In a speech President Paul Kagame delivered at the National University of Rwanda on August 23, 2009, the Head of State called for adoption of a single mindedness, attitude and determination, which are key to achieving better results in building an empowering education system. We re-produce the speech below.
Today I want to talk about the foundation of education in relation to national development. I will start by saying that our country is at an important crossroads in terms of creating a stronger and broader educational foundation for our national development – one that provides a “life-long” learning experience.
So the experience of learning does not end with the few years you spend here – after that it is expected that you will continue learning.
As Rwandans, this is the kind of education we desire because it would leave no part of our society behind – it would endow everyone with capacity, imagination, and an innovative ethos.
It would also allow people in the great mass of employers, skilled employees, professionals, artisans or creative workers to improve and enrich their lives and communities as they pursue their own calling.
I want to be clear.
There is no shortcut or alternative path to socioeconomic and cultural development – life-long education is key to individual and national prosperity.
If you look around – in our region, on the African Continent, and across the globe – the acquisition and utilisation of knowledge is what is driving the creation of prosperity.
Not only are successful nations industriously building knowledge institutions to provide them with the brain power to become economically relevant and competitive, they are also scrambling for knowledge workers wherever they may be found around the world.
Our country is no exception – and that is why we have now reached a defining moment in our development agenda, and for the education sector.
We started from an exceedingly low base a decade and a half ago – but we are making inroads in building our education sector.
Where only a few learners could hope to access basic education, we are approaching total enrolment for all school-age pupils.
Where there was only one institution of higher learning graduating a few hundred students over several decades, we now have many with a combined enrolment of tens of thousands.
Efforts to reform the technical and vocational tertiary sector are also advanced to address the severe gaps among the technician and artisan cadres that are critical for our workforce development.
But we must do more and do it faster – we have only begun the long journey to create the kind of education required for our socioeconomic transformation.
And the time for lamenting over our education problems should be left behind – this is the time to implement solutions.
Yes – we are still a low-income country with limited financial resources, but we solved even greater and more complex challenges when we were even poorer.
In the not so distant past, you are aware we faced almost insurmountable problems but we overcame them. So we stand a much better chance of dealing with the problems we are facing now.
There can be no excuse for inaction – we should not allow it if we are to continue on the path to success.
This is the time that policymakers, parents, learners, employers, employees, the young and the old –to adopt a single-mindedness attitude and determination to achieve better results in building an empowering education system.
No one should stand on the sidelines in this national endeavour.
This effort to build an education that is relevant for our needs should begin with self-reflection individually and collectively at all levels of our society.
At this university, it should be at the level or students, lecturers, the administration and others.
For national policymakers, the question to address should revolve around: how much of the many good ideas debated and adopted are implemented? Implementation is key and will be more important than ever before.
With regards to owners and heads of education institutions, how much do you concern yourselves with the quality of what you deliver to your students – beyond the numbers of learners you seek to attract?
I say this because a number of issues have been raised, including salaries – I agree. But no good salary for no good work! We have to talk about salaries and remuneration I agree, but we have to come back to the issue of quality.
For the teaching professionals, do you make enough efforts to be role models for your students by excelling in your chosen field of research and knowledge dissemination – are we an authority in a particular field relevant to Rwanda, our region or globally?
For the students, especially those in universities, how ambitious are you regarding your own academic and future professional objectives – are you an active knowledge-seeker or merely passing through a phase to acquire a job, however mediocre that may be?
How engaged are you in the development agenda that our country has set for itself – for it is your generation that will take it forward.
We no doubt have many challenges given our history and economic status – but we are also resilient people I believe, and have to confront our education difficulties with greater resolve.
With the new team at the Ministry of Education, together with other national stakeholders within and outside government, and even outside the country, we should move quickly to rethink near term as well as long-term programs of higher education in order to revitalize our tertiary sector – and begin addressing the issue of quality in particular, in addition to issues of access and numbers.
Lack of policy clarity has tended to undermine our past gains – we cannot delay the task of creating a responsive education system, including higher education as well as a vibrant technical and vocational training that plays a critical role in its own right.
I wish to emphasize this – I think by now we should have become intolerant of discrepancies in policy.
We talk of creating vibrant technical, vocational institutions but often even the few we have are tampered with by those who seek to offer other courses when it is common knowledge that these institutions are critical to the development of our country, and all other countries that have aimed to attain the development we wish for ourselves.
This confusion has roots in our own past and upbringing – a political and ideological confusion – we are stuck in colonial history and we have to get out of it.
Knowledge is the most powerful weapon against poverty and ignorance – we must pursue it relentlessly to ensure that we strengthen our communities and nation.
I ask fellow Rwandans to become engaged in rethinking our education – in particular the national policymakers who have the responsibility to increase right away the rate of implementation of the many ideas and policies that are already on hand.
Let other key stakeholders in higher education – administrators, professors, parents, professional associations, and students take a more active role in the direction of our institutions.
Let me conclude on what I may call “values of education”.
Any education system that does not impart values such as honesty, fairness, tolerance [though we need to qualify this tolerance – we should not be tolerant of just anything – we should not tolerate mediocrity, incompetence and dishonesty), prudence, self-discipline, self-reliance, compassion, and cooperation will be found wanting.
These are the values of the new Rwanda – and education has to contribute to engendering these norms.
We have to make our education the core of positive values and development – and this must empower our people to become the very best they can be in their chosen occupations, all of which should contribute to realising our vision of a united, democratic and prosperous Rwanda.
We want to be the best we can be – not trying to be others, but rather ourselves – the very best we can be.
I THANK YOU FOR YOUR KIND ATTENTION