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With about 3.5 million learners across the country spending months out of school in 2020 and part of 2021, experts fear that it could have a lasting impact on education outcomes including erosion of education gains and reduced productivity.
In the latest World Bank economic update on Rwanda released last week, experts expressed concern that school closure could result in the reduction of average schooling years by up to 0.7 years for Rwandan learners.
This gap, they noted, could affect learning outcomes, completion rates, grade repetition as well as productivity of the learners.
A 2019 study by scholars David Jaume and Alexander Willén noted that studies have proved that the impact of school closures can be seen throughout life as they are likely to lead to an increase in grade repetition and, in the long run, to lower educational attainment, including lower completion of degrees at higher education levels.
Calvin Djiofack, the World Bank Senior Economist said that research from OECD countries suggests that the students in grades 1-12 affected by the closures might expect approximately 3 per cent lower incomes over their lifetimes due to lower educational attainment and lower acquisition of skills.
He said that the economic losses will be more deeply felt by disadvantaged students with indications that students, whose families are less able to support out-of-school learning, will face larger learning losses than their more advantaged peers.
The World Bank estimated that the present value of the economic losses to Rwanda may reach $55 billion. The economic losses are derived from estimates on the present value of lifetime earnings for all affected students.
Experts further note that solely reopening schools is unlikely to curb the learning losses. The World Bank called for interventions to recover learning losses to prevent permanent impacts on the opportunities of children and youth.
“This will require a combination of measures targeted at reversing learning losses such as – improved classroom assessment, focused remedial instruction and curriculum, and blended-use of in-class teaching and technology for remote learning,” the World Bank observed.
“These efforts will need clear system-level guidance and materials such as practical training for teachers and other school personnel, scripted lesson plans to enable teaching at the right level, and formative classroom assessments with stronger linkage to global competency standards.
All these efforts must be aimed towards targeted learning outcomes in reading, writing, numeracy at foundational levels, and towards market-relevant skills and positive social outcomes at higher levels of education,” the report added.
A further concern is with regard to the disruption and reduction of enrolment rates as schools resume with the interruptions likely to see fewer children returning to school, as some may have begun earning an income or feel that they are too old to return to school.
In other instances, adolescent girls who become pregnant are unlikely to resume school.
Gaspard Twagirayezu, the Minister of State for Primary and Secondary Education conceded that the education system had been impacted by the pandemic and measures to curb it.
He noted that the turn of events risks undoing some of the gains made in recent years in the education sector. However, he noted that they had picked out key lessons that will inform the efforts to build a resilient and ideal system as well as identified key gaps.
For instance, he noted that while the government had rolled out remote learning tools on various mediums including the internet, radio, TV, and cell phones, they realized that there were students who could not access the tools.
This he said has informed the government’s approach to further invest in education to improve access which will facilitate remote learning and blended learning.
Twagirayezu further noted that it was indeed true that not all learners had resumed school following the reopening adding that they have since developed a campaign and engagement at the grassroots level to address the concern.
This comes at a time when Rwanda is working to improve learning outcomes as well as ensure that the education system is fit for purpose.
In 2018, the World Bank produced the Human Capital Index whereby Rwanda scored 38 out of 100. This means that a child born in Rwanda today will be 38 per cent as productive as he or she could be if they had full education and health services.