FEATURED: Skilling Rwanda's youth

Rwanda Vision 2050 is about ensuring high standards of living for all Rwandans focussing on areas such as: quality of life; modern infrastructure and livelihoods; and transformation for prosperity. This requires: expected standards for all Rwandans; sustained food security and nutrition; universal, sustainable and reliable access to water and sanitation; affordable, sustainable, reliable and modern energy; modern and SMART cities with optimal space utilization, connected cities, broadband; green/eco-friendly; increased productivity and competitiveness; diversified tourism; high value IT and tech services/industry, to name but a few. The vision 2050 is underpinned by the National Strategy for Transformation (NST-1) which targets to establish Rwanda as a “Globally Competitive Knowledge-based Economy”. 

To meet those targets, it is essential to achieve the highest possible quality of education that imparts skills that are necessary to enable all citizens of Rwanda to build the advanced country that is envisioned to achieve.

 

Several of these skills are particularly relevant in today’s world, the 4th Industrial Revolution will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. We are living in an age of change including the way people live their lives, the way they work, and the way they communicate. The pace of change will only increase as the years go by and there is a need for an integrated and comprehensive response, involving all stakeholders from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.

 

There is a strong recognition within Rwanda relating to the importance of the building of skills in Science and Technology to the Nation’s development and economic growth.  The principles enshrined in Rwanda’s National Science Technology and Innovation Policy are to support the Promotion of Science, Technology and Scientific Research, as Rwanda “becomes a modern nation, able to generate and disseminate technological knowledge and innovation.” The policy builds upon three overarching themes namely: Knowledge Acquisition and deepening; Knowledge Creation; Knowledge Transfer; Innovation and entrepreneurship Culture.

 

It is recognised that Science, Technology and Research is a cross-cutting issue and reinforcement of Science, Technology and Research capacity is helping many of the sectors in Rwanda to achieve their objectives. Examples include but not limited to drone technology that is supporting medical supply in rural areas, livestock vaccines supply for farmers, air quality monitoring by University of Rwanda,.  Mobile &web application and Card-based cashless payment system for public transport was created and built by AC group, with genesis in one of country’s ICT incubation centres known as KLab.  

Skills in Basic Education

Many initiatives are ongoing to increase the quality of Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics education at Primary and Secondary School levels:

There is a drive to ensure the relevance of education and one major reform currently being implemented is to transform the secondary school curriculum to a competence based system with student centred learning and focusing on areas such as critical thinking, learning by doing and many other areas. The Ministry of Education is also focusing on the strengthening of ICT in Education as a solution to strengthen and improve access to a wide range of educational databases. An extremely ambitious National ICT  Master Plan for Rwanda has been developed which is targeted to build on National fibre optic backbone, and complementary 4G LTE last mile solution, throughout the whole of Rwanda taking advantage of the ICT devices produced by the Positivo-BGH factory in Rwanda. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is one of the innovative projects in basic education that aims at enhancing education through the introduction of technology in primary schools. It has enabled students to learn by doing through graphically rich, animated, interactive digital course and gaming. Through partnerships with international organisations and events such as Scratch Day, Rwandan students are truly becoming global citizens at an early age. Pupils from primary four to six and various educators in the country join on an international network of other learners, teachers and enthusiasts who use the Scratch programming platform. The Government of Rwanda, through the Ministry of Education, has been distributing OLPC laptops and tablets to primary school students in Rwanda since 2009. The program reaches 67 % of primary schools from 47 % in 2015, i.e., from 1141 to 1664 schools. OLPC laptops are being used to prepare young engineers at the same time preparing future innovators in drones and robotics programming. A showcase is a Keza Learning centre located in Kicukiro for children aged between 5 and 17. 

The use of ICT in education is considered an important strategy for achieving the transformation envisioned in Vision 2050. This is also in line with the strategic goal of the Education Sector Strategic Plan to strengthen the relevance of education and training to the labour market including the insertion of 21st century skills. The Smart Classroom is able to bring 21st century education systems to Rwanda, through the inclusion of new, relevant and ICT based technologies. The Smart Classroom is available for 55 % of secondary schools across the country.

