A Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) delegation led by Dr. Paul J. LeBlanc who is the president of the former is in Rwanda to explore a new partnership with the government in area of Artificial Intelligence in Education.
The SNHU has operations in Rwanda since 2013 offering US-based education model to students at Kepler University (in Kigali and Kiziba refugee camp campuses)- that enables youth to learn skills that offer employment opportunities to 90% students upon graduation.
This model of education is new in Rwanda and could be a benchmark for other universities in Rwanda and Africa.
KTPress’s Daniel Sabiiti (DS) spoke to LeBlanc, who attended the Kepler University graduation 2023, made a courtesy call to the Prime Minister of Rwanda Dr. Édouard Ngirente and also met with partners including the Ministry of Education to find out how much the model and would contribute to Rwanda’s education in the next 10 years.
DS: What did you discuss with the Prime Minister? I also understand you attended the Kepler University graduation this year.?
I did. We talked about two things with the Prime Minister: the graduation we had today with Kepler university, and it was an amazing experience. Lots of students are graduating, 90% of them have jobs at graduation, which is extraordinary.
So they are very proud of this ten-year partnership. It has been been a long-standing partnership.
We also talked about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and education, and we are launching a new initiative globally around AI and education. The Prime Minister is very interested in how AI will change work, change learning, change teaching and as he said “we are entering into a whole new world” so we are exploring new possibilities of partnering here in Rwanda as well.
DS: What are those new partnerships that we are talking about?
We are looking at building new platforms for learning that would give students individualized learning 24/7 teaching support that would really understand their wellness and their well-being because mental health now with young people is a very big deal at least in the United States. So, it’s a platform that uses a lot of data in order to give you a very individual and personalized experience and the first places were doing that is a new program that looks at understanding AI, using AI tools in understanding AI issues like privacy Etc.
So, we hope to be able to pilot that in April (2024) and that’s what we’ll be exploring the Ministry of Education and the Ministry technology- (Ministry of ICT & Innovation).
DS: Kepler has got operations in Kenya and South Africa. What has been your perception of the operations in Rwanda? Do you plan on expanding; do you see the program as being productive since 2013?
It has been incredibly productive and we have Partnerships as you say in other countries, and we work with Refugee Learners. Our very best results with Kepler are here in Rwanda. It is our highest performing program and that’s a testimony to their such good partners. They do great work and really robust support for our students and we want to expand that work with Kepler.
DS: How do you measure that success story in Rwanda? I was reading about Kepler graduates who get salaries above $500 per month.
Exactly. So, the thing that is most important to students as they go to university in order to create opportunities for themselves to have a better life and 90% of our students when they graduate have jobs at graduation.
That’s extraordinarily high quality in the United States by the way. Umm, so that’s probably the most important thing. If you ask students why you are doing this – they would say I want a good career, I want a good job and they’re getting those and that’s the most important measure.
Another one is what percentage of our students actually graduate if they begin, do they finish? And it is very high here in Rwanda. Almost all of our students who enrolled at Kepler will get to the finish line and will get their degree. So those are probably the two most important measurements.
There’s a third one. It’s a little bit harder to measure but I think it’s reflected in the first statistic- which is that when employers give internships to our students they want to hire them.
Like that is the most important. So, what employers are saying is we live in a world where the most important thing is not what you know, but what can you do with what you know? Can you actually do the job, your transcript, the courses you took, which university you attended may be good or not but if I can show you, as a student, that I can do the work, they want our students and that’s really been the most powerful piece, I think.
DS: Is there a plan for expanding the number of students across Africa, because there is quite a limited number of students from other African countries?
Yeah, there is. We’re trying to expand and of course, you know for a lot of our students they can only afford a little bit (10%) of what it costs to educate them. So we’re working closely with Kepler on philanthropy and other sources of funding and other programs, so with a largest program to bring American degree programs to Africa – full degree programs, but we would like to expand that number.
And We’ve just expanded to other countries as well. So we’re just started in Turkey. This is our most recent country. We’ve just agreed to increase the number in Kenya and we’re working with Kepler to see how many more students they can have, and for them they would say it’s a capacity question.
And when I started here (in Rwanda) with Kepler, it was a very small modest building, but today it’s beautiful sports facilities, an auditorium, and state-of-the-art classrooms. So we can build more physical facilities to be able to accommodate more students. So, we mentioned that in our conversation with the Prime Minister today.
DS: If you were to tell someone about Rwanda, what would you tell them and would you be willing to retire from here?
Oh! Oh, so I think Rwanda is a startling place. I think a lot of people from the global North and the West have all kinds of preconceptions about what African means and what Africa is .
And I think this is a place that confounds a lot of those perceptions. It is well run, it is orderly, it is modern.
The technical infrastructure is impressive. People are so hard-working. I was in an office yesterday and I saw this sign on the wall that said: “The problems in the continent have solutions in the continent”. In other words, what Rwanda needs is support and partnership.
I love this country and this city in particular. I have traveled all around it.
It is an amazingly rich place in terms of its natural attractions. You know, we have traveled through the chimps of the forest of our gorillas and volcanoes. I think Rwanda is the Singapore of Africa in many ways.
DS: What are your ambitions with Kepler in 10 years to come?
We can never serve enough. The need is enormous and I think now, how we can find ways to serve more students, as probably the single most important thing. We want to bring more programs.
And then what are going to be the new programs that the workforce of the future will demand because AI will change the workforce? There will be jobs to go right, there will be tens and hundreds of thousands of jobs that will be created like in America right now there are 800,000 openings for data scientists people just can’t hire enough of them fast enough.