A recent commitment by the Rwandan government to provide equitable opportunities for poor and vulnerable households by investing in their nutrition, health care, and education is having a profound impact on the lives of many, including teachers like Angelique Ayinkamiye and the preschoolers they serve.
Rwanda has come a long way since the 1994 genocide. Strong economic growth has afforded impressive development gains and substantial improvements in living standards. Despite these advancements, the World Bank’s Human Capital Index predicted that a child born in Rwanda in 2018 would be only 37 percent as productive when she grew up as she could have been if she enjoyed full health and education.
“Starting out, it was challenging as there were few teachers. And it was very challenging to convince parents to bring their children to school,” says Angelique Ayinkamiye, a nursery teacher in Kigali, Rwanda
“They didn’t understand the importance of teaching a child in nursery or pre-primary. It brings me joy to be considered and compensated by the government, just like other teachers “, Angelique Ayinkamiye adds.
A country’s human capital—the nutrition, health care, and education that help people realize their full potential—is essential for long-term economic stability, inclusive growth, and increased resilience to crises. The Government of Rwanda has therefore accelerated efforts to provide more equitable access nationwide to critical social services. Working collectively, ministries, and agencies across the government are now delivering better and more efficient social protection, nutrition, health, and education services.
Rwanda’s National Strategy for Transformation combined a whole-of-government approach with a strong focus on people-centric policies. With support from the World Bank in the form of a three-year, US$525 million development policy financing series, Rwanda has strengthened the resilience of families, given young children a more promising start, improved learning environments for students and teachers, and provided more equitable access to quality health care services for all citizens.
Critical Interventions, Timed for Maximum Impact
The strategy followed a lifecycle approach, identifying key constraints to human capital development at various stages in a person’s life and addressing them through synergistic reforms. For example, ensuring that young children have access to nutrition assistance, medical care, and vaccinations is critical to increasing their ability to realize their full potential. To provide these services at the right time, the government worked to strengthen the capacity of local governments, allowing them to increase the share of registered births by 11 percentage points between 2020 and 2023. The government also prioritized an integrated early childhood development package, extending coverage from 19 percent to 78 percent of the target population over the course of three years. For Rwandan children, these interventions are not only benefiting their health, but also giving them a head start when they enter school.
Simultaneously, the government worked to increase the share of qualified primary and secondary teachers and improve the learning environment for children across the country. They also made access to early childhood education more affordable by bringing all pre-primary teachers on the government payroll. Pre-primary school enrollment has jumped from 30 percent in 2019 to 50 percent in 2023. These reforms have been so effective that despite long school closures due to COVID-19, Rwanda managed to return 99 percent of primary students to school and made moderate gains in enrollment into secondary school.
“Previously, parents would contribute money to school based on their ability. Teachers were not included in the government system for compensation, and relied on payments from parents,” reports Angelique Ayinkamiye. “Now, even parents in vulnerable situations know that if their children are at school and the government is taking care of them, things will go well. Our salaries have been increased and we are able to engage in activities that contribute to our development. We have improved our knowledge and working methods.”
Expanding and Strengthening the Social Safety Net
With a commitment to improving healthcare services at all levels, the government made key reforms to health sector financing in order to reach more people with community-based health insurance. By subsidizing coverage, enrollment of the poorest increased to 90.5 percent by June 2023, exceeding the government’s target. Along with increased assistance levels, these changes are particularly benefitting women and young children.
The government also implemented reforms to the social safety net that allowed it to be more responsive to the country’s human capital development needs. Between 2020 and 2023, the share of human capital-focused programs increased from 19 percent to 48 percent and the ratio of doctors has improved—growing from 1 doctor for every 8,919 people to 1 doctor for every 6,465 people. Finally, a dynamic new social registry is helping to identify poor and vulnerable beneficiaries, ensuring more people can access key social sector programs.
These reforms have served the government well, even in the face of crisis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government was able to reach more than 135,000, beneficiaries—the majority of which were female-headed households in urban areas—providing emergency cash transfers. The government is now assured that they have a social protection mechanism in place that can effectively respond to any future crises.
Working in partnership to safeguard development gains
The COVID-19 pandemic left scars on Rwanda’s economy. As compounding crises—like the slowdown in global growth, rising inflation, and the war in Ukraine—threatened to further reverse development gains, the World Bank worked in partnership to protect human capital investments. In addition to ensuring that the World Bank’s development policy financing series was closely coordinated with other development operations in the country, a synchronized approach from the International Monetary Fund helped the government retain enough fiscal space to maintain human capital programs and support recovery.
Germany’s development agency and the World Food Programme both contributed to the operationalization of Rwanda’s dynamic new social registry that is helping to identify poor and vulnerable beneficiaries. While funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria helped to subsidize the cost of community-based health insurance for the poorest households.
Coordination between the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency accelerated efforts in the education sector, helping Rwanda model best practices for the region. While a grant from the Global Partnership for Education provided the technical expertise to facilitate learning recovery in Rwanda’s schools after the pandemic.
“Systemic policy reform, by government with development partner support, is really crucial to driving positive outcomes in human capital development,” says Anna Wilson, Development Director for the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. “On education, we have made real strides on access and are now really pulling together on how we also improve the quality of education to deliver the outcomes we want.”
A brighter future
Rwanda’s resolve to ensure a better future for the next generation is paying off. With a remarkable commitment to human capital development, and the support of the World Bank, Rwanda has advanced sequenced reforms in social protection, health, nutrition, and education. These investments are having a very real impact on the lives of people across the country, especially women and children. They are ensuring a brighter future for all Rwandans and contributing to sustainable economic growth that will benefit generations to come. (End)