Private schools in Rwanda face an uncertain future amid dwindling admissions as learners increasingly enroll in public schools.
Desperate proprietors who face closure of their institutions are now asking the government to sponsor students in private schools at public rates. However, the government has rejected the idea.
More than 30 private schools are said to have closed indefinitely this year, while others are struggling to stay afloat after losing students to public schools.
School owners told Rwanda Today that even those that had managed to stay open were struggling to meet their operational costs.
“We’ve suffered a sharp decline in the number of students enroled, yet the school has accumulated debt, unpaid salaries and owes arrears to suppliers. It is not clear if the school will re-open,” said Samuel Batamba, the head teacher at College Nkunduburezi in Gakenke District.
Mr Batamba said the school used to have 900 students but now has only 80 students after it failed to attract new students while others enrolled in public schools.
Many private schools reported a two-thirds decline in student admissions at the close of 2016.
As result, the figure of those closing down keeps increasing every year according to the association of private education providers, which has over 100 members around the country.
Owners of some schools like Kabuga High School had put up the facilities for sale while others are considering converting their institutions into technical training centres.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Education, the government owns 460 out of the more than 1,575 schools in the country.
The rest are run by religious bodies with the Catholic church owning 620 schools, the Anglican church 279, Adventist church 22 and Muslim schools are at 16. Another 178 schools are run by parents’ associations and individuals.
The most affected institutions are private boarding schools.
Figures show that students in private schools decreased from 101,510 in 2012 to 79,076 last year while enrolment in public and government-aided schools almost doubled in the same period.
Evariste Nsengiyumva, manager of College de l’Espoir de Gasogi said they lost more than 500 students out of the 1,000 they had in 2014. The reduction resulted in job cuts and made most of the school facilities redundant.
“There are many empty dormitory blocs, classrooms and other facilities,” said Mr Gasogi.
Although the government’s twelve-year basic education policy was not aimed at closing private schools, officials of the Private Schools Association say the move led to the immediate collapse of many private schools since public ones became more affordable.
The Ministry of Education not only hugely invested in expanding capacity and teaching infrastructure at public schools across the country, but also introduced the school feeding programme and abolished school fees, making them more attractive to parents.
John Gasana, the Vice chairman of the Private Schools Association said competing with public schools requires huge capital investment to improve infrastructure, equipment and hiring skilled teachers, something many private schools cannot afford.
Besides, there is also pressure to introduce academic combinations that are seen as relevant to the job market.
But Mr Gasana said a number of schools owned by parents associations face an uphill struggle raising capital for the necessary upgrades.
“This cannot be easy because schools rely heavily on school fees and parents contributions. The parents on their own cannot meet the required investment the schools will not survive unless they get external funding,” he said.