The decision to introduce a nine year basic education system in Rwanda could not have come at a better time. Education per se is meant to equip pupils or students with basic life survival skills.
The skills necessary for survival in the twenty first century’s world are as specific as ability to communicate ideas to other people, and as imprecise as ability to earn a living. Therefore the different subjects of specialisation in education are not just aimed at improving knowledge in those specific areas of interest but have a general aim of opening an individual’s mind to the wider world.
It is no mistake that parents have expressed some squirminess with the idea that primary leaving examinations are not the ultimate test of academic excellence as has been the case not only in Rwanda but in other East African countries.
The formal education system, having been introduced by colonialist was a break from the informal education that existed in pre-colonial times. In informal education children learnt from their elders, nature and culture as an ongoing process.
Informal education relied on oral history from elders, lullabies, children rhymes, songs laden with important lessons to be sung while collecting water from the well and songs to chase away evil spirits.
Education was a day to day activity that was not only enjoyable but deeply entrenched in the prevailing social systems and was not a separate entity from normal life as it is today.
Informal education did not threaten failure to those who failed to learn but continuously corrected its students, without subjecting them to unnecessary stress of mastering or cramming notes to regurgitate in an examination. In fact education was not done with examination as an end as it is today.
Our parents grew up when formal education fresh from being introduced by colonialist introduction was in vogue. The only way to advance in the new dispensation of employment in white collar jobs as a mark of success was through obtaining qualifications which were based on examinations.
The saying “Education is the key” was misunderstood as the key to readymade success, instead of being the door to opportunities that could bring success. In formal education, examinations have come to unfairly define the success or failure in life of an individual. Education has been turned into a burden that one must rid himself or herself by passing examinations for that purpose only.
As result you have doctors who can not treat patients, lawyers who can not utter a word in public or musicians who display more amateurishness that creativity, all who have excellent academic records in those fields.
Reading has been denigrated to that punishing routine that someone must endure to only and only pass exams, and with it, the reading culture that surprisingly was a cornerstone of colonial idea of literacy has gone down the drain with the examination culture.
The decision to allow automatic promotion of primary seven pupils from primary school to secondary school irrespective of ones grades, serves to emphasise that secondary education is not for the so-called intelligent individuals or a privilege for those who can afford to send their children to international schools.
It is a bitter pill to swallow for parents whose idea of a proper upbringing of a child is being able to afford the best schools, the best text books and the most expensive holiday classes.
That decision is telling parents to think of education outside the recommended school curricula and the different sets of national examinations. It seeks to reinforce the idea that education is simply a leveling of the ground for everybody, not an automatic passport to a life of success.
Examinations should simply be used to indicate the progress of education but should not be rope that hangs those who cannot adapt to the learning process quickly.
In western education systems the learning process is adaptive to different learning abilities of individuals as opposed to our education system which expects all individuals to learn from the same methods of learning.
With that decision, however unpalatable, the Rwanda education ministry may have with a single stroke revolutionised the education system that will in future produce more responsible, more leant citizens.