Transforming Learning Spaces in Rwanda
Muhanga, Rwanda
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Location:
Muhanga, Rwanda
Category:
education
Phase:
design development
Updated:
8 August 2021
Rwandan design firm GAC is partnering with TEACH Rwanda to build a demonstration school to mentor teachers from across the country, transforming education from the ground up. The design reflects evidence-based teaching philosophy- learning through play- with sustainable landscape, and engaging students in a lifelong love of learning. The project will shape the future of learning spaces, from design, to builder training, and user experience.
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Introduction
Most schools in Rwanda are forced to resort to the copy-and-memorize education style that discourages young minds from learning, and creates no incentive to stay in school – the mean attendance is 3.3 years. For over a decade, TEACH Rwanda (TR) has been mentoring teachers in Rwanda in cutting-edge educational techniques that transform the way children learn. Though familiar to many in the Global North, these are revolutionary in Rwanda: learning through play, critical thinking skills, respect for the child, and fostering curiosity and a love of learning. In that time, TR has pieced together borrowed buildings, and a few ad hoc structures that form a demonstration school. But for Rwandans, these educational practices must be seen to be believed, not just described. Architecture can make TR’s teaching philosophy tangible and visible. TR has engaged GAC to plan, design and construct spaces that dovetail with their teaching methods, making expansive education and good design accessible to all; and KTG to tell their story. TR’s interactive learning style requires unique spaces: that encourage students to get messy; give them freedom to rearrange for the best learning results; experiment with and put to practice their newly gained knowledge; and engage and care for the environment. When built, this demonstration school will become a hub of quality and affordable education and further catalyze a transformative learning culture across the country.  
TR current campus

image: Katie Garner | CC-BY-NC-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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Impact
The project is not just one demonstration school but a vital tool in the transformation of the Rwandan education system. The project will add 12 classrooms and more than double the number of children from 160 to 350 students, whilst retaining class sizes of 20-25. A new kitchen, bakery and a multipurpose room/ cafeteria will serve school lunch, and generate income to pay for scholarships. A vegetable gardens will secure food access. The teacher mentoring center will create more opportunities to share educational best practice. TR’s evidence-based, learning-through-play curriculum prepares Rwandan teachers in modern preschool teaching practices, which were required by the 2016 federal curriculum. The teaching style is so counter to the usual Rwandan education practices that it must be seen to be believed. A demonstration of lively, energetic and engaged children, practicing critical thinking skills, is the only way to convince teachers that this is attainable for Rwanda. Having seen it, teachers are willing to learn new practices that respect the child, and foster a love of learning and curiosity that will last a lifetime. Furthermore, the project team agrees that best practice education and quality design must be made accessible to all, rather than remaining the privilege of the few. As a result, the team designed the kitchen and bakery to generate income to provide scholarship opportunities. This project will transform every life it touches: teachers, builders and architects, but especially thousands of Rwandan children, present and future.
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Core team
Janet Brown, M.Ed., TEACH Rwanda (TR) Founder and President, has been advocating for high-quality early childhood education for 5 decades. She worked as an editor/consultant on early childhood education for publications and institutions before co-founding this organization and school that fosters respect for children, curiosity and a love of learning, transforming educational norms in the country. GAC is an architecture and design firm committed to making communities their primary clients, identifying the real needs of end-users, and delivering beautiful, environmentally sustainable spaces since 2008. GAC’s country director James Setzler, RA, has 15 years of experience. Strategist and communications consultant, Katie Garner (KTG Strategy) uses storytelling to distil the underlying value and impact of businesses and organizations, to help them reach a broader audience. The parties met in 2020 during GAC’s Masoro Learning and Sports Center project, with TR advising GAC on the library programming, and KTG documenting and sharing success stories. The parties coalesced around the significance of environmental sustainability as integral to social equity and economic security, and how that could be applied to a thoughtfully designed demonstration school. TR is the project owner, responsible for programming and fundraising, supported by GAC and KTG. GAC will ensure sustainable building practice: using soil blocks; planting native species whenever possible; space for builders to grow nutritious vegetables; and conduct building skills workshops that train and equip the builders.
Core team members

image: GAC/ Katie Garner | CC-BY-NC-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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Image gallery
GAC work 1

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GAC work 2

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GAC work 3

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GAC work 4

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GAC work 5

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GAC work 6

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GAC work 7

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GAC work 8

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GAC work 9

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GAC work 10

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GAC work 11

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GAC work 12

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GAC work 13

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GAC work 14

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GAC work 15

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GAC work 16

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GAC work 17

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GAC work 18

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Technical drawings
cover

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context

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masterplan

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climate

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MP ground floor

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MP upper floor

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sections

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kitchen

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classroom

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classroom

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classroom

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property fences

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sustainability diagram

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site aerial

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Help bring our project to life!

