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A brighter future for Rwanda’s girls

Twelve-year-old Claudine has returned to school in Gasabo District, Rwanda.

By Jenny Clover

KIGALI, Rwanda, 19 January 2012 – On the outskirts of Rwanda’s capital, a UNICEF-supported child-friendly school is helping to transform the way girls access education.

Rubingo Primary School, in Gasabo District, is one of 75 schools in Rwanda being overhauled with UNICEF support to become ‘child-friendly’. Child-friendly schools take a holistic approach to improving education quality in schools, including refining teaching methods, improving school infrastructure, and making sure girls feel as welcome and comfortable as their boy classmates.

Rubingo opened in 1958, but became a UNICEF-supported child-friendly school in 2004. The school has now has 1,207 pupils, 591 of whom are girls.

Claudine’s story

Twelve-year-old Claudine is a student at the school. She originally enrolled in a primary school when she was 8, but dropped out when her mother could no longer afford to educate any of her nine children. Claudine was forced to stay home to help around the house, caring for younger siblings and cultivating the land.

“I didn’t like it because it was hard work, and I had really enjoyed school,” Claudine said. Fortunately, her family was reached by a local campaign to enrol all out-of-school girls in the area.

“My mother didn’t want me to go back to study, but someone from the parent teacher association [PTA] at the school came to visit and encouraged my mother that it would be best for me to go to school and told her that I wouldn’t have to pay any fees. She accepted.”

© UNICEF/2011/Clover
Teacher Vivianne Mutarutwa helps students stay in school at Rubingo, a UNICEF-supported child-friendly school.

Claudine is now catching up in her studies at Rubingo.

“I really like going to school,” she said. “I wasn’t sure that I would ever be able to go back so I am very happy. I don’t want to leave again because I like to study and it is important. If I continue studying, maybe one day I can become a teacher.”

Increasing girls’ attendance

Rubingo Primary School – like other child-friendly schools – boasts a range of measures to encourage girls to attend school and to receive a quality education. Statistics for primary education in Rwanda show gender parity in the numbers of students enrolled, with 96 per cent of girls and 94 per cent of boys enrolled in 2010.

However, the drop-out rate, though decreasing, is still high, and girls in particular tend to miss school as they get older and more demands are placed on them at home. It is also common for girls to stay at home while menstruating because they don’t have proper sanitary supplies or because schools lack appropriate sanitation facilities – especially, UNICEF research shows, sex-separated toilets. These missed classes are reflected in exam results showing that boys still outperform girls.

To combat this, Rubingo offers free sanitary pads to girls. And with support from UNICEF, the school now has 45 new latrines with separate facilities for boys and girls, and two water tanks to provide running water.

Equality good for everyone

UNICEF child-friendly schools also feature Tuseme Clubs – ‘tuseme’ means ‘speak out’ in Swahili. These clubs encourage boys and girls to discuss personal issues each week, and members – under the direction of a supervising teacher – finds ways to help each other.

These clubs provide crucial peer support to students, and they also encourage girls, who may be under pressure to leave school, to continue their studies.

“We can try to give answers and help,” said Vivianne Mutarutwa, a teacher at Rubingo and facilitator of the school’s Tuseme Club. “Some children have to work hard at home, and we can contact the members of the PTA so they can talk to parents and give them counselling about why their children should be at school.”

And importantly, the school is helping all boys and girls realize they are all capable – and equal.

“We encourage equality between boys and girls at our school…This is good for everyone,” Ms. Mutarutwa said.


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