Rwanda courts Zimbabwe to plug teachers shortage

Sunday October 03 2021

Pupils in a classroom at Gahini Primary School in the Eastern Province of Rwandago, Rwanda. PHOTO | FILE

By Johnson Kanamugire

Rwanda is considering hiring teachers from Zimbabwe as the government seeks to fix longstanding skills gaps, language barriers following multiple reforms of its education sector.

While it is not yet clear how many teachers the country would source and timelines, President Paul Kagame told a joint trade and investment conference held in Kigali last week that his country needs quality teachers urgently as the two countries explore mutual beneficial business opportunities.

“I think Zimbabwe can offer us good teachers. So please work on that with a sense of urgency. Whatever number you find of quality teachers I think we can absorb because we need them. We need them urgently,” President Kagame said while addressing members of the two countries private sector groups and government delegates.

Recently, Rwanda froze all public service recruitments except for teachers as the Education Ministry works fill over 13,000 vacant teaching positions.

Schools in Rwanda reopen on October 11 amid pressure to recoup learning losses registered under the just-concluded year characterised by pandemic induced closures.

While the current shortage of teachers is partly blamed on the pandemic, which saw the sector lose a section of experienced teachers who quit the profession, the massive school infrastructure expansion since 2020 under the joint government project with World Bank necessitated over 25,000 additional teachers.


Estimated 20,000 new classrooms were created across the country.

Requests sent to Ministry of Education regarding the specific skills government seeks, to source, and the levels of education to be filled were not answered by press time.

However, having altered the official language of instruction three times over the past 12 years, from French to the native Kinyarwanda-plus-English, and to 100 percent English two years ago, stakeholders say challenges around mastery of language are still a priority for the country.

A July study by the World Bank, which documented learning poverty as a result of teaching language policies changes across countries, indicates that majority of Rwanda teachers in practice graduated from the Francophone system, and require extensive training to reach required competence to provide a good model of English usage.

Quality of education

“Despite several international and national interventions, the quality of language teaching in primary education remains weak. The Competence Based Curriculum demands a relatively rich English vocabulary which is beyond the command of most learners and many teachers,” World Bank said of Rwanda in its report dubbed Loud and Clear: Effective Language of Instruction Policies for Learning.

Rwanda has in the past sourced English language teachers from Uganda and Kenya when it switched from Francophone to Anglophone a decade ago, and since joined Commonwealth.

“English language is one of the areas Zimbabwe as an Anglophone country would help with its teachers, and this applies largely to primary and secondary levels. Even at university we need a backup, and it would be effective if the teachers stay for a long time,” opined Frank Habineza, the Green Party lawmaker.

Emmanuel Safari, chairperson of Rwanda education for all coalition said more gaps were flagged in the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) that continue to grapple with lack of both equipment and skilled instructors.

“I don’t know exactly where Zimbabwe stands in that regard, but we would wish that also be an area to consider,” he told The EastAfrican.

Rwanda’s education sector projections show government plans to use Rwf3.6 billion ($3.5 million) to offer teachers, TVET instructors and higher education lecturers’ appropriate level of skills and competencies to deliver the curriculum.

The government plans to train more than 30,000 teachers on the use of English proficiency modules and methodology.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe is lobbying Rwanda to help it regain admission into the Commonwealth as the Southern African country pushes to end nearly two decades of isolation.

Kigali will host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which was initially supposed to be held in June but was postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Minister Frederick Shava said he had been in talks with Rwanda because of its pending influential role in the Commonwealth.

“They assured us that they are keen to support us,” Dr Shava said ahead of the Rwanda-Zimbabwe Trade and Investment Summit underway in Kigali.

“The importance and relevance of this discussion lies in the fact that the next Commonwealth conference will be held in Kigali, and thereafter Kigali will be the chairman for the next year or so, so we are looking forward to that event,” he added.

“We have suggested that perhaps we could also attend the CHOGM as an observer and we hope that this would be possible.”

Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth in 2003 after the CHOGM in Nigeria suspended Harare for alleged human rights violations and electoral fraud under the regime of the late Robert Mugabe.

After President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over from Mr Mugabe following a military coup in 2017, Zimbabwe has been pushing for readmission into the body of mainly former British colonies.

In 2018, President Mnangagwa wrote to Commonwealth secretary-general Patricia Scotland expressing Zimbabwe’s willingness to return to the group.

The Commonwealth, which consists of 54 countries, initiated a four-step process to assess Zimbabwe’s suitability to regain its membership.

-       Additional reporting by Kitsepile Nyathi