The year 2013 in education has been an eventful one with several emerging trends and events that re-shaped and changed the course of the country’s education sector.
The year began when Rwanda had seven public universities. But it ends with just one, albeit an enormous public varsity – the University of Rwanda (UR). To the uninitiated, the UR is not connected to the former National University of Rwanda (NUR). Rather, UR is the outcome of a merger of seven different public tertiary institutions, including former NUR.
The others include former KIST, KIE, ISAE, SFB, and the Higher Institute of Umutara Polytechnic. UR may be just four months or so old but there are huge public expectations revolving mainly around its likely contribution in the area of the quality of higher education as well as research, a critical component of tertiary education.
President Paul Kagame made appointments to the administrative positions for the University of Rwanda, officially setting off the work of the newly-established university. Dr Mike O’Neal, a seasoned academic leader and former president of the US-based Oklahoma Christian University was named head of the institution.
Most of the appointees in the senior management of the university are seasoned scholars who have proven track records in the world of Academia. Prof. James McWha, who was until last year the vice-chancellor and president of the University of Adelaide, Australia, was appointed the UR vice-chancellor. The institution seeks to be a research based varsity.
This year also saw the government make a big statement with regard to its commitment to tapping into the opportunities offered by the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET), a form of education that emphasises hands-on training and practical skills as opposed to the classic education system that is often quite theoretical.
In February, President Kagame created the portfolio of the State Minister for TVET in the Ministry of Education, and appointed then Infrastructure minister Albert Nsengiyumva, into the new position. Nsengiyumva had previously headed the Workforce Development Authority (WDA), the agency in charge of overseeing the implementation of the TVET programmes.
This renewed commitment on the part of government also came with a significant increase in budgetary allocation to WDA – a whopping Rwf59.6 billion up from Rwf16.4 per cent the previous year, representing a remarkable 262 per cent increase.
In his State of the Nation Address on Monday, the President pointed out that the TVET student population grew by 15 per cent this year alone, an indication that the public is gradually embracing this system.
Of course the negative public attitudes that associated TVET to academic dwarfs or desperate school dropouts remain but this is gradually changing now that people are realising how TVET graduates are competitively employable. Through their Director General, Jerome Gasana, Workforce Development Authority says that this year they noted a 26% rise in the number of applicants who had completed high school with competitive grades.
National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) this year also received and accredited new entrants to feed the growing demand of higher learning credentials. The notable new entrants were, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, University of Kigali, and Oklahoma Christian University, bringing the number of private universities to 17.
The council, however, reassured Rwandans that they had thorough vetting processes to ensure that only those applicants with adequate infrastructure and qualified academic staff are licensed to operate and that the Council would continue to do monitor the implementation of academic programmes.
2013 will also go down as the year that Rwanda Education Board took firm steps to deal with those who had been cheating the system by sitting A’ level exams without having sat O’ level national examinations. A good number of students were caught on the wrong side of the new directive and will have no option but to go back and sit for the O level national exam.
Schools that offered the infamous ‘Candidat Libre,’ a programme that allows students who are not attending regular schools to register and prepare to sit for national examinations were shut down after it was discovered that they were operating without any form of regulation.
“We have temporally ordered them to stop and meet Rwanda Education Board officials to discuss how they can have all the requirements otherwise they can hurt the quality of education as they hardly follow the curricula and their teaching period is limited,” the State Minister in charge of Primary and Secondary Education, Dr Mathias Harebamungu explained earlier in the year.
Earlier in the year there were concerns on how safe learning institutions in the country were, especially after the occurrence of incidences of methane consumption in school, and the drowning of a student at school. One school in particular Byimana School of sciences in Ruhango District was destroyed by fire three times in a space of about 40 days.
The Education ministry reassured parents and students that there were standards and guidelines in place to ensure students’ safety. The case of Byimana was looked into by law enforcement organs and it was agreed that the school known for its good performance in science was to be rebuilt.
“Safety and security is an issue which must be considered as well as requirements for greater community access. Security is as much about creating a feeling of a secure, organised and safe environment. It is about the specifics of surveillance and supervision of access and protection against risks,” the guidelines read.
There were also private initiatives most of them on a small scale basis to further build learners capacities. Among the many ‘Girls in ICT’ an initiative by young women active in ICT stood out. The initiative reaches out to school going girls encouraging them to take interest in and pursue ICT related courses.
This year the project managed to make strides and reach out to girls all over the country and also brought new partners on board. The group of about fifteen girls ticked scheduled activities in their activity calendar including, encouraging women entrepreneurs in ICT and visiting schools to talk to girls.
Another private initiative that made an impact in learners’ extracurricular activities was Idebate, a forum that organises interschool debates with an aim to encourage students to think outside the box. The forum which took root this year, organised debates among high schools and universities and even went further to organise workshops where participants acquired public speaking and debating techniques.
The forum also took participants to Uganda to weigh themselves against schools of the neighbouring country.
All the above steps are meant to foster quality in education now that much ground has been covered as far as the education quality in the country is concerned.
If the trends and developments that emerged in 2013 are anything to go by, the 2014 academic year will be even better with more parties being involved to steer the academic progress.