Restoring funding to schools should be top on our list of priorities

Wednesday January 23 2019

After the ministry of education cut capitation

After the ministry of education cut capitation grant to public boarding schools, schools responded by imposing increasing fees by between Rwf8,000 and Rwf20,000 to fund the budget shortfall. PHOTO | Cyril NDEGEYA 

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There has been substantial progress in access to schooling in Rwanda with enrolment figures in primary and secondary education increasing remarkably. Therefore, it is no surprise that schools are increasingly in need of more facilities and teachers.

How do we ensure more quality in schools and classrooms?

At the moment, limited access to funding is a big challenge, especially for public schools. The Ministry of Education cut capitation grant to public boarding schools from Rwf156 to only Rwf56 for each student per day, in a bid to support the underfunded feeding programme in 9-12-year basic education schools.

As reported by this newspaper then, schools responded by imposing increasing fees by between Rwf8, 000 and Rwf20, 000 to fund the budget shortfall.

However, even with this increment, most public schools still have limited access to infrastructure. Yet our country’s future depends crucially on the quality of its schools.

Cutting and reducing funding to the sector only serves to undermine implementation of the ongoing reforms to improve learning outcomes.

Additional funding is needed to support proven reforms such as hiring and retaining teachers, reducing class sizes, and expanding access to high-quality early education.

If schools continue to struggle financially, we are definitely headed in the opposite direction. Money matters for educational outcomes. For example, studies show that children from vulnerable households who attend better-funded schools are more likely to complete high school and have higher earnings and lower poverty rates in adulthood.

Priority reforms that have been recommended to prepare children for the future, such as improving teacher quality, reducing class sizes, and increasing student learning time cannot be implemented without sufficient funding.

Improving teacher quality is one of the reforms threatened by funding cuts. Research suggests that teacher quality is the most important school-based determinant of student success.

Recruiting, developing, and retaining high-quality teachers is therefore essential to improving student achievement.

Evidence suggests that smaller class sizes can boost achievement, especially in the early grades and for low-income students. Yet small class sizes are difficult to sustain when schools are cutting spending and enrolments are rising.

Beyond raising local revenues, school districts have few options for preserving investments in education.

Some could divert funds from other services to shore up school budgets, but this could impair other critical services, like health insurance and social protection.

The health of the nation’s economy and our quality of life will depend on the creativity and intellectual capacity of our people. If we neglect our schools, we diminish our future.