Teachers Vaccination: a firm step towards safe reopening of schools in Rwanda

UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Education to plan a Back to School Campaign as schools re-open for the new school year. Government efforts to vaccinate teachers will assist with safe school re-opening.

By Pamela Mudakikwa
Teacher outside a school
UNICEF/2021/Mudakikwa
05 October 2021

‘When I received my second jab of COVID19 vaccine, I also received hope that our teaching and learning experiences will soon get back to normal.’ Eugene Murwanashyaka tells me as we walk down to the school where he teaches, which happens to be near his home.

For the last eight years, Eugene has been teaching English, Swahili, and French at the upper secondary level at Groupe Scolaire Gicaca 1, situated in Gasabo District, City of Kigali.

In March 2020, when Rwanda reported the very first case of the COVID19 pandemic, the Government imposed prevention measures including the closing of schools and other places of mass gatherings to curb the virus.

Eugene says the pandemic was the worst thing that has ever happened to the education system.

Portrait image of Eugene Murwanashyaka
UNICEF/2021/Mudakikwa

"When we first heard about the pandemic and the closing of schools, we thought it would be temporary. We were shocked to see that it took us almost a year to fully resume work."

Eugene Murwanashyaka

It’s not only teachers that were affected by this disruption in learning.

Children were not attending schools which affected their learning and exposed vulnerable children to other risks such as stress and child labour.

In Rwanda, schools partially reopened in November 2020 then fully in February 2021. Administrators, teachers, and students were required to observe all the guidelines such as wearing facemasks, practising social distancing and regular hand washing to limit the spread of the pandemic at schools.

Eugene explained that things have been tough even when schools re-opened due to the preventive measures that affected the teaching and learning experience. The social distancing disconnected the students as they were not allowed to sit together, touch each other nor play as usual.

"It has equally disrupted our teaching style as we could not exchange notebooks with students to avoid transmission of the virus."

Eugene Murwanashyaka

He added that it has negatively affected the implementation of the Competence-Based Curriculum teaching style which requires a lot of group work to promote communication and collaboration.

On the second day of the mass vaccination drive in March 2021, teachers including university lecturers were vaccinated against COVID-19. They had been identified as a priority group because they are vital to ensure schools and learning can continue in a safe way, as they engage with communities and students.

Portrait image of Eugene Murwanashyaka
UNICEF/2021/Mudakikwa

For Eugene, this was proof that the government cares for teachers and shows a high level of commitment to re-opening schools fully and safely.

Like Eugene, Ms. Dorothee Dushimimana, teacher of literature at GS Rugando is excited about going back to school when she is fully vaccinated.

"Now that I am fully vaccinated, I am confident that I am protected and that my students will feel safer.”

Dorothee Dushimimana
Portrait image of Dorothee Dushimimana
UNICEF/2021/Mudakikwa

"I personally meet at least one hundred students from the three classes I teach per day. Before I got the vaccine, I was not comfortable knowing I was exposing those lives to COVID-19," she added. 

“We believe that even parents will be at ease with sending their children back to school and this will reduce the rate of drop out we faced lately.”

On October 5th every year, the world celebrates Teachers Day. This year’s theme is “Teachers at the heart of education recovery.”

Portrait image of Dorothee Dushimimana
UNICEF/2021/Mudakikwa