Yesterday I got back from Rwanda. I visited in my capacity as Minister for International Development, and on the final day, I opened a new school:
There’s an amazing sense of positive energy and happiness as you come in to the school I’m here to open. It’s a brilliant space filled with bright colours and content children and it’s set against the most dramatic backdrop of peaks and valleys of the Rwandan hills. It all combines in a way that makes me want to set aside my packed programme of meetings ahead and play on the swings with the children all day instead.
I’m here with Noala Skinner, Rwanda’s UNICEF representative and the Honourable Minister of State for Education, Dr Harebamungu Mathias, and we’re surrounded by a sea of little faces – I must confess that they look a little bemused about all the fuss of having so many visitors to their school, but they sit very quietly and patiently whilst the grown-ups make their speeches and officially declare their pre-school to be open.
Initiatives like this one are so important. The early years of life are crucial in a child’s development, and investing in young children can have so any benefits. As I walk round the compound and watch the children busily building houses and skyscrapers with their wooden blocks, I think about how many doors a good start in life will open for them in the future. I’m really pleased when the Minister of State for Education tells me that the Government of Rwanda has made a commitment to expanding access to pre-primary programmes across the country. The UK is helping too – the school I’m visiting today is only one of ten community based childhood facilities that we’re supporting.
During the speeches, there’s lots of formal talk about education sector plans and government commitments, but what it all really comes down to is families and teachers. The desire for children to have the best start in life is one I think will resonate with all parents, and I’m really pleased to see that many of them are joining us for the opening of the building. It’s great that they are seen as partners in the school and they’ve worked just as hard as anyone to get it all up and running. The teachers keep a close watch on the children – and without their expertise, enthusiasm and dedication, we wouldn’t be here today. Providing the foundation for learning for young children is a very specialised and important job, and one that deserves the utmost respect.
I leave the school feeling uplifted and happy. I feel very lucky to have been a part of this pre-primary. I’m sure this is where the journey starts for the leaders, professionals and politicians of Rwanda’s future.