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The implementation of learner-centred pedagogy in Rwanda: Teachers as mediators



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Kwok, Pui Ki Patricia 


In recognition of education reform being a powerful means for change, Rwanda is chosen as a case study. Despite being devastated by the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the country has proactively undertaken reform of its education system. Education has since been valued as a central site to support various national developmental goals under Vision 2020 (Government of Rwanda, 2012). It has attempted to reimagine the purpose of education, followed by an enhancement of educational quality to deliver the valued outcomes. As a key reform effort, the competence-based curriculum (CBC) has been implemented since 2016. This curriculum also officialises the use of “learner-centred” pedagogy (LCP) as the teaching and learning approach. The envisaged goal of LCP is to engage students in more active and participatory learning experiences, which can help to cultivate competencies relevant for their futures (REB/MINEDUC, 2015).

While LCP is considered as being one of the most popular pedagogical approaches on a global level, the literature review reveals that its efficacy has been contested, particularly in the global South. Moreover, being associated with a constellation of theoretical traditions, LCP has no fixed meaning or practice. Concerns over LCP are commonly observed in low-resource contexts, where pedagogical practice is constrained by a range of challenging systemic issues. In this research, I undertook an exploration of the complex processes of the LCP reform in Rwanda. Using a qualitative approach, I adopted a vertical case study design using semi-structured interviews and classroom observations. Working with 16 teachers in four “schools of excellence” in Kigali city, 16 teacher trainers and 10 key government officials, I explored the perceptions and practices of LCP. Through undertaking thematic coding this rich data was analysed to identify themes across the data sets.

The findings suggest that LCP has varied meanings in the Rwandan context. The majority of participants shared an activity-based understanding of the concept, which required “active” participation of students in various learning activities, with teachers as “facilitators”. However, despite the subject-based variation observed in practice, as constrained by local capacity, learning in the selected Rwandan schools invariably requires strong teacher-led classroom management, and teachers remaining as the main sources of knowledge. Some participants preferred to view LCP using a content-based understanding. This pertained to focusing less on classroom activities or formats and more on teachers situating content in students’ everyday lived experience. While participants were generally hopeful about the potential of LCP, they did highlight systemic issues related to policies, instructional environment, teachers, students, and parents. These were discussed as key challenges to LCP reform efforts.

The study provides important implications for the international literature on classroom reform processes with a central focus on teaching and learning. Firstly, the findings show that a system-wide coordination is evidenced as being crucial for a successful reform. This challenges the teacher-deficit discourse about classroom practice. By engaging with Guthrie's (2018) teaching style model, I reflect on the importance of having locally relevant pedagogical practice that is compatible with the socio-cultural and material realities in any given context. His framework resonates with some participants’ suggestion to move the reform agenda forward by depolarising pedagogical models. This would help to recentre the focus of LCP on improving the learning experience for students. Lastly, recommendations are made for both policy and teacher training in the Rwandan context and beyond. Apart from providing an enabling environment for teachers, there is a specific need to develop and legitimise a range of pedagogical strategies that can be flexibly adapted to different learning objectives, student capacity and material conditions. This would ensure the curriculum objectives are not merely rhetoric of change, but rather, realistically achievable.





Singal, Nidhi


educational reform, pedagogy, learner-centred, competence-based curriculum, teachers


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge