Exploring the opportunities for learning justice: a case study of girls' educational experiences in English medium Rwandan basic education

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath


This study aims to critically explore the ways that learning in English influences Rwandan girls' educational experiences and outcomes throughout the basic education cycle. Sustainable Development Goal 4 calls on all governments to ensure that, by 2030, all children complete a basic education that is inclusive, equitable and of high quality. While much research has explored the ways that gender and the language-of-instruction separately present a challenge to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4, there is an evidence gap about girls' learning in a dominant language, such as English. This study will address this gap through a mixed-methods case study of girls' learning in Rwandan upper primary and secondary education; the years of basic education where the language-of-instruction is English.

Rwanda has been chosen as the case study as it is a country where gender parity has been achieved, if measured solely on access across the education cycle, but where girls are disadvantaged regarding measures of equity (e.g. significantly higher numbers repeating years) and quality (e.g. fewer girls passing national secondary examinations). English is the language-of-instruction from the fourth year of primary school and recent research has suggested that it is a significant barrier to learner participation and success in national examinations. It, therefore, provides an excellent case study to explore the potential ways that learning in English may be impacting on Rwandan girls' educational access, experiences and outcomes. The study will focus on girls in the final year of primary schooling (approximately 12 years old) and of lower secondary education (approximately 15 years old) - to enable snapshots of girls' experiences at these key transitional points in their basic education cycle.

The case study will be multi-level, mixed method and interdisciplinary, involving perspectives from sociology, education and applied linguistics. An initial contextualising phase will identify co-occurring trends between girls' learning metrics, gendered attitudes and the use of English Medium Instruction. This will be achieved through statistical analysis of national education statistics, household survey data (attitudinal survey responses) and girls' examination results in English (in lieu of any available national language proficiency test results). The trends identified will be triangulated through eight key stakeholder interviews with policymakers and practitioners related to girls' education and EMI. The main exploratory phase will focus on girls' experiences of learning in English, both in the classroom and other sites of learning (e.g. the home). Data from photo-linked interviewing with 48 girls from four schools, and classroom observations, will be thematically analysed to identify key inhibitors and facilitators for girls' learning in English.

A relevant learning justice framework, which brings socio-cultural theories of learning within a gender justice framing, will be developed from this analysis and its applicability will be explored with relevant stakeholders through a range of workshops (including girls, teachers and national stakeholders). It is intended that implications for a more inclusive and equitable education for all in Rwanda, and across the Global South, will be co-constructed. These will be disseminated in national and global academic and policy networks through four journal articles, conference attendance, two advocacy videos and an extended policy brief. If national policy impact is achieved, the study will ultimately improve the learning experiences and outcomes for all girls in English Medium Rwandan basic education.

Planned Impact

This study aims to improve the learning experiences and outcomes for girls in low income contexts by identifying the facilitators and inhibitors to learning for girls in English medium instruction. This will contribute significantly to the evidence base of ways to improve girls' transition through and completion of basic education with good learning outcomes and so has the potential for significant national and global impact.

1. In Rwanda, the scope for policy impact relates to the successful implementation of the Rwandan Education Sector plan by the Rwandan Ministry of Education to achieve quality basic education for all. Potential evidence of such improvement would be seen in amendments to the language-in-education and girls' education policies, reform in pre-service and in-service teacher training so that teachers are able to better support girls' educational experiences and outcomes and/or more inclusive learning support materials that girls can access in and out of the classroom. If national policy impact is achieved, the study will ultimately improve the learning experiences and outcomes for all girls in English Medium Rwandan basic education. In 2016, there were 716,972 girls enrolled in upper primary and lower secondary education. Trajectories suggest that this number will rise, and this also does not include girls of basic education age who are not enrolled in schooling. Given the paucity of evidence in Rwanda of learning strategies that can support all children to learn English and access the wider curriculum in EMI classrooms, there is also potential that findings will be relevant for the similar number of boys in basic education.

2. Further afield, findings can bring impact through the development and dissemination of more targeted and intersectional responses by bilateral agencies (e.g. the UK Department for International Development) and non-governmental organisations (e.g. the British Council) for girls' learning in EMI. If this impact is achieved, the study will make a contribution to the ultimate achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal 4 of inclusive and equitable quality basic education for all by 2030. This will have particular policy interest given the widening of basic education to lower secondary education, often a key point where girls can drop out or fail to transition to higher stages of education. If the findings show that there is a negative impact on girls of learning in English, there is also impact by adding weight to the evidence base and advocating for the importance of mother-tongued based multilingual education for the achievement of SDG4.

The potential for this national and global impact has been factored into the design of the project from its inception throughout the life cycle with key stakeholders included as: research participants (through workshops in the confirmatory phase of the project that will focus on the policy changes needed to enable the recommendations from the research); co-investigators (to enable policy impact to be centrally considered in all aspects of the research design); and members of the advisory group (engaged throughout the project to consider the ways that findings can be policy-responsive). The research will be disseminated through a tailored extended policy brief and advocacy videos where the relevance of findings for wider concerns of learning in multilingual societies and girls' education will be promoted.


10 25 50
Description We have found that learning in English - a language that most children do not fully understand - impacts girls' learning experiences and outcomes in Rwanda. We found that this happens particularly at the lower secondary education level when increased language demands intersect with gendered socio-cultural norms and barriers, such as increased household chores. We also found that English is more of a barrier for those girls who are most at risk of not passing their secondary examinations. This suggests that learning in English is impacting the potential to achieve SDG4 of quality and inclusive education for all.
Exploitation Route We envisage that it will be used to help to identify and address where language of instruction is a barrier to the completion of basic education for girls globally by major funding bodies focused on girls' education. We also anticipate that the work will be used by FCDO - in the London and Kigali offices - to develop a clearer commitment to language of instruction in their girls' education focus.
Sectors Education,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description Increased understanding of the role of language in girls' educational experiences and outcomes within the Girls Education Challenge.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Education
Impact Types Policy & public services