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The global challenge to ensure there are zero out-of-school children

Rwanda has emerged from the unspeakable brutality of a genocide that swept through the country 25 years ago to become perhaps one of the most breathtaking and progressive countries on the African continent today.

This is the land of a thousand hills – le pays de mille collines – and perched high above the hard carved shadows of the terraced landscape on one of those hills is GS Gasaka school, in Nyamagabe district. Here, 11-year-old Samuel Tuyishime provides perspective as to why his country’s inclusive education policy has been so successful in nurturing the next generation.

“When the refugees came, I was a child and didn’t notice any difference between them and us,” he says. “Let them come and go to school, there is no problem going to school with refugees.”

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In a country of 12 million, Rwanda hosts 145,000 refugees, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The majority are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (76,000) and Burundi (73,000).

While some neighbouring countries also shouldering the burden of conflict have seen their citizens push back against refugees, Rwanda appears to have created an environment of relative calm. One key achievement is its inclusive educational model, which demonstrates equality and justice.

GS Gasaka school is one of several educational partnerships funded by Educate A Child (EAC), a global programme run by the Education Above All Foundation (EAA), which was set up to champion every child’s right to education. Around the world, there are still 59 million out-of-school children with no access to a quality primary education.

EAA and its partners have commitments to enrol more than 10.4 million children globally. In Rwanda alone, EAA and UNHCR have built three new schools, with 162 classrooms, and trained 1,108 teachers, enabling the enrolment of 12,984 children.

Dr Mary Joy Pigozzi, executive director of EAC, explains: “The EAA partnership with UNHCR in Rwanda is a true testament to every child’s right to access quality education. Rwanda’s inclusive policy demonstrates how a government can reach those on the fringes. We need more of this to eliminate exclusion in education.”

Based upon their successes and knowledge gained working in the field over the past seven years, EAA is now poised to work with partners in a new way that will support governments in their quest to achieve universal primary education (UPE).

Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, founder of EAA, speaking recently in a keynote address at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha, Qatar, unveiled her foundation’s vision for the future, saying: “Education Above All is launching a new strategy to be implemented in selected countries, with the aim of ensuring the number of out-of-school children in these countries reaches zero. Through doing this, we can prove that nothing is impossible if we all determine that education truly is above all.”

Some countries have been close to UPE for a long time and they need to be able to reach this goal. Public investment that subsidises pro-poor policies and using the knowledge and experience of local and international partners are among the basic elements required to build an education system capable of enabling zero out-of-school children.

This strategy is not about big numbers; it’s a strategy about the very hardest to reach. EAA is a catalyst for change, extending its hand to countries willing to take on the challenge to go that last mile, to get to zero. Those who accept will do so knowing that successful partnerships like those in Rwanda exist, are proven to transform lives, and can bring about the change we need. One child out of school is one child too many.

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