Rwanda Education System
Rwanda operates on a 6-3-3-4 system:
- Primary School – 6 years
- Junior Secondary School (Ordinary level) – 3 years
- Senior Secondary School (Advanced level) – 3 years
- University Bachelor’s degree – 4 years
Language: There are two official languages of instruction throughout the Rwandan educational system: Kinyarwanda in primary school (P1-P3) and English from P4 through University. French and Swahili are taught as an elective or a supplemental subject in public primary and secondary schools. Some private primary and high schools have both Francophone and Anglophone systems which use French or English, respectively, as languages of instruction at any and all grade levels. Students in these schools take either language as an elective or a supplementary subject.
Junior Secondary School: Each year, more than 90,000 Rwandan students take the national secondary Education Ordinary Level test at the end of Junior Secondary School Form 3 (9th grade) in nine subjects. If failed, a student can retake the third year or decide to join a private school.
Senior Secondary School: The majority of Rwandan students attend public boarding schools, many of which are highly competitive. There are also private secondary schools in the country. Students must take a national Secondary Education Advance Level exam to graduate. In Secondary schools advanced level, students will focus on subject combinations as follows:
Physics-Chemistry-Mathematics (PCM), Physics-Chemistry-Biology (PCB), Math-Chemistry-Biology (MCB), Math-Physics-Geography (MPG), Math-Economics-Geography (MEG), History-Economics-Geography (HEG), English-French-Kinyarwanda (EFK), English-Kiswahili-Kinyarwanda (EKK), Maths-Physics-Computer Science (MPC), History-Economics-Literature (HEL), Maths-Computer Science-Economics (MCE), Biology-Chemistry-Geography(MCG), Physics-Economics-Math (PEM), History-Geography-Literature(HGL) and Literature-Economics-Geography (LEG)
In A-Level, students still take more courses (English, for example) in addition to the main courses of their combination but these courses will not be examined in the national secondary school leaving exam.
The secondary school transcript contains a letter or percentage grade for each subject for each of three terms, for the three years of senior secondary school (equivalent to the 10th through 12th grades). Students’ Term Reports (Bulletins) contain rank in class for each subject, as well as grades for class work and end-of-term exams. The grading system is difficult: 80-100% is usually an A, a grade rarely awarded. Transcripts with all A’s are unlikely to be genuine.
At the end of Senior Secondary School (12th grade), all students take the final national exam in each of three subjects of the combinations, plus entrepreneurship and general paper. These exams are given nationwide in November each year, but the results are not available until the following March. Grading is exceptionally tough: fewer than 3% of grades are A’s, and 30% of students fail any given exam.
The grading system is shown on the reverse of the certificate. All courses are graded from A (which means maximum) through F (which means failure) except the general paper which is graded with an S. Also, the S will stand for a subsidiary pass for other subjects.
The letter grades have point values as follows: A (6), B (5), C (4), D (3), E (2), F (0), S (1). To make a weighted aggregate, each grade is multiplied by three, except the general paper, which always has a weight of 1. Currently, the maximum aggregate is 73 (calculated as follows: 18 for each of three main subjects, 18 for entrepreneurship, and 1 for general paper)
For example, a student who takes Physics-Chemistry-Mathematics (PCM) combination and has an A in Math, a B in Chemistry, a C in Physics, a D in Entrepreneurship and an S in general paper, will have an aggregate of 55 (which is calculated as follows: 6*3+5*3+4*3+3*3+1*1)
In order to receive a high school leaving certificate, a student must achieve at least three subsidiary level passes. However, admission to most higher education programs in Rwanda requires passes in at least two subjects with a minimum grade of C.
Rwandan grading system can be compared with the U.S system as follows:
A = US A; B = US B+; C = US B; D = US C+; E = US C; F = US F; Subsidiary = P.
Insufficient and unclassified students are not issued certificates diploma. The U.S. universities should not admit Rwandan students who have not attained a level C in the main subjects. Colleges should require a photocopy of the diploma or certificate and the result slip for the end of Secondary Education Advanced Level exam “A2” or “D6” bearing two signatures and stamp from the Rwanda Education Board, as well as the transcripts.
Higher Education: Rwanda’s tertiary institutions enroll over 44,000 students in undergraduate, graduate, certificate, and diploma programs in a full range of academic and professional fields.
Public Universities in Rwanda recently merged to form the University of Rwanda (UR) and former universities became colleges of the University of Rwanda:
- College of Arts and Humanities (Former National University of Rwanda in Butare)
- College of Business and Economics (Former School of Finance and Banking)
- College of Science and Technology (Former Kigali Institute of Science and Technology)
- College of Education (Former Kigali Institute of Education)
- College of Medicine and Health Sciences (Former Kigali Heath Institute)
- College of Agriculture, Animal Sciences and Veterinary Medicine (Former Higher Institute of Agriculture and Livestock in Musanze)
Currently, every college manages several departments and faculties scattered in other colleges where they used to be and this will continue for a transition period of two years. At the end of the transition, all programs will move to their related colleges.
Nine public polytechnics offer three-year Higher National Diplomas in Education, Technology, Human Health, Animal Health, and Nursing (Advanced Diploma). The Advance Diploma is not equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree, but undergraduate transfer credit can be awarded, as is also the case for Teacher Training Colleges and other tertiary non-degree programs. Several private institutions are also accredited by the High Council of Education Board (HCEB) to award Bachelor’s degrees. Private institution enrollment totals more than 13,000, a number growing due to increasing numbers of part-time students. A Bachelor’s degree is considered the basic academic level to be eligible for the Rwandan professional job market.
Rwandan university admission is highly competitive, especially in fields such as medicine, engineering, law, and pharmacy. The quality of education is considered reasonably high, despite lacking material resources. In an effort to attract international enrollment, all Rwandan universities operate on a modular, semester system. Most international students are from neighboring countries where French is dominant and want to adhere to a bilingual system.
Rwandans in the United States: Rwanda ranks among the top 5 countries in East and Southern Africa in terms of sending the highest number of students to the United States and the number increases each year. Over a five-year period, the number of Rwandan students pursuing education in the United States has increased from 465 during the 2011/12 school year, to 1,232 students in the 2017/18 school year.
Testing: Rwanda has moved to Internet-based TOEFL and tests can be done twice a month. The SAT is offered five times a year (October, November, December, May, and June) and the GRE is offered three times a year (October, November, and February). The GMAT is not offered in Rwanda because it is a computer-based. Students who want to take tests which are not available in Rwanda, or on different dates, often use Kampala, Uganda, as an alternate, as the city has several advanced centers.
Although the Embassy encourages students to demonstrate their commitment and competitiveness, we advocate the use of testing only as warranted, and discourage institutions from requiring TOEFL from students who can adequately demonstrate their English proficiency by other means.
Educational Advising: The EducationUSA Advising Center in Kigali is sponsored by the Public Affairs Section of U.S. Embassy Kigali and serves over 10,000 students per year in a wide range of programs designed to strengthen students’ readiness for U.S. higher education, broadly, as well as their application preparations. We are eager to work with U.S. higher education institutions to make it possible for more Rwandan students to enroll in the United States. Please contact the EducationUSA Advisor and refer your Rwandan applicants to us for any assistance that we can provide.
U.S. Embassy Kigali, Rwanda
We always appreciate two copies of your catalogue, viewbook, DVD, or other promotional material, if mailed through the diplomatic pouch to:
Embassy Kigali Public Affairs Section
2210 Kigali Place
Washington, DC 20521-2210
We welcome recruiting or other visits to Rwanda and can readily assemble a great audience for your presentations. Come and visit, let us treat you to some Rwandan hospitality!