Pharo Foundation empowers Rwandan schools to teach through play

By Moureen Mutiso

Pharo Schools’ Teacher Capacity-Building programme is a pioneering approach to early childhood education and development, which builds on Pharo Schools’ expertise in play-based learning. The programme was launched in 16 schools in late April with the aim of equipping preschool and primary school teachers with the pre-requisite skills for implementing play-based learning. To date, 172 teachers and 48 school leaders have already been inducted into the programme.

Who are we targeting and what are our aims?

Rwanda's education system encompasses a diverse range of schools, including public schools, international schools, and community-based schools. The TCB pilot aims at reaching out to ECD educators in public schools, community-based ECD centres, and selective primary schools. While private schools are also included, they represent a minority, accounting for only 4 out of the total 16 schools which we are training. By targeting these specific schools and focusing on ECE, our programme aims to maximise the impact on learning outcomes and child development.

The primary objectives of the TCB programme in Rwanda are to share and operationalise effective play-based approaches in order to:

  • improve the quality of teaching and the overall learner experience at the preschool and elementary levels
  • enhance the continuous professional development of teachers in basic education
  • and ultimately, improve school readiness and transition rates

Focusing on these objectives, we aim to transform the education sector in Rwanda. By prioritising the training of teachers at the ECE and lower primary levels and investing in the training of school leaders, we aim to drive lasting positive change and improve educational outcomes. We will do so with a particular emphasis on play-based learning.

What is play-based learning and why did we implement this pilot programme?

Play-based learning is an approach to teaching and learning in which children, with the support of skilled practitioners, develop knowledge and skills by actively taking part in play. The contention is that through play, children can develop social and cognitive skills, mature emotionally, and gain the self-confidence required to engage in new experiences and environments.

Through our own survey, we employed 15 indicators to assess the extent to which teachers implemented play-based pedagogy across the schools we are now working in. These showed that 82% of the primary and preschool level teachers that were observed did not exhibit proficiency in play-based pedagogical techniques. Similarly, these initial observations indicate that 81% of primary and preschool teachers exhibit deficiencies in curriculum planning and documentation skills. These deficiencies show the value that our teacher training could have.

So what does our programme consist of?

The programme includes:

  • Customized Continuous Teacher Training in Learning Through Play (LTP): Teachers receive specialized training in LTP, which enables them to effectively incorporate play-based learning into their classrooms. This training covers various aspects of play-based learning, such as its benefits, strategies, and techniques.
  • Individual Coaching and Mentoring in the Classroom: Teachers receive personalised coaching and mentoring in the classroom, enabling them to apply their new learnings effectively. This support helps teachers gain confidence in their teaching skills and improve the learning outcomes of their students.
  • Structured Follow-up through Observations of Lessons: Regular observations of lessons are conducted to assess progress and provide constructive feedback. This structured follow-up ensures that teachers receive the support they need to continuously improve their teaching practices.
  • Leadership Training: School leaders develop their leadership skills through a dedicated leadership training programme. This programme focuses on areas such as effective supervision, curriculum planning, and teacher training.
  • Community Involvement: Pharo's Teacher Capacity-Building Programme recognizes the importance of community involvement in educational initiatives. The programme includes activities to engage parents, community leaders, and other stakeholders in education. This involvement creates a broader support system for teachers and advocate for play-based learning in schools.

How is our programme going?

We are still early on in this pilot programme but Christine Osae, Head of Education at Pharo Foundation, who is currently leading the programme, already has some insights:

“In the initial stages of the teacher capacity-building project, we are already witnessing remarkable quick wins that underscore the immediate impact of our initiatives.

“Very importantly, there is now access to the Competence-Based Curriculum (CBC). At the programme's outset, it became clear that most Early Childhood Education (ECE) teachers had not been exposed to the CBC, relying instead on improvisation in their classroom practices. All preschool teachers in our programme now have access to this curriculum and have been taken through the key learning outcomes and developmental milestones.

“Furthermore, at the project's inception, teachers adhered to the traditional classroom layout, with students arranged in rows facing the front, and teachers occupying a central position. Following our training, some classes have already transitioned to a more collaborative arrangement, with teachers actively engaging with learners. One school replaced age-inappropriate furniture with mats to promote increased learner interaction.

She added that “A few teachers are already incorporating play-based strategies to create a more enjoyable and engaging learning environment. This is evident in the design of their activities, the play-based strategies they use to introduce their sessions and in their engagement with learners". Christine also observed that a growing number of teachers have embraced the utilization of outdoor learning environments as an integral part of their teaching sessions.

We have also received endorsement from the teachers and schools we are working with. Indeed, when we conducted our soft launch at Bright School, one of our beneficiaries and a partner school, teacher Izere, said “I would like to thank Pharo Foundation for starting this initiative. In my childhood, I did not have the chance to learn through play, so this is a good chance for me to offer fun and enjoyable learning experiences to my students.”

We also talked to Mrs Evelyne Tuyisenge, the Head Teacher of Imanzi ECD centre, who said “In my capacity, I will continue to encourage teachers to pay attention to play-based learning thanks to Pharo Foundation's efforts. As a teacher, I used to think proper teaching had everything to do with students learning how to read and write, but now I see it differently and the other elements that can be brought in.”

We are proud of how this programme has begun and hope that our efforts to empower educators with play-based learning skills will result in positive outcomes for students in the long term. It is also our ambition for this pilot programme to be the beginning of a transformation of the education sector in Rwanda. With good results emerging from this programme, we can envision further educators taking our lead in recognising the value of play-based learning and empowering teachers to take their early education to the next level.