The Journey of a Rwandan School Through a Global Pandemic

Hidden in the hills overlooking Lake Kivu is a school with an inspiring story. If the name Rubona Primary sounds familiar to you, that’s because we shared about this school’s successful fight against dropout at the end of 2019. With the support of Wellspring’s training, Rubona Primary developed the unique initiative of encouraging student village leaders to educate their communities about the importance of education. With classmates looking out for their friends when they didn’t show up for class, this initiative brought 135 children back to the classroom so they can receive the quality education they deserve. 

A year has now passed since we shared this update, and 2020 has brought a host of new challenges that face education, including a global pandemic and school closures. Yet, Rubona Primary is still committed to providing quality education to its students and continuing its fight against dropout, an issue that has grown rampant across the country—and the world—in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Take a journey through 2020 with us as we take a look at how your support has allowed Wellspring to come alongside Rubona Primary in the months since we last shared about this amazing school. 

Emphasizing Early Childhood Education 

As part of our new strategic document, Vision 2024: For Every Child, Wellspring is placing a strong emphasis on early childhood education. Education at this early age is crucial and Wellspring is excited to come alongside early childhood educators through new workshops and opportunities to help them nurture the next generation. In the first few months of 2020, nursery teachers at Rubona Primary were some of the first to benefit from this new training as they took part in a workshop to help them understand the resources and assets at their fingertips. Afterwards, one teacher shared how she had no idea that this support existed for nursery teachers, who are often forgotten in educational training. She applied her newfound skills to her class, creating fun and engaging teaching aids so that every child could have materials to play with and learn. Almost immediately, she saw the difference in her students, who remembered more from their lessons. Hands-on learning, particularly at such a young age, is crucial for children. Kids retain so much more when learning is fun! 

Supporting Classroom Values

In early 2020, teachers from Rubona Primary attended a series of Wellspring workshops focused on Worldview and Values, as well as Positive Behavioural Management. These trainings not only equipped teachers with new skills to transform the learning experience for their students, but also used model lessons to tangibly demonstrate how to integrate these new techniques into the classroom. Through this exercise, one teacher shared that she finally understood the real essence of the competence-based curriculum, Rwanda’s national curriculum that focuses on nurturing Rwanda’s next generation to become competent and empowered citizens. She felt moved by the idea that lessons should not only nurture the mind, but the heart of a child as well, and began to implement values into her lessons. This mindset shift has helped her develop a positive relationship with her learners. Instead of punishing students, she now rewards them! This positive change encourages children to be more active in their learning and transforms the classroom into a safe and caring space, just as it should be. 

Encouraging Peer Learning

After attending Wellspring’s trainings, the teachers at Rubona Primary realized that there was so much more they could do to further quality education at their school. Inspired by the model lessons, they were eager to learn from one another and started a whole new program at Rubona! Each department now comes together to observe their colleagues’ lessons. Afterwards, they share feedback and encouragement with each other. As the teachers at Rubona began sharing their expertise and training, transformation spread across the entire school. Teachers who were still using harmful and outdated physical punishment were now offering encouragement to their students instead. This initiative builds upon a core part of Wellspring’s program: peer learning. When peers share their expertise, transformation ripples out so that more children can receive a quality education that empowers them to succeed and meet their God-given potential.

Fighting Dropout During A Global Pandemic

As 2020 continued and the COVID-19 crisis deepened, the Rwandan government made the difficult decision to close schools. While necessary, these prolonged school closures are having devastating effects on children’s education—and their future. Even as schools look to reopen, dropout remains a critical issue as many children won’t return to the classroom due to financial, familial, or traditional pressures. However, Rubona Primary has addressed the issue of dropout before and is committed to seeing their progress in this fight continue with Wellspring’s support, even in the wake of a pandemic. 

In this area of the Rubavu District, there is a deep-seated belief that learning to fish is a better skill than any that could be taught at school, as it doesn’t require a diploma or financial investment. With the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic, a teacher from Rubona began to worry that her students wouldn’t return to the classroom, as they might be pressured by their families to continue fishing or selling sugar cane to bring home income instead of going to school. She turned to Wellspring’s training for support in reaching out to communities to ensure education is being prioritized. 

During school closures, Wellspring’s trainers focused on connecting with teachers, leaders, and parents over the phone to encourage and equip them for their unique role in children’s home-based learning. This also led to the development of self-guided workbooks that serve as a tool for learning, reflection, and practical response to the needs of Rwanda’s children, which was distributed widely, including to the educators at Rubona. 

After connecting with Wellspring trainers and learning from the strategies in the workbook, the teacher from Rubona made a plan to reach out to local communities. She is working with village leaders to engage the parents in the community to remind them of the importance of education, as well as share new strategies to help them support their children in their continued home-based learning. This teacher is also encouraging her colleagues to reach out and do the same in their own villages. With this initiative, as well as other strategies from Wellspring’s workbooks, the staff at Rubona have committed to ensuring that every child is safe and ready to return to the classroom when the school reopens. 

Through this initiative, combined with the student village leader program, local communities are understanding the importance of education. As one parent said, “Our children are better off in school than in our farms. As parents, we are responsible for every child in our community that is not in school.”

Looking to the Future

While the rest of 2020 is unknown, Rubona is committed to seeing its students thrive, whether through home-based or classroom-based learning. Here at Wellspring, we’re inspired by the dedication of these educators and are looking forward to walking with them on this journey—and that’s only possible because of you! If you look closely, you can see how your support has helped Rubona all through the year. You were there in the early months, supporting workshops for early childhood education teachers. You were even there in the midst of a pandemic too, encouraging teachers through workbooks. Your support made these initiatives possible, but there is still so much more to do, especially as the COVID-19 crisis continues and we all adjust to a new way of living and learning. Will you give to Wellspring today and help Rwandan schools flourish like Rubona Primary?