This article was written by Education Development Trust and published on the Education Development Trust website in September 2021.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in September 2020, the Rwanda Basic Education Board (REB) – in its efforts to improve the country’s school leaders – formed a learning partnership with the Education Commission, Education Development Trust, and WISE to undertake rapid research on school and system leadership during school closures and as they started to reopen for the first time.

The research results from this innovative collaboration – The Rwanda Learning Partnership: Insights on School and System Leadership During COVID-19 – released alongside an accompanying policy brief, Bridging the Evidence to Policy Gap: A Learning Partnership Approach to Research.

The learning partnership approach is an iterative process of co-designing the research, data gathering and collective reflection, and collaborative decision-making. The approach identifies “bright spots” to leverage existing solutions for system-wide change. A critical element of this approach is immediate feedback and discussion of findings as they emerge at each stage of the research (surveys, interviews, case study schools) so that responses can be made in real time to create live impact on policy and decision-making. 

Key findings from the learning partnership highlighted three main strategies used by leaders to provide continuity of learning and support during school closures and reopening:  

  1. Engaging with caregivers, communities, and other sectors

Eighty-three percent of school leaders surveyed said they worked with parents to help provide continuity of learning for students during school closures. Almost all of the leaders surveyed (85%) used engagement with community leaders as the number one way to minimise dropouts. 

  1. Collaborating with teachers and other school leaders

School leaders relied heavily on one another as a resource – 90% of school leaders surveyed engaged with a school leader organisation or network during school closures and 93% did so after reopening, sharing plans to support learners and logistical preparation for school reopening.   

  1. Tracking, sharing information, and providing targeted support 

Some schools mapped the location of the most vulnerable learners during closures, and teachers living in nearby communities provided targeted support, including provision of written materials and sexual and reproductive health support for girls. Some school leaders shared information with local authorities to facilitate follow-up for learners who did not report to school when they reopened. Some schools created forums for psychosocial support. 

This collaborative, iterative research process focused on learning by rapidly interpreting data as it was generated to provide timely insights that enabled quick responses to current needs and windows of opportunity on the ground. This approach promotes an environment where practitioners can reflect on and adapt their practice, and decision-makers can act on evidence in real time. For example, senior members of the REB and Ministry of Education met to discuss the research and consider the implications for policy. They committed to review and update the leadership standards and continuous professional development plans in light of the findings and agreed on the need to clarify leaders’ responsibilities for the wellbeing of teachers and learners, and to formalise the role of school leaders in relation to parental engagement in student learning and wellbeing.  

Education Development Trust, the Education Commission, and WISE plan to build on this Rwanda experience and are committed to embedding this approach in their research portfolios now and in the future.

“It has been a great pleasure to have worked with our partners to undertake research and generate insights to help the Rwanda Basic Education Board take forward their vision for more resilient school and system leadership. What we have learned about the process has been just as important as what we have learned about leadership – what they both have in common is a fundamental, unfailing commitment to collaboration and an ‘open-to-learning’ mindset.” Patrick Brazier , Chief Executive, Education Development Trust