An important part of any research project should be engaging research participants so that both researchers and research participants have the chance to learn and reflect together on the findings. Engaging research participants in the findings they have contributed to can also help to identify rich evidence-based solutions. However, this is something that happens too rarely.
With support from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Mastercard Foundation, we had the opportunity to share findings from our recent research on improving teaching quality in Rwandan secondary schools with education professionals who took part in the research. Through this work, we also gathered their feedback and recommendations on how to address the challenges identified in the research. After all, teachers bring critical lived experience to the debate on how best to improve the teaching and learning environment.
These findings are from research undertaken by Laterite and the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre at the University of Cambridge since 2019 as learning partners for the Mastercard Foundation’s Leaders in Teaching initiative.
This blog outlines what teachers said about the research findings, and the discussions among policy-makers and Leaders in Teaching implementing partners about how to action these teachers’ suggestions.
Educators across Rwanda share their views on research findings
In June 2022, we held five workshops across the four provinces of Rwanda with 122 secondary school teachers, school leaders and sector education officers who participated in the research. During the workshops with teachers, we presented findings across three themes:
- how student characteristics (such as gender, age or household wealth) affect their learning outcomes and trajectories
- gender inequalities among Rwandan school leaders and teachers
- what makes a good teacher and positive teaching practices.
The participants were encouraged to share their interpretation of the findings as well as recommendations they would give to policy-makers on how to address these findings. Teachers suggested a range of ways for education policy and practice to address challenges in the education sector (summarised in a short document).
For example, teachers suggested introducing initiatives that promote females in STEM so they can serve as role models for young girls, including by training teachers and parents on the equal value of girls’ education in senior grades. They recommended equipping all schools with ICT tools and laboratory materials, together with ongoing training on how to use these tools in the classroom. And they highlighted the need to revise the curriculum so that teachers can cover the material in the time allocated, especially given large class sizes.
Policy actors listen to teachers’ voices on key topics in education
We then shared these perspectives of educators at a roundtable with government officials from the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC), Rwanda Basic Education Board (REB), National Examination and School Inspection Authority, Rwanda Information Society Authority; school representatives (teachers, school leaders, sector education officers); Leaders in Teaching implementing partners; and the Mastercard Foundation.
The Honourable Minister of State responsible for Primary and Secondary Education opened the event by highlighting the importance of listening to teachers and ensuring that policy choices reflect the experience of teachers in their classrooms.
The event was a unique opportunity for teachers, school leaders and sector education officers to speak directly to education policy-makers and Leaders in Teaching implementing partners. For example, during a panel discussion, a female STEM teacher emphasised the importance of increased training targeted at women and girls on ICT and laboratory equipment as well as increased scholarships to females to bridge the gender gap in school leadership.
A male STEM teacher shared his suggestions regarding infrastructure and equipment for schools and teachers: “Teachers are very happy about the increase in salary [announced by MINEDUC in August 2022]. I want to emphasise on electricity in schools. Schools in rural areas do not have electricity to enhance quality education by using laboratory and science tools. I recommend that MINEDUC provide electricity to different schools in rural areas. Also, as there is a program of one laptop per child, it would be best to also implement this program for teachers, say one laptop per teacher. Some schools have laptops for teachers and others don’t.”
The teachers and school leaders were able to speak with the Minister about MINEDUC’s policies to address issues related to access to electricity and ICT tools, as well as the capitation grant.
Bringing teachers’ voices to the policy table
The panel broadly agreed with the teachers’ recommendations, and discussed strategies to:
- Promote girls participating in STEM at school, especially in senior grades where they are more likely to fall behind their peers. For example, the Mastercard Foundation, in partnership with the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), is supporting girls from vulnerable backgrounds to get an education by providing scholarships.
- Encourage and support women to teach STEM and pursue leadership roles to address the gender gap in this area, including by placing female STEM teachers and school leaders in schools close to their homes so they can balance work and caring responsibilities. REB is also preparing a national campaign to sensitise young women to get into STEM teaching and school leadership roles.
- Provide teachers with ICT and laboratory materials, as well as training about using these tools in teaching practice, especially among female teachers who might be less confident in this area.
- Look at existing procedures to allocate students to schools of excellence, to make them more equitable.
- Review teachers’ workloads to determine what is appropriate.
Given that our research is ongoing, we were pleased to have the chance to discuss findings with teachers and school representatives who have been actively contributing their ideas and recommendations. It was especially exciting to be able to bring some of them into a direct discussion with policy-makers to discuss priorities and actions for improving teaching in the country. We look forward to continuing with this engagement going forward.
Read the summary of the research and the Teacher Voices event in the note: Teacher Voices on teaching quality and learning outcomes in Rwanda.
More research is available on the Leaders In Teaching project page.