By 1994, Rwanda had less than 2000 university graduates in 30 years for an estimated population of 7.4 million.
After the genocide, Rwanda was gripped by a dreadful need for skilled manpower in every sector.
There was no surgeon, no judge, no qualified lawyers, barely no engineers, not even a professional mechanic. Even hairdressers were Congolese.
Fifteen years later, in 2008, the number of graduates had grown by ten folds, to 45,122. The population had also grown to 9.3 million.
Twenty years down the line, the population of university graduates is less than 500,000 (4.2%) in a population of 12 million people.
Yet, the minimum acceptable level for a country to attain reasonable economic growth and development should be 10%. Rwanda needs at least 1,200,000 graduates.
It would take Rwanda about 50 years to attain the minimum acceptable level. In global competitiveness, Rwanda is thus badly placed.
The country is confronted with enormous challenges such as shortage of qualified lecturers, adequate and proper infrastructure and equipment (laboratories, libraries, ICT access, etc.)
Most universities poach lecturers from one other by offering them better salaries or excessively borrow lecturers from each other.
Lecturers continuously run from one university to another. They have become academic hawkers and have no time to conduct any research.
More than 75% of lecturers with PhDs are expatriates. Most of them lack the country’s economic, cultural and political context.
The labour market, through several surveys conducted by credible firms such as the Inter-University Council for East Africa, claims 50% of graduates are “half-baked.” This, however, is across all East African universities.
For Rwanda’s case, though, “Miss Rwanda” beauty pageant competition has widely been regarded as the true mirror of the rot in Rwanda’s education sector.
In an exclusive interview, Rwanda’s Education Minister, Prof. Silas Lwakabamba, tells KTPress Editor, Magnus Mazimpaka, how he is confronting the challenges.
How do you rate education in Rwanda, regionally and globally?
We have near 100% enrollment at Primary School level and the primary school curriculum is at regional standards.
At Secondary Level the EAC has harmonized the minimum competencies at each level and Rwanda has been a full part of this process.
Despite all the challenges faced at higher education, Rwanda also compares well regionally.
The labour market continues to express dissatisfaction with the quality of graduates produced.
The dissatisfaction of the labour market is a common problem not only in Rwanda, but also in the region and beyond.
Although many of the graduates from Higher Learning Institutions possess technical knowledge, they are not ready for employment because they are found wanting in terms of skills such as; communication, critical thinking and capacity to deal with new problems (thinking outside the box), innovation and functioning in multi-disciplinary teams.
You have been in the ministry for a short period to ensure significant changes; what have you done so far?
I am developing an extremely ambitious National ICT in Education Master Plan for Rwanda which targets to keep pace with the roll-out of the 4G LTE last mile solution and take advantage of the devices that will soon be available for schools.
To what level is Rwanda utilizing ICT as a facilitator in delivering education?
There have been initiatives at secondary education level to introduce a minimum number of 10 computers per school and there are currently about 11,000 desktops and 3,000 lap tops in Secondary and Technical and Vocational schools.
The greatest penetration has been in the One Laptop Per Child programme where more than 200,000 laptops have been distributed to 409 primary schools with around 4,500 teachers trained in ICT basics using those laptops.
There is a need to do more. The solution will include the design and provision of SMART Classrooms in schools at all levels of education.
What are the main obstacles to this vision?
The major obstacles identified pertain to: a lack of infrastructure and high costs to acquire electricity, equipment and affordable connectivity; the absence of a culture around the use of ICT; and the limited availability of digital content.
You have followed Miss Rwanda event! It has been characterized by embarrassing experiences; intellectually and poor Language command. And the blame is continuously piled on their education background. What is your view?
Indeed we recognised that some skills and competences are still low including: critical thinking, communication, confidence, and attitude.
The competency based curriculum as I mentioned previously is designed to correct this situation and we are working with higher learning institutions to improve these skills through engaging students in organising public talks, making presentations in class, and ensuring that assessment enables acquisition of cognitive abilities.
You recently decided not to rank districts and schools in terms of performance. You claim it generates unnecessary competition. Can you explain this policy?
Although competition as a result of high stakes examinations may be a source of motivation to the individual learners, it may also sometimes be used in a wrong way when the pressure is raised at the institutional level such as school or district.
Some school administrators may do all possible things including examination malpractice to have the best performing schools.
As an example, one Physics teacher in 2013 was involved in a malpractice to prove to his employers that he was efficient.
There is barely any culture of research, both academic and commercial (professional). What is the reason and what role are you playing to reverse the trend? What impact does it have on development?
It is true, the research level and publications in higher learning institutions in Rwanda is still low.
We have initiatives such as introducing a Staff PhD training program; ensuring a research based performance management system; an incentive scheme to reward and encourage research related performance; and to integrate entrepreneurship and innovation into the curriculum.
The employment policy is unfair to TVET graduates yet you want to make Rwanda’s education largely dominated (it 60%) by technical schools. Read job announcements. How do you explain this?
We recognise the strong need to assure employability of our TVET graduates. Accordingly, we are working hard to improve quality and strengthen relevance of TVET system training in Rwanda.