Men Advance Children’s Literacy in Rural Rwanda
Involving fathers in their children’s education is a game changer, improving gender equality in the classroom and beyond
A group of parents hovers over young children during a reading session at a primary school in Gafumba, a village in the hills of northern Rwanda. The school motto reads: “A complete education for a complete person.”
Most parents in this rural community are unable to read or write, and at the school, involvement of parents — both mothers and fathers — in their children’s education is new.
Fabien Nkurunziza and Adrien Nsekerabanziare are two fathers who took to heart the task of supporting children’s reading and education. After participating in a men’s engagement training as part of the Mureke Dusome, or Let’s Read, program funded by USAID, they began to encourage other parents to support their children — girls in particular — to ensure that all children are in school and learning, and have equal opportunities.
Men play an important role in children’s education
Male engagement is critical to advancing gender equality and shifting social norms. At USAID, we know that gender equality not only liberates women from prescribed social roles and narrow stereotypes, it does the same for men. And, as evidenced by our Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy, we know it is crucial for both men and women to be fully empowered to move the needle on the path toward self-reliance.
In Gafumba, to ensure that fathers as well as mothers take part in the education of their children, these fathers have helped transform negative perceptions related to men’s involvement in children’s education and activities.
Fabien Nkurunziza said: “Men used to spend their money drinking, which caused fights and chaos at home. Through the training we received, we learned that when there’s a peaceful home, it helps children to study. Men play an important role.”
The fathers Nkurunziza and Nsekerabanzi have stepped up as community leaders to talk about gender roles with other parents and community members, and how they affect children’s learning.
“In our culture, we also thought that women were responsible for the children. Now, we help out. Helping your wife doesn’t take anything away from you as a man.” — Adrien Nsekerabanzi
Supporting Rwanda’s Progressive Education Policies
In the wake of Rwanda’s horrific genocide in 1994, the Government of Rwanda’s leaders in the education sector developed progressive policies and plans “to eliminate all the causes and obstacles which can lead to disparity in education, be it by gender, disability, geographical or social group.”
Laws and policies supporting women and vulnerable populations in Rwanda demonstrate a profound desire to protect, support and empower girls, women, and people with disabilities.
As Rwanda makes huge strides in transforming the country from an agrarian-based model to a knowledge-based economy, the Let’s Read project and other complementary programs funded by USAID in Rwanda are designed to support that vision by promoting self-reliance among children and youth through literacy and skill-building that connect youth to jobs or further educational opportunities.
Children — girls and boys — are learning to read
One community member and father, Adrien Nsekerabanzi, said it was so inspiring to see their children start to read, that the men began taking a more active role, both in the community and at home.
“We bring parents to school, and we follow up with parents whose children have dropped out of school, or who are at home when they should be in school,” he said. “We share what we learned in evening meetings and other gatherings. We tell men, ‘It’s our responsibility to help our wives.’ Women look at gender as partnership, they are happy with this change.”
The project is making a big impact. Students from Gafumba recently won a district reading competition.
“The fact that so many parents are here shows how important this reading activity is to the community,” Nsekerabanzi said.
Benefits of understanding gender and the role it plays in family and community life can be far-reaching.
“Now, our children can study better, and we don’t spend our money in bars, so we have more money to put toward our family’s needs,” Nsekerabanzi said.
About the Authors
Yolande Miller-Grandvaux is a Senior Gender Advisor, and Laura Lartigue is a Senior Communications Advisor. They both work in USAID’s Office of Education.