This is one of the most important articles from the research I’ve been doing about Rwanda’s education system since I started working on this issue nearly a decade ago. The paper is titled ‘The things they learned: aspiration, uncertainty, and schooling in Rwanda’s development state.’ It draws on the passionate voices of children and teachers to look at local experiences of education policy and to consider implications for the government’s state-building project. The bottom-up perspective in the paper serves as a complement to the top-down political economy lens focused on this same issue published in World Development last year.
The title of the paper was inspired by Tim O’Brien’s classic book, “The Things They Carried” in which the author narrates the deeply personal experiences of soldiers through the material possessions they carried within them to war. Informed by this perspective, this paper offers an account of what children learned—i.e., how they thought about themselves and their futures—through their experience of school and in a context in which the future felt far from certain.
The Journal of Development Studies publishes about 11 percent of the 1,100 submissions it receives each year.
This paper, titled, ‘The political economy of primary education: Lessons from Rwanda’, was published in the August 2017 issue of World Development. The paper draws on in-depth policy analyses to better understand why education quality in Rwanda remains so low, despite the government’s strong commitment to developing the country.
World Development is the top-ranked journal development studies. It publishes about 9 percent of the 2,300 submissions it receives each year. Coverage of the article can be found here and here. The Manchester research that informed the theoretical arguments made in the paper can be found here. Study findings were presented for the Development Studies Association conference in the UK, the Comparative and International Education Society annual meeting in Canada, and for education stakeholders in Rwanda.
For the past couple of years I have done some research for the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution. I worked alongside other leading experts in education and development to develop research focused on mobilizing global efforts to improve education quality and skills acquisition. This work entailed extensive data gathering, case-study writing, and co-authoring reports, including this one on education, innovation, and skill-building for Brookings’ Global Economy and Development Program.
When it comes to the delivery of services to the poor, politics matter. This paper applies a political settlements framework to approach the study of primary education quality in Rwanda. In recent years, the government of Rwanda has received recognition for its commitment to expand education for all young people. But the drivers for improving quality have been less straightforward. Through process tracing from national to local levels, this study investigates the interests, institutions and incentives for improving the education quality. Findings suggest there was a stated commitment to educational quality on the part of the government across all levels. At the same time, the country’s decentralized system of governance has deconcentrated implementation responsibilities to local government and schools. Performance-based incentives at the local level focus on aspects of quality that are measurable — i.e., through the construction of classrooms and provision of materials — rather than on improving the capacity of the teaching workforce or tracking learning outcomes. The incentives and ideas that drive the behavior of key actors in the education sector allow us to consider the degree to which state capacity and elite commitment can be sustained.
The project was part of University of Manchester’s Effective States and Inclusive Development program. ESID is committed to deepening the understanding of governance in the developing world in ways that impact on policy and practice in order to improve people’s lives and livelihoods through development. ESID is based within Manchester’s Global Development Institute (GDI), Europe’s largest global poverty and inequality institute. ESID research is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).
The paper was published in a special issue of the journal Childhood . Titled ‘Theorizing children’s subjectivity: Ethnographic investigations in rural Rwanda,’ the paper draws on fieldwork in Rwanda to elaborate upon the concept and application of “subjectivity” in the study of children’s lives. In particular, it highlights the contradictory connotations of subjectivity—that to be a subject suggests an experience- informed awareness about one’s situation, while to be subject attends to the fact that this experience is constituted through systems of dominance and subordination. It considers this tension for how we might best study children’s aspirations.
Children’s basic education through formal schooling has been enshrined as a social good, a basic right and a pathway for the development of individuals, societies and nation-states. Many children and families have come to view the opportunity to attend school as a ticket to a better life. However, this ticket often remains far from free.
This study, published in the journal, Compare, investigated the impact of the ‘hidden costs’ of schooling in the context of Rwanda’s fee-free education policy. Findings suggest children continue to contend with a range of school-related costs that impact attendance, performance and completion. Examination fees, after-school coaching and ‘voluntary’ parent-teacher association dues were found to have serious consequences for children’s educational experience. Findings illustrate how these ‘hidden costs’ may be a key factor explaining why children do not complete their schooling once enrolled. A series of policy recommendations are offered and broader implications for children’s rights and Education For All are discussed. Click here for access to the full text.
The Rwanda Education NGO Coordination Platform (www.rencp.org) is a complicated acronym with a simple goal: to improve children’s education in Rwanda through coordinated service delivery, collaboration, and advocacy. In 2015 I led a project to look at the impact that RENCP has had on Rwanda’s education sector. The report was prepared to coincide with RENCP’s fifth anniversary to showcase its impact on education in Rwanda, to advocate for a continuing presence in government dialog, and for RENCP members to consider the road ahead. The report examines the ways RENCP has operated and the contributions it has made to the education sector, and specifically how it has worked with government to achieve shared goals toward the improvement of the sector.
In the wake of the twentieth anniversary of the genocide, Elisabeth King’s book From Classrooms to Conflict in Rwanda offers a timely and persuasive contribution to both discussions. My review of her book was published in Comparative Education Review. Drawing from Kenneth Bush and Diana Saltarelli’s seminal work (The Two Faces of Education in Ethnic Conflict [Rome: UNICEF, 2000]), King uses historical, contemporary, and comparative perspectives to illustrate how the role of education in conflict is understood to have two faces: that education at once be a driver for peace, reconciliation, and unity and also for conflict, division, and inequality. To me, the strength of her book is in her detailed historical analysis – a perspective that enriched my own scholarship. Throughout the book, King focuses on the fluid and ongoing processes of centralization and consolidation of power and the role of formal education in this process. Doing so provides insight into the continuities, transformations, and ruptures that have given rise to the contemporary Rwandan state, and offers a unique window of analysis through which to consider the emergence of the formal educational system.