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Students during a class at GS Muyumbu Higher Secondary School, on the outskirts of Kigali. Image Credit: Shafaat Shahbandari/Gulf News

Kigali, Rwanda: Nestled amid the aromatic tea and coffee plantations in the remote rural district of Nyamasheke in Rwanda is a modern two-room pre-primary school that literally sprang up from a class under the tree.

Started a few years back by the local community as an informal centre to engage their little ones as the parents worked the farms, Ngoboko Pre-Primary School in Nyamasheke is now among the 30 model Early Childhood Education (ECE) centres which are serving as exemplars of best practices and models of ECE learning.

Taken under its wings by the district administration after the local community pooled together funds to build a wooden room, the school has now been developed by Dubai Cares with modern amenities such as educational tools, trained teachers as well as hygiene and sanitation facilities.

Video by Shafaat Shahbandari/Gulf News

Part of Strengthening School Readiness in Rwanda (SSRR), a specifically designed ECE programme implemented by Dubai Cares in partnership with a global NGO Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), school now prepares more than 100 students for primary education.

Gulf News visited the school along with a few others as part of a Dubai Cares led by its CEO, Tarek Al Gurg, monitoring the progress of the UAE-based philanthropy’s programmes launched across Rwanda in 2017.

“There is a significant need for Early Childhood Education in Rwanda, and we are proud that Dubai Cares is playing a pivotal role to bridge the gap in this area, in line with the Ministry of Education’s strategy. Our programme is equipping pre-primary schoolchildren with school readiness skills to help achieve smooth transition to primary school,” said Al Gurg, speaking to Gulf News during the trip.

Ngoboko Pre-Primary is one of 30 model schools where the SSRR programme is being implemented, preparing 2,520 children between the ages of three and six years for a formal school environment.

The pre-primary programme takes the pupils through an interactive and inclusive learning process, dividing each class into different corners where the students learn different skills.

“All our classes are activities based making children learn by making them do things such as playing doctors and patients, playing bankers and customers, making them build small houses. We also use locally available material to build educational tools so that local communities don’t have difficulties in accessing them,” said Papa Diouf, Country Director of VSO Rwanda.

A group of Grade 11 students work with their teacher at a skills lab at GS Muyumbu Higher Secondary School, on the outskirts of Kigali, Rwanda. Shafaat Shahbandari/Gulf News

The project has so far provided 10 ECE centres with new classrooms in Nayamasheke, a scenic district bounded by Lake Kivu and bordering Democratic Republic of Kongo.

Two model centres have been strategically located in each of the 15 districts in Nyamasheke, one developed from an existing primary school and the other one based where it can be easily accessed by an underprivileged community.

“Through this intervention, which is composed of a combination of activities including teachers training and capacity building, we are tackling the challenges that prevent pre-primary schoolchildren from getting their basic education. The programme also incorporates a unique element that aims to integrate children with special education needs into mainstream education, as we believe it is a key step towards ensuring their future inclusivity into society,” added Al Gurg.

The Dh5.279 million programme aims to create centres that can serve as models of best practice in ECE learning and which can be later scaled across the country.

The programme’s design is also intended to enhance the school environment through rehabilitation of classrooms; improve access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities in schools; engage parents and community members in the ECE system; provide training for ECE teachers in the local teacher training college; as well as integrate ECE governance and leadership into the education system.

Furthermore, the programme has a particular focus on extending access to vulnerable children through building capacity to care for children with Special Education Needs and training teachers and leaders on inclusivity.

“With less than 15 per cent pre-primary school enrolment in Rwanda, VSO teamed up with Dubai Cares and invested in developing an inclusive ECE model in Nyamasheke district. At the inception of the project only 1,687 children were being enrolled from 30 model schools. However, last year the number tripled surpassing the original target,” said Diouf.

He added that as the enrolment has only improved slightly to 17.5 per cent in Rwanda, there is a huge opportunity to scale up this model across the country and enable more children with disabilities, and especially children in remote areas to achieve school readiness skills and get ready for a lifetime of learning.

In another programme, Dubai Cares in partnership with another NGO Educate is empowering youth through an entrepreneurship project for higher secondary students.

The Dh3,67 million programme aims to transform secondary education by introducing practical and skills-based training in schools to pave the way for young students for future leadership roles, and empower them to start a business while still at school.

The programme is set to benefit 16,000 young Rwandans in 175 schools across 11 districts in the country.

Early Childhood Education programme

1 district
15 sectors
30 model pre-primary schools
2,500 children covered
17.5 per cent pre-primary enrolment in Rwanda
Dh5.2 million project
2 years duration

Youth empowerment programme

11 districts
175 schools
16,000 higher secondary students covered
50 per cent of Rwandans are under 18
Dh3,67 million project
2 years duration