Progress in the Midst of a Pandemic
“Your calls, your visits, the message you prepared for teachers, leaders and parents during lockdown have encouraged every one of us to feel valued even though schools were still closed.” – Head Teacher at Kirerema Primary School
Like every other school in Rwanda, Kirerema Primary School experienced the devastating halt of learning during school closures. Yet, while the schoolyard was closed and classrooms were shuttered, the pursuit of quality education did not stop.
Steps were taken at Kirerema to ensure the best possible learning experience for students once the school reopened again, including tackling the issue of overcrowded classrooms. In the past, teachers had a challenging time delivering quality education to groups of over 80 students and struggled to give each child the attention they need to thrive. We’re delighted to report that, thanks to the recent construction of 13 classrooms and the hiring of 9 new teachers, average class size has reduced from 80 students to 40!
Now, teachers are excited to apply the principles they’ve learned from Wellspring’s training—such as positive behaviour management and active learning—in classrooms that are manageable in size. Now, children have to fight for their place in the classroom or worry that there won’t be enough time to ask a question if they don’t understand the lesson. Now, every child has a space to learn and grow into their potential.
Communities Rallying Together
Around the world, hunger and poverty have increased exponentially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. During school closures, many parents at Kirerema relied upon their children to help put food on the table. For some, this looked like caring for their younger siblings while their parents worked. For others, this meant working in the fields, tending to livestock, or selling sugarcane and maize in local markets. As a result, when the time came to return to school, some families were hesitant to send their children back for fear of losing their help.
Times are still tough and urgent issues can sometimes seem more important than the future possibilities offered by an education, particularly to parents who may not have had the opportunity to complete their own schooling. But education is one of the most crucial elements to breaking the cycle of poverty. With this in mind, Wellspring has developed the new School Community Advisors Network (SCAN) initiative, which fosters collaboration and action among school and community leaders in the fight against student dropout.
School Community Advisor Networks are composed of six key community members—teachers, parents, community leaders—with a shared goal: to reach out to the most vulnerable children in the community and ensure they have a path back to school. At Kirerema, parent committees apply Wellspring’s training by taking shifts each weekday to check the lists of the students who were present at school and those who have an unexplained absence. They then reach out to SCAN members, who follow up with the families to ensure the wellbeing of the children. In some cases, they uncover simple issues that community involvement can fix, such as a family unable to afford a school uniform or mask. With help to supply these items, a child can quickly return to school. In other cases, the situation is a little more sensitive. Familial issues such as poverty or outdated beliefs about gender roles might prevent a child from attending school. In these cases, SCAN members engage the parents in conversation and counselling to understand education’s importance. These home visits are designed to benefit children and help remove barriers that keep them from receiving a quality education. With these practices, Kirerema now has full attendance of all P4 and P5 students.
In one case, two children who desperately wanted to return to school, but were not allowed by their parents, heard of community members standing up for children’s right to an education. They reached out to a SCAN member in their community and asked them to speak with their parents. The SCAN member counselled their parents about the situation and their responsibility in their children’s education. As a result, these two children are back in the classroom where they belong!
A Story of Hope
Since Wellspring began to partner with Kirerema in 2016, it has grown from one small building where children would often have to complete schoolwork outside due to lack of space and light to a bustling school full of engaging lessons and committed teachers. However, this past year at Kirerema has looked different than anyone could have imagined. Although COVID-19 created many obstacles, they did not define the story of Kirerema during the pandemic.
Kirerema’s current journey is full of immense hope. Unity has grown as the community has banded together to ensure that their children have a bright future because of quality education. Teachers are excited to have kids in the classroom again, parents are rallying together to support their children, and students are enthusiastic about returning to their learning and friends.
Though the journey of Kirerema is far from over, we’re so encouraged to see the progress, not only through Wellspring-led initiatives but community-owned ones as well. At Kirerema, quality education is here to stay!
If you’d like to engage at a deeper level, we encourage you to become a monthly School Partner to support our work in Kirerema Primary School. You can also learn more about Kirerema’s transformation story in our 2017 documentary film series: A Future of Hope.