At least 30 private secondary schools in Rwanda closed down at the beginning of 2017 and more are likely to fall in the peril as student enrolment dramatically reduces.
Private schools started losing students in favour of public schools in 2009 when the government introduced free-of-charge Nine-Year Basic Education which extended to 12-Year Basic Education (12YBE) in 2012 to help provide universal access.
According to Jean Marie Vianney Usengumuremyi, Chairman of Private Schools Association, only government can save the struggling schools by subsidising them, the idea that government has always rejected.
He said the association which once counted over 200 members, remains with slightly over 100 and 70% of them are struggling to stay afloat.
Isaac Munyakazi, the Minister of State in charge of Primary and Secondary Education, told IGIHE on Thursday that he has not received any report on the problems of private schools but encouraged them to offer better education than public schools do in order to win a good number of students.
However, prior to appointment of Munyakazi in the docket in October 2016, Usengumuremyi said the association reported to and held talks with the Ministry of Education (Mineduc) in 2015 and later received a letter from the Minister advising them not to expect government support, something which seriously discouraged private school owners.
“Government should help with staff remunerations, offer school materials as it does for other government-aided schools because we all educate the country’s children. Introduction of 12YBE is good but government forgot of private schools’ mandate,” said Usengumuremyi.
He sharply questioned the government’s attitude towards private schools, saying the government encouraged private investors to build schools at the time the country had no means to meet education requirements while others were established by parents back in the 1980s as public schools were few.
He also suggested that government partner with owners of vacant establishments which have already phased down in re-opening them to offer Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) or other education purposes.
Most of the staggering schools belong to parents’ associations whose efforts to contribute to country’s education should be recognised instead of letting grasses cover establishments they dearly contributed for, according to Jean-Léonard Sekanyange, the headteacher of APECOM, a parents’ secondary school in Gatsibo District, Kiramuruzi Sector.
Sekanyange said APECOM used to have 1200 students but they have reduced to 250 in 2017 and are likely to reduce further every year, leaving many school facilities idle.
Government may use vacant facilities
Minister Munyakazi encouraged owners of battling private schools to contact the ministry which can take over the establishments if investors show that they are getting out without any debts attached to the schools.
“They are many other private schools faring well because they are academically performing well. Some students are still ignoring admission to public schools to pay dearly in private schools. I urge all of them to give quality education to win parents’ choice on where to educate their children,” he said, adding that a study is needed to know why some private schools lack students while others have them in abundance.
Munyakazi said that government-aided schools access support in accordance with the agreement but private investors should start a school when they are ready to compete and convince parents on why they should give them their children.
“We do recognise private schools’ contribution in our education and we help them in many ways including giving them land for establishments, free training of their personnel, inspection and examinations at no cost. We cannot go beyond that to pay their staff and school materials while we still have public schools which need renovation, materials or new facilities,” he said.
Munyakazi said vacant establishments can be used as TVET centres once they are found to be meeting the requirements while others can be used to offer basic education depending on the need in their respective areas.
Statistics from Mineduc show there are at least 1575 secondary schools in the country including 460 government owned, 1037 owned by religious communities with some of them aided by government while 178 were founded by parents and private individuals.