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Help bring our project to life!
Where are we now
Rotary Club has committed $62,000, 100% of the 1st phase construction of a kitchen and a bakery. TR has secured .3 hectare land for the first 2 phases and are negotiating to buy neighboring plots, total .8 hectare. GAC has completed the conceptual masterplan for the site and schematic design of the two phases. GAC will also act as contractor and train local people, especially women, in building skills and management, as we have done in all past projects. GAC owns 2 ISSB machines and has found a local brick source. We have engaged all necessary subcontractors but need a more experienced structural engineer.
An indication of our team’s capacity:
5% funding already raised
90% expertise already found
90% materials / equipment already found
100% builders already found
Finance: € 202,794
Funding is needed for Phase II, 2 classrooms and a cafeteria to serve lunch to 150 students, accommodating half the school at a time or be rented for conferences. School lunch is the only meal of the day for some children and this facility would help us meet the SDG2 No Hunger while generating income for the school (SDGs 1&7). We hope to design landscape guided by soil remediation engineer Hiro-omi Takada (see below) so we can maintain healthy ecology, combat climate crises, compost waste and achieve food security (SDGs 6, 11, 12, 13 & 15). Funding will be used to train builders and construction managers, especially women, to develop their skills to achieve equity (SDGs 3, 4, 5, 8, 9 &10).
  • Design and engineering services
  • 66,049
  • Contractors and subcontractors fees
  • 3,823
  • Building materials and equipment
  • 27,475
  • Landscape, infrastructure and sustainable energy
  • 35,549
  • Labor
  • 18,457
  • Worker training and support programs
  • 14,867
  • Legal and accounting services
  • 1,214
  • Transportation, printing, internet
  • 1,254
  • Marketting and communications
  • 1,325
  • Research, survey, evaluation and analysis
  • 1,846
  • Taxes (VAT 18%)
  • 30,935
    Skills: Technique
    Hiro-omi Takada is the director of a landscape engineering firm and NGO Chikyu-Mori (Earth Shepard) in Japan who designs healthy soil and underground waterflow, biodiverse forests and clean water, and remediates damaged ecology using his life-science and horticultural expertise. GAC hopes to invite him to train the project team in sustainable, affordable and accessible environmental management skills for rural Rwandan communities, and has secured Mr. Takada’s agreement. He has revived pre-modern Japanese techniques, and therefore, his tools and methods are low-cost and low-tech -  mortarless retaining walls, permeable drainage systems and earth plaster - and replicable in Rwanda. Mr. Takada has demonstrated the effectiveness of his methods in various municipal and private projects, and has conducted numerous workshops. Please see YouTube links here, here, and here.
    Takada's workshop

    image: vary | CC-BY-NC-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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    Stuff: Equipment & tools
    Simple one-story buildings such as toilets and kitchen can be built with Interlocking Stabilized Soil Blocks (ISSBs), an affordable alternative to fired bricks. We have 2 hand-operated ISSB machine from Ugandan company Makiga, and request 1 more. Though we will reduce the use of cement as much as we can, we request a small concrete mixer. GAC uses the construction site to train local builders. Many do not have good tools or safety kit such as shoes and helmets, because they cannot afford them. During the Masoro Learning and Sports Center project, GAC served breakfast and lunch for 400+ workers and contributed to their pension funds, not the Rwandan construction standard. In addition, we use extra construction space for builders to create nutritious vegetable gardens and invite agronomists to conduct wellness workshops. We request funding to support these needed programs for our builders.
    GAC builder programs

    image: GAC | CC-BY-NC-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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    Hands
    We would like to host volunteers who are committed to staying in Rwanda for at least 6 months. GAC has hosted many young designers in the past, locally and internationally, to learn from the builders. We would also welcome architecture students and professionals to assist in design and completing the construction drawing set. Currently, GAC has 11 volunteers from 6 countries working from afar but contributing tremendous amount of work for our Rwandan projects.
    GAC volunteers

    image: GAC | CC-BY-NC-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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    Help bring our project to life!
    Location
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