Several faith-based schools run by the Catholic Church risk being closed by the government in coming months over the poor state of infrastructure and school facilities.
While the government insists that the church should fund renovation of the schools or risk closure, the church says it needs help from well-wishers including the government.
While there are no definite figures about the number of Catholic schools that face closure, several head teachers who have spoken to Rwanda Today have expressed concern about the existing dilapidated infrastructure.
The school administrators are appealing for urgent help to save students from potential risks like accidents.
“Our facilities need to be revamped and we have requested that if the Catholic Church can’t find a quick solution, then they should urge parents to contribute to building one room at a time to avoid potential dangers,” said Jean Paul Safari, headmaster of Rutonde Primary school, which is one of the most affected schools in Rulindo District.
With more than 1,310 students and 19 teachers, the school relies on only 14 classrooms after three were deserted after rains and wind weakened their foundation and roofs.
Nine of the classrooms were built 50 years ago and urgently need new doors, windows and their roofs repaired among other things.
Due to the limited space, the school reported having between 55-65 students in dilapidated classrooms without proper air circulation and prone to damage from strong winds and rain.
This is a common situation in most Catholic Church-owned schools where government support is limited to paying and training teachers, and supplying teaching materials.
Schools managers told Rwanda Today their pleas for funding at respective dioceses were unsuccessful as the Catholic Church was not getting any returns from the schools.
“The church diocese told us that we are not contributing any money to it and so it was difficult to source money meant to fund maintenance,” said Gorette Umugwaneza of Lycee de Zaza.
Sister Umugwaneza said that while some parents were are unwilling or unable to provide financial support, the school managers were also struggling to upgrade school equipment like desks and computers. A factor she said was taking a heavy toll on teaching and learning.
The schools say the situation has been getting worse with the changes in the education sector, which saw enrolment figures increase sharply and the abolition of the double shift system that is under gradual implementation starting this school year.
The issues recently came to the attention of the Minister of Education Eugene Mutimura who carried out a tour of schools in Southern Province in January. He specifically assessed the quality standards of the education at the schools, among other aspects.
While at Groupe Officiel de Butare — once a famous Catholic church owned school built in the 1930s — the old infrastructure and outdated equipment caught his attention.
He warned that the school management needed to fix the infrastructure urgently, but the managers cited financial difficulties. The management of Groupe Officiel de Butare estimated Rwf1 billion ($1.1 million) was needed to fix the outdated learning facilities and ensure a conducive learning environment.
Catholic Church leaders said discussions with the government on a possible funding partnership were still on. However, the National Secretariat for Catholic Education director Janvier Nduwayezu said the talks were advancing at a slow pace.
However, officials from the Ministry of Education told Rwanda Today they were not aware about such negotiations.
The State Minister in charge of Primary and Secondary Education Isaac Munyakazi said the ministry was not going to tolerate any school — be it privately or church-owned — whose infrastructure posed safety risks for students.
He said under the existing partnership with the Catholic Church, the infrastructure rehabilitation and maintenance of the schools was solely an obligation of the owners.
Asked about whether he was aware of the Catholic Church’s plea for funding to rehabilitate the school infrastructure, he said, “I don’t know of such a discussion, and personally I have not seen the request.
“We are currently doing an assessment of the schools, after which we may decide to close those that do not meet set safety standards.”