School books in a secondary school, Rwanda

Rwanda Education and Language


Since the end of the 19th century, under the influence of the predominantly Catholic missionaries, a school system was built that was based on the European school system until the 1970’s. Learning objectives and teaching methods were based on the Belgian school system. With the school reform implemented in 1979, the state basically took over school sovereignty and, at least in theory, introduced compulsory schooling for all children between the ages of 7 and 12. However, educational institutions remained largely church institutions.

According to mathgeneral, the Rwandan education system has since been divided into a rather rudimentary pre-school education, a compulsory primary education on which the secondary education system, reserved for a small proportion of applicants, and finally higher education are based.

Since the time of the genocide in 1994, there have been far-reaching changes in the field of education. In the course of the decision on the medium-term national development strategy (Vision 2020), education was assigned a key role in the development of the country. The government is relying on a fundamental transformation from an agrarian to a knowledge-based society. The introduction of “Nine Years Basic Education” (9YBE) in 2009 – a compulsory 9-year basic education which is to be extended to 12 years (12YBE) in the medium term – is one of the most important reforms of recent times. The current education system has some innovations, such as the 2 008 change of the main language of instruction from French to English, the ” WDA ” – also founded in 2008; an independent authority to intensify vocational training, as well as the merger of all state universities in 2013.

The school enrollment rate is now over 95%. Due to the high birth rate, however, the school building measures constantly lag behind the population development, which often leads to completely overcrowded classrooms. As a solution, the government relies on citizen participation in the form of unpaid personal contributions by community members when building new schools, while the state only provides building materials. Furthermore, inadequate teaching materials and, in particular, the low qualification of the teaching staff remain challenging and are the main causes of poor school qualifications or the generally low level of education.

Both state and private educational institutes can be found in the higher education sector. In 2013 the government decided to merge all public universities. This has resulted in a single state university, the University of Rwanda, then consisting of six colleges with around 31,000 students. Previously, the “Universit√© Nationale du Rwanda” in Huye (formerly Butare) was the largest university with a broader range of Subject areas. Other important state universities were the technical university, Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), and the university responsible for teaching, the Kigali Institute of Education (KIE).

More than 25 private universities complement the offer in the field of higher education. Most of them have been established with minimal equipment in recent years. Almost all Rwandans who are eligible to study aspire to a university degree. The fully booked private universities offer teaching in two shifts, so that many professionals pursue university studies during their free time. The quality of education suffers in particular from insufficiently qualified teachers.

School books in a secondary school, Rwanda


The mother tongue of almost all Rwandans is the Bantu language Kinyarwanda. The vast majority of the population speaks only this language. Other official languages have been French since the Belgian colonial era and, since 1994, increasingly English. French and English were made the same in 1994. In October 2008, through a government decision, English gained the upper hand as the official language and replaced French from all official language areas. Since then, only English has been taught as the first foreign language in state schools and universities. The Rwandan government justifies the change from French to English as an economic benefit. This would facilitate the integration of the country into a globalized world economy. In particular, the language change is seen as a logical consequence of Rwanda’s accession to the East African Community (EAC) in mid-2007, whose original members Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya are English-speaking. Rwanda, as well as the second accession country Burundi, hope as small, densely populated landlocked states to benefit from an EAC customs union – a planned political federation including a common market for the region with a population of approx. 135 million people.

However, the practical implementation of the language changeover remains associated with difficulties, since most teachers are traditionally Francophone. Furthermore, many Francophone Rwandans – mostly educated in Rwanda – see themselves at a disadvantage compared to a smaller elite who grew up in English-speaking Ugandan exile, both in the increasingly English-dominated private labor market and in the competition for positions in the civil service that are relevant to decision-making.

The resetting of the French language is also seen as a consequence of rather difficult relations between France and Rwanda after 1994, which were shaped by France’s role as the main ally of the previous regime before and during the genocide. When Rwanda joined the Commonwealth in 2009, it increased its orientation towards a community of states with English influence.

Kiswahili, which is also part of the Bantu languages, is spoken in the trading centers.

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