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Rwanda, 7 February 2017: New competency-based curriculum brings out creative teaching in educators

© UNICEF South Africa/2017/Houser
Gervais Bizimana in the reading room at Gasanze Child Friendly School.

 
By Veronica Houser

Gasabo District, 7 February 2017 – Gervais Bizimana greets everyone he meets with a wide smile and a warm embrace. His pride in his work spills from him in the form of eloquent stories and passionate ideas; it is impossible not to feel inspired by his motivation and drive.

Gervais is a primary school teacher at Gasanze Child Friendly School. Gasanze’s pristine campus sits high on a hill just north of Kigali, overlooking green rice paddies and a winding stream in the valley below. Gasanze is one of UNICEF’s Child Friendly School models, an initiative by the Ministry of Education which led to the construction of over 70 schools. Most recently, in collaboration with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Gasanze received the addition of a pre-primary section, part of UNICEF pilot models for early learning, achieved in partnership with Schools for Africa and the UK Department for International Development. Gasanze School offers spacious, aerated classrooms, improved sanitation and hygiene facilities, a well-stocked library, disability-friendly buildings and pathways, and green safe playgrounds.

Gervais has been teaching for seven years, and for two years at Gasanze School. He teaches English to students in Primary 6 – the last year of primary before sitting for their national exams and beginning secondary school. Gervais loves teaching; he will tell anyone willing to listen that “education is key to development” and speaks earnestly about the new competency-based curriculum, rolled out in January 2016 by the Ministry of Education, with support from UNICEF. Aiming to reverse the classroom culture of teacher-centred, knowledge-based instruction, the competency-based curriculum seeks to equip students with practical knowledge and skills to allow them to develop into strong contributing members of Rwandan society.

Gervais is an enthusiastic advocate of the competency-based curriculum. “When we were using the old skills-based curriculum, the teacher was there like a priest,” he laughs. “We only read notes out loud and didn’t give the learners a chance to participate.” Focusing on improving his students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills, Gervais now uses a variety of activities in his classroom, including role plays, games, teamwork, and the ‘think-pair-share’ method, where students work in small groups to discuss and share ideas. “The new competency-based curriculum engages our learners to be more active than the teacher…It is focusing on the interests of our learners,” he says.

© UNICEF South Africa/2017/Houser
Gervais discusses content and themes with his students during a reading class.

 
Averaging around 60 students in one class, Gervais certainly has his hands full. He admits that after teaching for several years using a particular method, it was difficult to quickly shift his teaching style and adopt new strategies. To address this challenge, UNICEF supported curriculum trainings to familiarize teachers like Gervais with new learner-centred, participative methods of teaching. In addition to national level trainings, teachers continue to benefit from ongoing support through the UNICEF-supported national school-based mentorship programme.

Gervais feels strongly that he has a responsibility to become a better educator, and works hard to include cross-cutting issues into his lessons, such as gender equality and environmental protection, which are further elaborated in the competency-based curriculum. He describes how the competency-based curriculum allows space for these issues by creating an environment of demonstrative learning. For example, Gervais noticed when calling for increased student participation, young boys were more likely to volunteer their opinions than girls. This created an opportunity for discussions about gender equality and the importance of multiple perspectives.

Gervais asserts that his favourite thing about the competency-based curriculum is encouraging his students to teach each other and themselves. “Using the previous curriculum, children normally wrote notes and didn’t use many books,” he says. “But nowadays, we give the children the chance to be the researchers, to solve their problems themselves.” These skills are essential for children to help Rwanda develop into a knowledge-based middle-income society.

Gervais takes his work seriously, and genuinely appreciates his new teaching skills and engaging his students in productive discovery. “The teacher cannot enter the classroom without preparing the lesson,” he says emphatically. “Not only in the notebook, but in the mind.”

 

 
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