Private education in Rwanda’s Bugesera District reaches new heights with Edward Munyaburanga’s efforts, supported by specialist SME financier GroFin.
Private education, especially at the primary level, has an important role to play in Rwanda, with the IMF noting in its 2003 country annual report that primary education suffered from a shortage of qualified teachers, a heavy curriculum, and a lack of appropriate educational material. Having said that, the education landscape has dramatically changed since 2005, with the opening of more and more private schools that have not only succeeded in delivering quality education to students, but have also spurred public schools to move out of their comfort zone.
These insights by Edward Munyaburanga, a passionate educationist whose Highland School is being recognised as a premier educational institution in the Bugesera District, provide an interesting window into the dynamic education landscape in Rwanda.
Edward has been running Highland School for the last ten years, thus playing a key part in lifting hundreds of children into a world of empowerment. He tells us what motivated him to turn into an edupreneur (entrepreneur in the education sector) and shares his lessons learnt along this decade-long journey with other edupreneurs.
What was your motivation behind establishing Highland School?
The main objective of starting Highland school was to help the members of my community to access quality and affordable education. Previously, there were only public schools in my district and some people were forced to move to Kigali so their children could go to schools that provided quality education. After I started Highland school, this forced migration has stopped and some people have started coming back. We are even starting to see interest from parents outside of the immediate community, who are coming to Nyamata town to ensure quality education for their children.
Having previously served as the Director of Economic Development in Bugesera District, could you comment on the education landscape in Rwanda in general and Bugesera in particular?
The education landscape in Rwanda has changed dramatically since 2005. The opening of more and more private schools has revitalised the sector, even spurring public schools to move out of their comfort zone and work hard to provide quality education. Parents now enrol their children in a school based on its performance, as opposed to just taking them to the nearest school as they did in the past.
In Bugesera, the mindset of people towards quality education has greatly changed since the establishment of Highland and a few other schools that have recently come up. In the past, parents thought that as long as a child goes to school it is enough – no effort was taken to find out what benefits they were gaining from such attendance. This was partly because parents did not have any reference point for comparison. However, since Highland School has come into operation, parents have started seeing how their children are being transformed both academically and morally. Now, their perspective on education has undergone a similar transformation as they have a robust reference point for the type of education they wish their children to go through.
As the chairman and founder of the Highland School, could you tell us about the key challenges faced by edupreneurs?
Like any risk-taking venture, eduprenuership has inherent challenges but, in my case, the challenges were compounded by a few other factors as well. To elaborate, the major challenges we faced were:
1. Human resources: Rwanda was a French speaking country until 2008 when the government passed a law to make English the second official language with French becoming the third. Since then, most schools have started teaching in English instead of French but there were no English teachers. So, when we started the school, the very first challenge we faced was getting teachers who could teach in English across all subjects. We had to go outside the region to look for them which implied a higher cost of recruiting to begin with.
2. Mindset: The second challenge we faced was changing the mindset, As I said earlier, for many local residents, educating their children merely meant that they went to school and had a teacher in class! So, convincing parents to pay school fees despite free public schools wasn’t easy because for them there was no difference between one school and another. It took us three years of having less than 80 students before the mindset changed. Parents who had children at Highland started spreading the message of the vast improvement in the performance of the kids, including how eloquently their children were able to express themselves at public functions. That is
when the mindset started to change, slowly but steadily.
3. Access to finance: The business of education is, by its very nature, a capitalintensive one since it can only be imparted from standard buildings. So, after a few years of going into operation, both our cash flow and collateral were running low and no bank was willing to give us funds. This was a great impediment because, while we were renting only a small place, yet we faced a huge risk of the landlord terminating the contract which effectively meant closing the school.
Highland School has been consistently rated among top performing schools in the entire Eastern Province. What does it take to reach this level of excellence?
