Our Every Last Child campaign in Rwanda will focus on pushing for a new deal for all children in Rwanda that ensures quality early education for all. More specifically, we are campaigning for better financing of education. Among the first steps must be the education budget increase, especially the actual spending on the earliest years of education. Eliminating fees for primary schools, mainly for the poorest children, is another important task to be carried out by government and stakeholders. The campaign also focuses on ensuring better equity in education budget allocation across districts, taking into account their socio-economic status.
The government must ensure that there is a sustained action taken and investment made to improve the quality and effectiveness of early education, building a country in which no child’s chances are determined by who they are or where they live.
Towards the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in 2015, it was and is still clear that the Government of Rwanda had done extremely well in meeting or making significant progress towards various MDG targets. Some major achievements included sustained and inclusive economic growth, expanded basic social services- (particularly in health), poverty reduction and gender empowerment among others. There is great expectation not only in the region but also globally that Rwanda will continue to be a pace setter in the implementation of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.
As the government continues to focus intensely on achieving Vision 2020 aspirations, due attention will need to be placed on Early Childhood Education for a better Rwanda. Significant progress has been experienced in the education sector in Rwanda in various ways - increase in access as reflected in enrolment and attendance rates and gender parity. Indeed, Unesco ranked Rwanda among the top three performing countries in the world for her efforts to achieve universal primary education goals.
Whereas Rwanda has made tremendous progress in increasing access to education and achieving gender parity in enrolment and attendance rates, the government will now need to focus on providing quality education that meets the needs of all children, including ensuring that the poorest children are able to overcome inherent disadvantages.
Early childhood education in Rwanda is not fee-free and this poses serious challenges to children from poor families who cannot afford the costs. This inadvertently leads to exclusion of the poorest children. According to an analysis by Ministry of Education (Mineduc) and UNICEF in 2015 for instance, Kicukiro district (one of the richest districts) has a pre-primary enrolment rate of 24.5% compared to Gisagara district (one of the poorest districts) at only 4%. Such unintended exclusion routinely deprives poor children of educational and development support that early education should deliver.
Inadequate investment in Early Childhood Education provision is partially a reflection of an already over-stretched budget. An Investment in Education study carried out by Save the Children in 2015 found that general funding to the education sector as a percentage of the national budget has significantly reduced from 21% in 2006 to 12.3% in this fiscal year (2015/2016). The analysis further noted that within the sector, investment in pre-primary and primary education has generally declined in the last eight years as a proportion of the overall education budget. Spending at the pre-primary level has been particularly low and far from meeting Mineduc's own expenditure targets.
The expansion of pre-primary classrooms in schools across Rwanda and the existence of the Early Childhood Development Policy and the associated strategic plan that aim at ensuring access to integrated health, nutritional, early stimulation and learning for all children in Rwanda are critical indicators that the Government of Rwanda recognises the need for early childhood services. This is particularly important given that the country has chosen to base its future on human capital. Early childhood development not only provides children with the best start in life but is also one of the best investments that the government of Rwanda can make towards achieving its development goals.