Officials at the Ministry of Education say they do not have sufficient funding to deliver two key programmes: School feeding and building classrooms.
Part of the problem is that the government has decided to expand the school feeding programme to all primary schools, targeting about 1.4 million children in over 2,517 public and state-aided schools.
The move is commendable because research shows school feeding programmes can help get children into school; and once there, contribute to their learning, through avoiding hunger and enhancing cognitive abilities.
It also improved concentration and energy levels in students. Furthermore, school feeding is essential for disadvantaged children — the poor who often suffer from ill health and malnutrition.
School feeding programmes also provide a structured market that can boost local agricultural production. In this way, such programmes provide an opportunity for governments to invest in the long-term development of both children and the community.
The current funding challenge will undermine these outcomes, dealing a blow to efforts in reducing poverty in the long term.
Policymakers need to consider amending the current funding formula for the education sector to improve quality in ways that benefit students and the government.
It is important to note that since 2009 when Rwanda introduced Nine Years Basic Education (9YBE) progress on access to primary education has been impressive.
However, there are still significant challenges such as funding, quality and equity. One key part of responding to these challenges requires an efficient and fair school funding system.
While the government is funding the lion’s share of the budget, schools still need parental contributions to complement their income.
Currently, the government contributes Rwf8 billion annually as subsidy for day meals in secondary schools.
However research by local think tank Institute of Policy Analysis and Research Rwanda shows that in the wealthier area parental contributions more than double schools non-salary spending. In contrast, in the rural area, voluntary parental contributions have a marginal impact on school budgets.
These findings raise issues about both equity of funding and whether the Rwandan schools system is helping to achieve greater equality of opportunity.
The research suggests that schools with pupils with more need are actually worse funded than schools with pupils with less need. This acts against achieving greater equality of opportunity.
It is important that the issue of schools illegally turning pupils away because their parents do not make a financial contribution is addressed.
However, more fundamentally, the government should develop a more targeted state funding system, with more funding being allocated to schools which have the highest levels of need and least ability to attract additional parental contributions.