New collaborative initiative provides tutoring and education opportunities to primary school students and teachers in rural Rwanda.
By Celia Reddick
Little feet in brightly colored plastic sandals patter back and forth at the Rwinkwavu Center for Training and Operational Research in rural eastern Rwanda each Sunday afternoon. The feet belong to 6th grade students from Nkondo Primary School, and they’re heading to math and science enrichment classes offered by doctors from the nearby Rwinkwavu Hospital.
The doctors, moonlighting as volunteer teachers, arrive at 2:30pm each Sunday. Some come straight from morning call at the hospital, still wearing scrubs; others dismount motorcycle taxis, returning from a weekend trip to the capital city. Together, they congregate at the Training Center in an effort to address the relationship between poor schools and poor health which they see in their daily work.
“We do this because the kids need extra support,” Alain Uwumugambi, Director of Internal Medicine at Rwinkwavu Hospital, explains. “Education is needed as much as health care, if not more. Health care targets the sickest kids, but education determines the future of far more children. And, of course, if we provide quality education to all children, this will improve the Rwandan healthcare system.”
This initiative began as a collaboration between PIH’s Department of Medical Education and Training and the Rwandan Ministry of Health doctors at the hospital. It has subsequently grown to include a number of other local community members, including local teachers, as well as international staff from the Global Health Corps and Harvard’s Global Health Equity program.
The need is clear, and the work shows immediate results, as students begin using academic English and shouting out answers to basic questions about math. However, the students, aging from 11 to 15 years old, have a long way to go, as they have long been educated in overburdened schools. In addition, although they’ve only ever been taught in French and Kinyarwanda, according to national policy, they’re now being taught in the new language of instruction — English — by teachers who are still struggling to learn the language themselves.
Working in small groups scattered between two large rooms at the Training Center, the students practice math and science. One group draws insects that they have collected, labeling the parts of the body and counting the number of legs. Another group practices multiplication tables, tossing a neon green tennis ball around a circle and calling out answers. A third group learns about heat conduction, comparing the temperature of water in a plastic and a metal cup.
For students and teachers, this is just the beginning. Soon, students will take their promotional exams, and find out whether they will gain entry to more rigorous secondary schools elsewhere, or continue for three more years of basic education at their local school.
The initiative is also working to improve the local education system itself. As the students depart for their winter holidays, the teachers of Nkondo Primary will take their places at the Training Center on Sundays for instruction in English. When the students return to school in January, they will be met with teachers who are better equipped to teach them. Next year, 5th and 6th grade students will participate in the Sunday school sessions as hospital and PIH staff continue to work hand in hand with the local school to tackle the root causes of poverty and disease.
Celia Reddick serves as the Curriculum and Training Specialist for Partners In Health in Rwanda.