Mugabekazi Julie54 cannot believe that today she is a teacher because the previous regimes denied her a chance to pursue education.
In 1968 she joined Kivumu Primary School in Kamonyi district, Southern Rwanda. Pupils had to study for six years in primary level and later get admitted to college.
However, under previous regimes that applied the quota system, it was impossible for Mugabekazi to qualify for college.
The Quota system favoured students from a particular region and ethnicity. The system discriminated against Tutsi students most of whom never studied beyond primary school level.
At the end of primary school, Mugabekazi passed the national examinations but results indicated that she had failed. She insisted on repeating form six for four consecutive times and was finally let to pass qualifying for college and enrolling at GS Scolaire Rwaza College in Northern Province.
“I was declared ‘fail’ three times,” she tells KT Press adding that “I think the ministry of education allowed me to pass after they had understood I did not want to give up”.
Mugabekazi was the first born with a sister and six brothers.
Pascal Rwayitare, a former inspector of education in former Gikongoro Prefecture, Southern Rwanda told KT Press; “At the time, then Minister of education, Aloys Nsekarije had declared that every child from nowhere could not pass the national examinations.”
Alphonse Kamali, a retired civil servant with ministry of education says the then ruling party MDR-Parmehutu, “had given us (education ministry) discriminatory guidelines.”
Under the “Quota System”, he told KT Press, MDR determined the number of students that had to pass national examinations depending on the regions they came from.
Gitarama Prefecture (Southern Province)- home to President Kayibanda Gregoire was the most favoured.
Kayibanda’s successor, President Juvénal Habyarimana in 1973 inherited the discriminative system.
The quota system also applied in scholarships disbursement. Mugabekazi was stuck when she graduated with distinction (80%) at GS Scolaire Rwaza College, Northern Province in 1982. She applied for a university scholarship for three consecutive years but was rejected.
Many other Tutsi like Mugabekazi suffered the same discrimination. “It was a dream never true for anyone from a Tutsi family to get a scholarship to study in any public school,” she says.
Education Now a Right
Determined to liberate Rwandans and ensure repatriation of all refugees, the Rwanda Patriotic Front rebels led by Paul Kagame defeated the previous government and stopped genocide which claimed a million lives of Tutsi.
The new government under the leadership of President Kagame overhauled the education sector. Today it is mandatory for every child to enroll in school.
Under the twelve year basic education initiative, Rwanda allows all children to study for free in day schools built by the community through community work -‘umuganda’.
Through the initiative, parents raise money for their children’s lunch at school avoiding any interruptions.
Such factors, according to education ministry officials, are behind increased school enrollment to over 95% today, up from 60% in 1980. Literacy levels have increased to 70% today, from 55% in 1980.
The initiative in 2012 scooped the Commonwealth Education Good Practice award, three years after the country was admitted into this organisation.
Children “From Nowhere” are Now in Best Schools
Currently Rwanda has 31 universities up from only one in 1960. Of these, 29 are privately owned resulting from a flexible and attractive investment policy.
Schools admit all age groups, including people near or in retirement like Mugabekazi, who were denied education under previous regimes.
In 2009, Mugabekazi, who had only presented a high school diploma as the only academic transcript to apply for a job, decided it was the right time to go back to school.
She enrolled at the Independent Institute of Lay Adventists-a Kigali based University.
Mugabekazi, given her tragic academic history has worked so hard scoring the highest grade beating all 500 students in her graduating class.
“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I had to efficiently exploit,” the mother of three told KT Press.
Mugabekazi, who graduated in the same year with her daughter, immediately enrolled for a master’s course in Finance.
According to education ministry, students admitted to public universities under government scholarships program increased from 3000 to 80,000 in local universities, while the number of students offered scholarship to foreign universities increased from 33 to 4000 in foreign universities. This cost the government over Rwf80 billion ($104 million) worth of scholarship.
Attaining Miraculous Goals
Beneficiaries of these government scholarships say they have witnessed miracles of their academic careers.
About 300 men and women from Gakenke district that benefited from scholarships told legislators August 3rd that they are satisfied with president Kagame’s leadership.
“Until 1994 there was no single university graduate from this district,” noted Aime Nsengiyumva.
Legislators had visited the district for consultations with residents on whether article 101 of the constitution should be amended to allow President Kagame run for another term.
Kagame’s two legal terms expire in 2017. However, over 4 million Rwandans have petitioned parliament to amend the constitution to keep Kagame as their president.
Since 2006, over 400 most brilliant students were sent to prestigious universities in USA and European regardless of their origin.
Jean Leon Iragena, one of them opted to find books for Rwandan pupils across the country, as a way of giving back to the community.
“I will keep putting my money here because majority of these people even if they would not come back physically, I think they have some common sense to want to come back to Rwanda in some form,” said President Paul Kagame.
The president has the First Lady’s backup. Through Imbuto Foundation, she also supports hundred girls to achieve secondary education.
Last week, Mugabekazi and colleagues from Kanombe sector, Kicukiro district met legislators during debates on constitution amendment.
“If it wasn’t Kagame’s love for all Rwandans, I couldn’t have studied up to this level. We want him in office until God decides,” Mugabekazi told legislators trying to convince them on why constitution should be amended.
Dealing With The Dilemma
There are still gaps in the education sector. Rwanda has less than 500,000 graduates, representing 4.2% in a population of 12 million.
For the country to attain reasonable economic transformation, it needs at least 1,200,000 million graduates (10% of population).
Government has authorised Development Bank of Rwanda (BRD) to manage scholarship loans and make an education revolving fund since September 2015. This allows a big number of students access to financing.
Professor Nelson Ijumba, the Deputy Vice chancellor for academic and research in University of Rwanda is working on a PhD program curricula.
“We shall have the PhD program in Rwanda next year,” he told KT Press. He added, “The country will start to train its own specialists.”
Bishop Smaragde Mbonyintege, the president of Roman Catholic Episcopal council that covers 60% contribution to Rwanda’s education sector says; “we cannot train elites leaving a huge community hungry of education. We need to have everyone in school, as we work on quality. It does not come overnight.”
The government has not only increased school enrollment, but also considered teachers’ wellbeing.
For Mugabekazi, “These efforts to improve our (teachers) welfare will help us get there,” she said after withdrawing money from Umwalimu Sacco- a teachers’ savings and cooperative bank.