Developing inclusive education standards and norms in Rwanda

Access to basic education and quality learning remains a challenge for many children with disabilities in Rwanda, but things are starting to change. The ‘Inclusive Futures in Rwanda’ project, run by Handicap International (HI) and Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) from January 2013 to March 2015, aimed to establish and apply a set of standards, tools, roles and norms for quality inclusive education. This project was one of 26 trial ‘Innovations’, funded by a wider project called ‘Innovation for Education’, set up by the UK’s Department for International Development in partnership with the Government of Rwanda.

Background
The ‘Inclusive Futures’ project sought to develop inclusive education standards, tools, roles and norms (STRNs) as a way to address the large number of out-of-school children with disabilities and the unsatisfactory learning outcomes for children with disabilities.

Project development
At a preparatory workshop, various national-level participants discussed the educational needs and challenges of children with disabilities. A national steering committee was established, chaired and led by HI and VSO, and involving the Rwandan Education Board, Ministry of Education officials, experts from the Kigali Institute of Education, international NGOs, donors and local disabled people’s organisations. The committee wrote and validated the new national STRNs. The final version − divided into policy, service and community level STRNs − was published in June 2013. The STRNs were envisaged as helping to meet Rwanda’s Education Sector Strategic Plan. This Plan advocates for free, universal inclusive education for all children, but lacks necessary implementation details.

Using everyday objects as learning materials is part of the Inclusive Pedagogical Principles Checklist © Julia McGeown/HIUK
Using everyday objects as learning materials is part of the Inclusive Pedagogical Principles Checklist © Julia McGeown/HIUK

Rolling out the STRNs
The STRNs were trialled in 24 pilot schools. Diverse activities helped stakeholders learn about and use the STRNs. Practical teacher training took place in the pilot schools. For instance, teachers were shown how to use tools such as individual education plans, carry out simple progress reports, and set up and use resource rooms. Inspectors from the Rwandan Education Board were trained to use the standards to assess classroom inclusivity during their regular monitoring. This engagement by inspectors boosted the project’s chances of sustainability. Regional HI staff were based in the District Education Board offices rather than HI offices. They helped to build capacity within those teams regarding the STRNs, and ensure that inclusive education was consistently incorporated into general education activities.

In addition to developing and rolling out the STRNs, the ‘Inclusive Futures’ project also involved: educational assessments for children with disabilities through a multi-disciplinary team; supporting and training parents’ groups and children’s inclusive education drama clubs; improving accessibility in schools; and providing initial equipment for resource rooms.

Standards, Tools, Roles and Norms: What are they?

Standards: A standard is a required level of quality. An example of a school-level standard is that “all learners with special educational needs should be able to freely access the school environment, school materials, communication, and have access to information”.

Tools: The project designed 9 pedagogical tools, including a template for an ‘Individual Education Plan’, an ‘Inclusive Pedagogical Principles Checklist’, a guide for developing a resource room, an educational assessment, and a progress record.

Roles: A paper describing the roles to be played by all education stakeholders was published as part of this project.

Norms: A norm is an expected or acceptable behaviour or action. A norm at policy level is that conditions “permit educationally disadvantaged learners to enroll, remain in and complete schooling”.

Results
An external final evaluation revealed that all 24 pilot schools using the STRNs were able to provide inclusive education for children with disabilities. In total, the schools enrolled 1,296 children with disabilities (much higher than the initial estimate of 360). Questionnaires and interviews revealed that 85% of teachers felt the STRNs were accurate and applicable in their schools.

One teacher explained that as a result of the STRN process: “In all educational programmes, including lesson planning and delivery, we [now] cater for all children’s needs in general and those with disabilities in particular. This has positively impacted on children’s enrolment rates and there is a remarkable change in performance and drop-outs”.

Including parents in the process of using the STRNs was also important for success: “In parents’ group activities, I built my self-esteem and understood disability issues. We collaborated well with school head teachers and local authorities. What was not possible [before] is now realised.” (Primary school parent)

The majority of evaluation respondents agreed that the project had a positive impact, and that using the STRNs had improved enrolment, promotion, retention and academic progress for children with disabilities and special educational needs.

Sustainability
A team of 53 trainers-of-trainers will continue supporting teacher training, in addition to the core 589 teachers already trained and using the STRNs in their daily work.

The fact that Rwandan Education Board staff played a role in defining, developing and harmonising the STRNs, and actively participated in monitoring them in pilot schools using their own inspectors, means that there is much more chance that the STRNs will continue to be used after the ‘Inclusive Futures’ project ends.

Monitoring and evaluation
There was a need for routine collection and analysis of quantitative and qualitative data, to help understand how well the STRNs were being used and with what results. Tools created for use within the project – such as the Inclusive Pedagogical Principles Checklist – enabled data about classroom inclusiveness and teachers’ methods to be collected and collated. Efforts were made to ensure that the processes for collecting and reporting data were streamlined – relevant stakeholders knew their roles and which tools to use, so that data duplication or gaps were minimised. To further ensure consistency and reliability in data collection, a joint monitoring and evaluation team was established, with representatives from the Ministry of Education, the Rwandan Education Board, the University of Rwanda’s College of Education, and HI and VSO. Regular data reports were generated within the project. These captured quantitative data on children’s ages, gender and impairments, as well as enrolment and drop-out rates, exam results (for children following the standard curricula) and other results for children who have specific targets in their IEPs.

Contact:
Vincent Murenzi, Fédération Handicap International, Rwanda Programme, BP 747 Kigali, Rwanda
Julia McGeown
Inclusive Education Technical Advisor Handicap International UK
9 Rushworth Street, London, SE1 0RB, UK Email:


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