends), had a positive and significant effect on school enrollment of all children, while the impacts of the tuition waiver reform were concentrated on the poorest, with positive effects only on children whose per capita household income was at least four times the absolute poverty line.”
Another formula available to be used in Rwanda, can be drawn from its own experience back in 1995 when schools reopened following the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
At the time, the UN through its children’s agency UNICEF devised the “Back to School Guide“. It outlines how countries can resume education in post-crisis situations.
The same Rwanda formula has been implemented in over 55 countries from the period of 1994-2012, including Afghanistan, Cote d’Ivoire, Haiti, Lebanon, South Sudan, and Uganda.
Back-to-School Initiatives are characterized by:
1) the establishment of robust targets for numbers of children to return to some form of education as quickly as possible after the onset of the emergency,
2) rapid deployment of education supplies and materials to aid in resumption of education,
3) establishment of some form of temporary learning infrastructure as needed combined, with the rapid repair of damaged schools, and
4) intensive advocacy, communication and social mobilisation efforts aimed at mobilising governments, communities, donors and partner organisations.
Unlike in the other countries where free schooling is restricted to primary level, Rwanda provides six years of primary education and three years of post-primary education, where students undertake a common-core syllabus, equivalent of junior secondary.
However, with introduction of programs like “Parent-Teacher Association PTA”, whereby parents have to pay some money to facilitate teachers, and pupil needs such as books ans uniforms, mean parents still have to pay some money to keep their children in schools.
In December last year, as primary and secondary schools prepared to open for first term, social media was awash with parents sharing their list of requirements from schools that their children attended. Schools were asking for things like brooms, money for Church Tithe and eating utensils.
The education ministry came out ro denounce the exorbitant requirements, but not much happened. The Catholic Church announced it had directed its affiliated schools not to ask parents for Tithe.
With COVID-19, and the widespread impact it has had on ordinary Rwandans, government has a lot of work to do before the schools reopen in September.