Thursday March 27 was a day of pomp and celebration at the National University of Rwanda as they graduated a large group of students, both under and post graduate. To the rest of the larger population, seeing the graduates dressed in their billowing gowns, the image of the national university is one of elegance, grace and sophistication. Sadly, that’s all it is; an image.
I’m a student in my final year at this ivory tower and I believe that I’ve a clear-headed mind when it comes to truly looking at the type of people the university here in Butare is churning out. I believe that a university isn’t just a place where people go to read a lot of scholarly material and later leave with a document that affirms that the recipient did just that. I believe that, in addition to reading a lot of books and gaining knowledge, a university or any higher institution of learning is also supposed to instil certain values into the students that it sends into the world.
I believe that some of the values that Rwandan universities aren’t installing are the sense of civic duty, a sense of being ‘the crème de la crème’ (and therefore acting in a way that suggests this ‘noblesse oblige’ in their daily lives), and a love of knowledge that goes beyond the students respective fields of study.
Although I’m a student at the National University of Rwanda, I think that I can accurately talk about, and criticise, the larger university system in Rwanda because, logically, if the ‘ivy league’ institution has these problems then what would one expect from the smaller institutions? A lot of the same.
You’re probably asking yourselves why in the world I’m attacking the institution that I’m part of in such a manner.
Because, I believe, what I’m trying to say is that they (the institutions) have failed in their duty to produce well rounded students, who not only have a degree, but a personality to match. A good personality isn’t a birthright; it’s taught. A sense of fair play, an ability to discern what is really important and a sense of self worth are things that are taught to young people and I honestly think that that’s what education is all about. Here is why I feel that the national high level institutions are failing in this task.
Let us look at one of the points I’ve raised; the instillation of a sense of self worth in those ‘elites’ that the universities are producing. You know that adage that says something like ‘experience is the best teacher’? Well, let’s look at the student experience here at the national university by particularly looking at living conditions. I stay in residence (on campus) and eat at the campus restaurant. I can say, with all honesty, that the conditions are appalling.
Rooms that were supposed to house two students in relative comfort house four. That’s right; a small single bed, where my large frame can barely fit, is shared between TWO students.
And the worst part? Students find that sharing normal; in fact, because I refused to do the same i.e. sharing (which is called maqui) I’m thought as being mean and arrogant. In fact it gets even worse in some halls of residence. In Fred Rwigema Hall, also known locally as Titanic, girls are stacked like sardines in a can. Bunk beds are shared and therefore, where six people are supposed to stay, twelve ladies sleep in a room that is about the size of a normal family living room. Some rooms, which are called ‘sales collectives’ are just opposite toilets. This kind of lodging is a time bomb. In these cramped quarters what would happen if there was a case of, for example, tuberculosis? There would be an epidemic.
But the sleeping arrangements aren’t the only problem. The meals given to students at the campus restaurant are poor. Not only is the food poorly cooked but unbalanced in nutritional value; there is a lot of carbohydrates but little protein, vitamins and minerals. And I will be damned if I have ever seen a fruit or two on the menu.
I don’t want to even talk about the bathrooms and toilets. What am I trying to put across? That, because students live like this, in poor conditions, they don’t have a proper sense of self worth. How can someone who lives in a pigsty think like an elite?
It’s not logical. Only when conditions improve will students feel, and therefore act, like they are special and worth something. The motto of the National University of Rwanda is ‘Illuminiatio and Salus Populi’ (light of the people). How can they be the light of the people when they live even worse than the people they are supposed to be the light of? Only when they know better can they teach people to want more than the present and aspire for a better future.