All businesses follow different strategies to succeed but for us, our main strategies to achieve high performance have been:
1. Working as a team: Here at Highland, all teachers from nursery onwards work as a team so students are prepared for a higher level of schooling right from the start. Moreover, teachers communicate across the board about the performance of each child as they go from class to class.
2. Constant training of teachers: Training is regularly imparted to teachers on child related topics such as trauma, counselling and parenting to help them know how best they can handle children with different attitudes and behaviours.
3. Involving parents: Many a time, parents tend to be busy and cannot make time to follow up on the education of their children which then makes such children less likely to achieve their potential. However, when we involve parents, they take time out to motivate their children and correct them where need be.
You approached GroFin for finance to construct 20 rooms, with 15 to be used as classrooms and the remaining five for common school facilities. What was your experience with GroFin over this expansion project?
My experience with GroFin has been one of the best experiences I have ever had! When I approached GroFin for funds, I had previously contacted some commercial banks, a few of which we were already banking with. However, all of them were only willing to give me just the bare funds to construct but a few classrooms because all they could see was the discrepancy between the size of the land that we had and our far grander vision of a school. As I continued to search, I heard about GroFin. There are three things that have characterised the experience I have had with GroFin since:
- GroFin considers the whole business including the entrepreneur, social impact and the business idea – not just the collateral as do commercial banks.
- They evaluate and give constructive feedback to the client on how best to improve his/her business; and
- They are flexible in disbursing the funds according to the client’s needs.
Could you tell us about the business support that GroFin extended to you, and how it has helped the school meet best practices?
GroFin has helped us a lot in the following areas:
- Financial management: Giving advice on financial management including using an accounting software, which is something we simply didn’t have previously. This has greatly improved our overall financial management capabilities.
- Market linkages: GroFin helped the school gain visibility by introducing us to other clients during breakfast meetings and other such networking events and forums.
- Standardising our infrastructure: GroFin agreed to refinance the school to allow us to construct a standard dining hall and kitchen. Their support came at a critical time for the school as the infrastructure we were using for the purposes mentioned was not acceptable by the authorities and posed great risk to our continued functioning.
How has Highland School benefited in terms of improved school facilities as well as increase in turnover, profits & employment since GroFin’s intervention?
Since GroFin’s intervention, Highland has made great progress as evidenced by the following:
1. Students: We were able to increase the number of students from 500 to now 650 (30% increase) due to the availability of more classrooms.
2. Staff and families supported: In terms of employment impact, we have increased the number of employees from 30 to 45 and most of them are from the neighbouring community. Other than our permanent employees, the construction project financed by GroFin has created jobs for more than 500 people who have benefited from receipts in excess of Rwandan francs 180 million (USD 210,000) over a year’s time. Some have been able to buy land from the money, and others have constructed houses, among just some of the uses such money has been put to.
3. Profits: In terms of profit, the increase in number of students has led to a proportional increase in profits by 15% over the previous year.
4. Community: In terms of social impact, the school has changed the image of the Nyamata town and the district in general. Now, civil servants and other middle class people have started migrating from Kigali to Nyamata because they are assured of a higher quality of education.
Finally, could you tell us how Highland School is reaching out to more students with expanded infrastructure, especially in terms of improved student to classroom ratios?
The expansion of school infrastructure has meant a lot not only in terms of increasing the number of students but more importantly, in the quality of education, imparted as it is in less crowded classrooms. The number of students per classroom has reduced from 35-40 to 25-30 which implies a corresponding improvement in the quality of education. Moreover, our students were previously studying in old classrooms which were small and poorly ventilated. Now, they are studying in new classrooms that are bigger and well ventilated, which has had a positive impact on their overall learning experience.
If you are an edupreneur in need of finance and support to run your school, please contact us at:
Telephone: +250 252 587 150/1 – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Address: Kigali Heights KG 7 Ave, 3rd Floor West Wing A, Office 4, Kimihurura, Gasabo, Rwanda
Read this article and more in issue n° 78 of Hope Magazine.