To strengthen schools’ responses to the COVID-19 crisis, while also building their resilience, the Mastercard Foundation launched its COVID-19 Recovery and Resilience Program. As one of the implementing partners for the African leg of the programme, VVOB focusses on supporting secondary schools in Rwanda. A crucial first step was to identify the current needs which have been created by the crisis at the level of schools. Our report uncovered 5 areas for improvement that will guide our further actions. Download it in full here.
1️ -- Upgraded ICT skills
Upgrading of ICT skills was mentioned by all actors as a key need. School leaders expressed the need for a training on using ICT in education. Not only to improve and monitor teaching and learning using ICT technologies, but also to provide better support to parents on remote learning for their children. School leaders would like to know more about how data can help them to monitor and assess the performance of their school more effectively. This need for digital monitoring of schools was also expressed by district and sector officials.
Teachers also experience a clear need for more training on offering remote teaching to their students and upgrading their own ICT skills, including the use of PowerPoint, using the internet to download teaching content, using ICT in the classroom and the use of different ICT tools (computers, phones etc.) for delivering a class.
→ Upgrading the ICT skills of the education actors will be a key priority that VVOB will take up in the further re-development of the programmes for continuous professional development (CPD), in particular for improving participation in online CPD activities, which in turn will lead to improved remote teaching.
2️ -- Relevant and digital school improvement planning
The School Improvement Plan (SIP) is designed to support schools in their strategic planning. Of the visited schools, only half of the schools had a draft SIP. This was partly due to many school leaders not always seeing the relevance and usefulness of a SIP. The main challenge identified with regards to the process of elaborating a SIP was collecting and using data. The required data is often scattered among different school community members, of which some do not keep record of the needed information. While student performance data was mostly available, school performance data (such as teacher attendance or student–textbook ratio) was often lacking.
→ In collaboration with our research partner Laterite, VVOB is working on a digitised SIP tool to support school leaders in developing an accurate and data-driven plan. All information and guidelines will be found on one single platform.
3️ -- Conducive conditions for ICT infrastructure and digital literacy
School leaders generally perceive the ICT conditions for teaching and learning at their schools as conducive. However, access to the internet, devices for all students and a physical space for digital teaching and learning remains a challenge. Teachers worry about their lack of access to a laptop. Additionally, someone with sufficient knowledge of ICT that can help teaching staff with the use of ICT is clearly needed.
→ VVOB has procured 2535 laptops to boost the available ICT infrastructure for teachers to participate in online CPD. Together with this improved infrastructure, a training on Digital Literacy for Online Learning is provided to all trainees. VVOB already has evidence of the positive effects from the training, showing steep improvements in self-reported ICT skills of school leaders after a training. Prior to the training, there were gendered differences in perceived ICT skills, with female school leaders scoring themselves lower on ICT skills. Nevertheless, after training, the learning curve for female trainees was steeper than for their male colleagues and post-training the gendered differences in skills disappeared. A training can thus contribute to closing a gender gap in digital literacy among school leaders.
4️ -- Stronger communication lines for more resilience
The assessment of school resilience showed that the COVID-19 pandemic came with a lot of unforeseen challenges, such as difficulties in managing the school under strict COVID-19 measures; concerns of teachers about their own safety; difficulties with tracing down students that dropped-out and ensuring that those back in school can catch up; teacher drop-out and teacher demotivation; and the lack of communication with parents, students and teaching staff during the lockdown.
The pandemic however also led to new innovative ideas and new collaborations. Community chiefs, volunteer graduates and health centres for example support schools in becoming more resilient. The important role of smartphones, laptops and internet connectivity was also palpable: where only a handful of schools could easily switch to online learning and communication with teaching staff, the majority of schools did not have any means to continue communicating with students and parents during school closure.
→ The general ambition of VVOB is to further strengthen schools in becoming a learning organisation, through CPD of key actors in schools, also online. Connectivity, data and evidence, stakeholder relations… will become increasingly important as key aspects of CPD activities.
5️ -- Gender equity and inclusion
Special attention was paid to incorporating gender and inclusion into the discussions and interviews. A special needs school for deaf children was included in the sample and balanced participation of men and women was ensured. The latter is not easy, given the underrepresentation of women in school leadership positions and in leadership positions at the district/sector level. The needs assessment identified several gender stereotypes, hampering female teachers from getting selected for and functioning optimally in these positions. As for the students with special needs, little is done to accommodate these schools in terms of high-quality teaching and learning, as they are confronted with universal standards and examinations. The pandemic only made it more difficult for students with special needs to break the vicious cycle that many of them are in.
→ VVOB will address this by ensuring gender and inclusion are better mainstreamed in the CPD programmes. Currently, VVOB works together with the schools to identify additional female teachers that can participate in the CPD training on Educational Mentorship and Coaching.
To progress on these five identified areas, VVOB cooperates with its main partners in Rwanda: the Rwanda Educational Board, the University of Rwanda – College of Education and the Ministry of Education. Together and with the funding of Mastercard Foundation, we do not only want to better prepare learning institutions for future crises, but also for the future of education.
The needs assessment was carried out from August to October 2020. Schools had not yet reopened then. A mixed method approach was applied, with interviews and focus groups discussions complemented with a quantitative survey. For the qualitative study, 20 secondary schools from 5 districts were selected, through a sampling process striving for a balanced representation of different provinces, of urban and rural districts, of school types and an equal representation of schools with and without accessibility to ICT devices. Data of school visits to 1045 schools from 15 districts on their School Improvement Plan was also used. For the quantitative study, 149 teachers from 4 districts filled in the survey.