The Rwanda Together for Early Childhood Evidence (T4ECE) country task force team, under the leadership of Save the Children Rwanda recently collected data on the quality of pre-primary classrooms. An important part of the project was the capacity building and training of government officials in collecting and using this data.  In this blog, we explore more deeply the results from this project, how this data will be used to make positive impacts on the quality of early learning, and how the team hopes this will create a shift in the culture of data communication and data use in Rwanda.

Why was this project important to Rwanda?

Expanding access to and quality of pre-primary education in Rwanda is a priority; in 2016 the Government of Rwanda began offering a one-year pre-primary education program and has developed quality-related documents such as their official Pre-primary Curriculum, Pre-primary Teachers’ Guide, and the Minimum Standards and Norms for Early Childhood Development Services in Rwanda.

However, there is limited collection of and access to data on the quality of the classroom environment to guide decision making.  While the Ministry of Education has established quality standards and has designated staff to inspect and monitor schools, the current monitoring data does not include sufficient information on the quality of teaching and learning in pre-primary classrooms.  In addition, inspection staff are normally trained on issues related to infrastructure and facilities of ECE programs and less-so on issues related to the quality of teaching and learning environment.

Under the Together for Early Childhood Evidence project, the Save the Children Rwanda team was able to expand the scope of an ongoing International Development and Early Learning Assessment (IDELA) study to 1) enhance quantitative data about the quality of pre-primary classroom environments using the IDELA Classroom Environment (IDELA-CE) tool, and 2) train government officials in how to apply the IDELA-CE and use the findings and data to improve students’ experiences and learning.

What were some of the results and findings from the study?

Government officials used the IDELA-CE tool to collect data on preprimary classroom quality in a nationally representative sample of 143 schools in all 30 districts of Rwanda. Results from the IDELA-CE observations show that, on average, classrooms have acceptable levels of classroom resources and literacy and numeracy teaching practices. The highest ratings were of interactions in the classroom – between teachers and children as well as between children. On average, preprimary classrooms in Kigali City were found to be higher quality than classrooms in the North, South and Western Provinces (no difference with Eastern Province). Higher quality classrooms were associated with the presence of more experienced teachers, longer length of support from a non-governmental organization (Save the Children, in this case), and presence of a nutrition program at the school. In addition, higher quality classrooms were associated with stronger learning and development skills for children. Resources and teaching related to literacy and numeracy, as well as interactions between teachers and children were most highly correlated with children’s skills. Classrooms rated as having poor quality were associated with particularly low student learning scores.

The project also effectively built capacity in government officials to collect and use data on pre-primary quality. For many of the government officials trained and involved in the IDELA-CE data collection, this was their first time in an ECE classroom.  Anecdotal evidence demonstrated that this experience helped them to better understand how young children learn (through play) and the challenges teachers face including a high teacher: student ratio, insufficient learning materials, and lack of required skills to support children’s learning and development, particularly for the most recently recruited teachers. The participants noted that the IDELA-CE exercise challenged government officials to re-think how they support young children’s learning and the importance of early childhood development.

One of the primary interests of the Together for Early Childhood Evidence consortium is to understand how early childhood systems can better use data to improve young children’s early learning experiences.  What is the vision for how data from this study will be used to improve Rwanda’s early childhood system?

 Prior to implementing the IDELA-CE, data on quality of preprimary classrooms in Rwanda was scarce.  Now, building on this experience and leveraging the strengthened coordination and data use by government officials, and the IDELA results can help to shape recommendations and interventions to address areas of need.  For example, as noted above results showed that quality of preprimary environments vary in different areas and regions so there is a need to invest in activities that raise the overall quality of classroom environments throughout the country, with specific focus on those regions and areas with lower levels of quality. There is especially a need to invest in the literacy and numeracy environments, as well as in overall classroom resourcing. This requires investments in both “soft” inputs, such as teacher training, and “hard” inputs, such as classroom furniture, books, and toys.

In addition, the involvement and capacity building of local officials to collect and utilize classroom-level data has helped to shape a more positive data-use culture in Rwanda.  The data has helped local education officers to better direct resources, budgets, and organize teacher training based on identified areas of need.  Recognizing the importance of quality early childhood programming and the use of data, many district officials have committed to continue including ECE classroom observation in their ongoing monitoring plans and to train other staff in their districts.

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