Education Sector Strategic Plan (ESSP) stipulates that encouraging innovations in the education sector is a central element of the Ministry focus. Introducing innovative solutions to address existing challenges in the sector will act as a catalyst for achieving overall sector goals. Therefore, the Ministry of Education, initiated “Tech Enabled STEM Teaching” (TEST) program to prepare STEM graduates to meet local and worldwide engineers and scientists’ requirements. TEST program comprises teaching and learning using Virtual Realities, Gamification, and Robotics programming just to mention few of them.

In order to strengthen the English language proficiency and digital literacy through e-learning. Several main activities are ongoing including: (i) development of online courses and assessment tools for enhancement of English language proficiency and digital literacy skill development of teachers, and (ii) review and strengthening of the e-learning platform owned by REB. The language and digital literacy are very important as the medium of acquiring and transferring knowledge and skills, and the latter is transformed into business using entrepreneurship which is a cross cutting subjects to basic and TVET education. The reason being that the government is putting efforts to train teachers to help learners to apply the business knowledge, skills and attitudes acquired to seize opportunities and solve environmental, economic and social problems.

Skills in TVET

Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is seen as a main engine to support employment promotion for youth especially through development of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs). The overall objective of Rwanda’s TVET policy is to provide the economy with qualified and competitive workers. The Rwanda Polytechnic (RP) has been established to oversee the implementation of the TVET Policy, and the NST-1 targets to produce 214,000 decent and productive jobs per year taking into consideration the NST-1 strategy for the promotion of industrialization and a structural shift in Rwanda’s export base to high-value goods and services.

Examples of some innovations in the TVET Sector include: The Rwanda Coding Academy, which is a model school that aims to produce a pool of top end experts in the field of software engineering in order to address the current shortage of software developers on Rwandan market and the region. The school comes to respond to the recommendations of the Rwanda Digital Talent Policy as approved by the cabinet in April 2018. The Rwanda coding academy’s vision is to produce quality and excellence in software engineering workforce development.  Its mission is to train young talented and gifted Rwandans in software programming, promote quality and excellence in software engineering skills and to position Rwanda as a software development hub. The school is hosted at Nyabihu Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) School. The facility worth over Rwf4 billions is located in Nyabihu District and was completed early 2019. The schools has already two intakes with 60 students each.

Another example of an innovation in the TVET sector is the African Digital Media Academy (ADMA) which provides students with the skills necessary to work in all areas of the digital media industry with the same degree of talent and resources as anywhere else in the world. The Government of Rwanda established the ADMA through the Workforce Development Authority (WDA) in partnership with Pixel Corps, a world class multimedia company based the U.S. 

A Skills Development Fund (SDF) has been established to support in short term training of youth including employer-led short-term vocational training and apprenticeships, provision of labor market relevant skills for out-of-school youth, and rapid-response training to address skills gaps experienced by enterprises. During 2018 a total of 4,567 youth were trained under the SDF and a further 9,550 in 2019.

In a bid to strengthen the quality of teaching in TVET 40% of TVET trainers were trained and certified in pedagogical skills in 2018/2019 by the Rwanda TVET Training Institute (RTTI).

Skills in Higher Education

The University of Rwanda was established as a merger of all public universities to help address the issues of duplication, sharing of resources and most importantly that of quality. One of the objectives is to build a research-based institution. This includes a Staff PhD training programme; an incentive scheme to reward and encourage research; and to integrate entrepreneurship and innovation into the curriculum.

Several initiatives are ongoing to strengthen the quality and relevance of engineering programmes at TVET and Higher Education levels through the DACUM process which ensures that curricula are developed in line with the needs of industry. This has been applied to date in programmes related to Energy, Transport and Logistics and Agro-processing. Strengthening of laboratories and facilities are also ongoing, including the inclusion of SMART Workshops and laboratories to ensure that students learn practical skills that will be needed once they move to industry.

Centres of Excellence (CoE) have been established, focusing on developing research capacity to address critical challenges facing Rwanda and the Region and in developing research strength and capability within the Higher Learning Institutions in Rwanda.

