This month started with Rwanda celebrating its 50 years as an independent nation. The country also marked 18 years of the liberation struggle that brought an end to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. As they say, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since 1962, and 1994.
Anyone who was around back then and does not acknowledge the changes that this country has gone through is simply being stubborn or running away from a much-deserved mental check up. After independence, a lot was invested in hate-filled politics that saw some people denied an education.
The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi is what literally took the wind out of the sails when it comes to Rwanda’s education. Major education infrastructure was destroyed while Tutsi scholars and students were butchered without mercy. On the psychological front, young impressionable minds were faced with the bleak reality that those they looked up to (the educated) easily made up the numbers among the killers and those who were being killed.
A lot of work has already been done to reverse the effects of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and to start the engine that will move our education sector forward. There was an urgent need to fix the huge skills gap that the current Government inherited after 1994.
It is indeed a promising future for Rwanda now that teachers’ welfare has gradually improved. Salaries have been increased over time and although they are not likely to reach where teachers find them sufficient, the little that is available is a good start.
More schools have been built and the word ‘university’ no longer points to just one town, Huye (former Butare), as more institutions of higher learning have sprouted across the country. More importantly, the Government has introduced and continued to extend access to free basic education to cover 12 years.
Enrolment numbers are over the roof and the issue of skills gap are slowly being addressed. The question is quantity is for now, not a worrying issue however, quality remains the elephant in the room.
Like a Cricket batsman with 50 runs on the scoreboard, Rwanda will have to prioritise education if it is to hit 100 years and receive that standing ovation as a nation.
According to the country’s Vision 2020, one of the objectives is to have Rwanda as a knowledge-based economy.
The above can only be achieved if quality education stops being a slogan to throw around but one to practice all the time. A competitive education system that stresses excellence and not merely numbers is what will see Rwanda move forward and conquer the next 50 years.
All the Asian nations that have prospered since the years when they were being ranked alongside the African nations, that became hopeless along the way, have used education to move forward. South Korea and Singapore are some of the best examples.
You cannot have a country producing amazing gadgets like Samsung Galaxy SIII before your education is top notch. In other words, instead of talking about how many students have passed national exams we should be talking about the quality of that passing.
We need to devise ways of continuously improving on the quality of our graduates until a point where they are sought after by major world brands the same way great footballers are snapped up by rich football clubs.
It is this skilled - no, I mean highly skilled - labour that Rwanda will need to achieve its goals and improve the welfare of its people. Remember, a country cannot be more developed than its education system. So let us work on the education system and the rest will take shape. A lot has been done but a lot more is yet to be done.
Happy Liberation Day.