Universities and other higher learning institutions in Rwanda will remain closed pending further health and preparedness assessments that would inform possible resumption of in-person classes, a cabinet meeting resolved last week.
The government shut down schools and universities in March after the first positive COVID-19 case, with an initial plan to reopen them in September. However, despite efforts to mitigate the spread of the pandemic, cases continued to increase, casting doubt on whether or not universities and schools would reopen.
So far the country has recorded 3,624 positive cases and 15 deaths, with active cases numbering 1,800, according to figures from the Ministry of Health.
“Schools [and universities] will remain closed to allow sufficient time for a further health assessment and thorough preparedness for resumption of in-person classes. Remote learning is encouraged and should be strengthened,” reads a resolution from the cabinet meeting held last Wednesday in Kigali.
Minister of Education Dr Valentine Uwamariya had indicated that the reopening of schools and universities was not likely to happen in September. “The government decided to close schools and universities because … we can’t open learning when we still have hundreds of cases daily,” she said on Rwandan television in early August.
Dr Callixte Kabera, the vice-chancellor of the University of Tourism, Technology and Business Studies and the president of the private universities’ association, said universities were expecting to reopen but would follow government guidelines.
“We were hoping to reopen soon. The Ministry of Education and the Higher Education Council had asked us to do all we could to get ready to reopen and we had submitted a report on how we should comply and prevent the spread of the pandemic,” said Kabera.
“However, we were worried as the number of cases kept growing day after day. As universities we follow the government guidelines and we will have to wait until we are allowed to resume,” he said.
Kabera said reopening would bring an end to hardship for staff at private universities, the majority of whom have not been paid during the closure.
The government created a relief fund for private companies to support affected staff to acquire loans, but Kabera said private university staff did not take advantage of such loans without knowing when universities would reopen so that they could service them.
“Getting a loan from the relief fund would mean you also have plans to service it and we did not have an idea of when this pandemic would end,” he said, adding that such loans were good for companies that resumed their activities.
He added that universities were delivering online courses and were ready to invest more in programmes to ensure courses are delivered online.
“This shows the emphasis the university is putting into online teaching and it is a good move. However, students have various issues like lack of laptops or smartphones, and limited capacity to purchase internet,” said Francois Uwizeye, a student from the University of Rwanda’s College of Economics and Business.
There are over 30 universities and higher learning institutions around the country, according to the Ministry of Education.