These include:

Partnership Institute of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP)  between the Government of Rwanda with ICTP in Trieste Italy has established an East Africa Centre for Fundamental Research based at University of Rwanda on research including High Energy Physics, Condensed Matter, and Earth System Physics including climate change and geophysics. Category Two status has been approved by the UNESCO General Assembly and this recognises the high level of programmes of EAIFR and contributes to the execution of UNESCO programmes on theoretical and experimental research and advanced training. with current 20 MSc students (including 8 Rwandan and 12 from the Region) and 6 undertaking PhD studies.

Partnership Government of Rwanda and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) of US master’s degree-granting program in Rwanda. Financial support from African Development Bank for CMUA to be the centrepiece of ICT Centre of Excellence in Kigali Innovation City. In addition to the Rwanda students, students are from 15 other African countries: Kenya; Nigeria; Uganda; Ghana; Cameroon; Zimbabwe; Ethiopia; Tanzania; Benin; Zambia; Lesotho; Burundi; Eritrea; Gambia; South Sudan and Somalia.

Ongoing collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Government of Rwanda in establishment of a world class global climate observatory. This measures Climate parameters including Green House Gases and provides capacity building in Atmospheric and Climate Science. An interim observatory is already operational with the final observatory to be established on the summit of Mount Karisimbi at an altitude of 4,507 m.

Through the World Bank Centres of Excellence (ACE II) project four proposals submitted by Rwanda were selected to be funded by the World Bank and these are:

African Centre of Excellence in Internet of Things;

African Centre of Excellence in Energy for Sustainable Development;

African Centre of Excellence for Data Sciences; and 

African Centre of Excellence in Innovative Teaching and Learning Mathematics and Science.

With the support of UNESCO a Centre of Excellence in Biodiversity & Natural Resources Management has been established, to provide knowledge-based approaches for sustainable management of the wealth of biodiversity and natural resources in the Albertine Rift region.

A regional Centre of Excellence in Health Supply Chain Management was endorsed by the EAC Sectoral Council of Ministers of Health as a teaching institution in Rwanda with partner collaborating institutions in the EAC with a vision to “to protect and improve the health of the population of the EAC partner states. “

African Institute for Mathematical Sciences – Next Einstein Initiative (AIMS-NEI) has been established in Rwanda in partnership with the Ministry of Education. One of the central programmes is an intensive one-year Masters Programme in Mathematical Sciences. 126 students have graduated since the inception with one third of students from Rwanda and two thirds from other countries in Africa;

Another initiative to strengthen Higher Education Science and Technology is the Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences Engineering and Technology (PASET). Rwanda is one of the founding members of PASET and other members include the Senegal, Ethiopia, Kenya and Cote D’Ivoire. One of the flagship programmes of PASET is the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund which includes PhD training in priority ASET disciplines anchored in African institutions. The University of Rwanda has been competitively chosen as one of the host universities for PASET. 

The infrastructure already in place and the intellectual community of educators and researchers, already running the centres, are key indicators of the foundation for the development of Rwanda’s and the region’s scientific and technological capability. 

Skilled Youth and Professionals to Support Rwanda’s Knowledge Economy

The pipeline of skills being developed at basic education, TVET, tertiary and at the Centres of Excellence will ensure quality training of a critical mass of skilled individuals who will support Rwanda’s growth potential in various sectors such as: agriculture, health, energy, transport, communications, and manufacturing. Several of the Centres of Excellence include in their mandate to provide mentorship and support to youth at various levels of education especially the African Centre of Excellence in Innovative Teaching and Learning in Maths and Science (ACEITLMS) which has programmes supporting the teaching of maths and science in basic education through the use of technology.

It is expected that this combination of scientific and practical/industrial orientation of the education sector will result in new job opportunities for the skilled youth with expertise and responsibility in linking science, technology with sustainable development in the current era of SDGs, the 4th Industrial revolution, and global challenges. This will hence put Rwanda on the right path for achieving the ambitious targets in Vision 2050 to build an advanced country with high standards of living for all Rwandans.   

This article was co-authored by Eng. Mike Hughes Advisor Science and Technology Ministry of Education; Dr Christine Niyizamwiyitira, Head of ICT in Education Department, Rwanda Education Board

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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