Rwanda and the Knowledge Economy: Business Unusual?

Is there something encouragingly atypical about Rwanda’s development efforts? The simple answer is yes: Rwanda’s government is demonstrably competent and it has made resolute efforts to offer a business-friendly environment and to use foreign aid wisely.

Is there something encouragingly atypical about Rwanda’s development efforts? The simple answer is yes: Rwanda’s government is demonstrably competent and it has made resolute efforts to offer a business-friendly environment and to use foreign aid wisely.

Development indicators are improving slowly, and private investors are upbeat about prospects of doing business in the country.

Nevertheless, high hurdles remain: Rwanda’s situation as one of the poorest countries in Africa and the world is largely unchanged because its fundamental handicaps are severe and enduring.

Given the fundamentals, the government’s focus on business and tourism and its determination to make Rwanda a high-tech hub in Africa are logical paths.

Much has been done to court investors, and these efforts are widely recognized by the business community and the donors. President Paul Kagame has often and publicly acknowledged that the current heavy dependence on foreign aid will not be healthy or productive over time.

Education efforts will have to be intensified to retain pupils in school and to improve quality.

Rwanda still has a long way to go to make it into the e-readiness list, so that the development of computer literacy must be a focus of the education effort. 

Vision 2020, the Education Sector Policy, and numerous development documents highlight the promotion of science and technology in education with special attention to ICT as a core element for building the knowledge economy.

An ICT policy statement developed by the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) covers all sectors of the education system.

However, targeted interventions will also be needed to kick-start an education system with currently very low levels of scientific and technological literacy among managers, teachers and students.

Among these targeted interventions is the development of the Rwanda Education Commons, a pilot program for the Africa Education Commons that seeks to identify teacher educational needs (primarily but not exclusively around the use of ICT) and to bring together the appropriate organizational stakeholders to solve those needs in a coordinated fashion.

REC’s on-the-ground organization supported by the Global Learning Portal has already started building meaningful networks among stakeholder organizations
Other initiatives will provide a range of options for schools and families wanting to be at the forefront of developments to increase scientific and technological literacy.

A variety of approaches will encourage evaluation, learning by doing, and exchange of experience.

REC is committed to fostering a climate of collaborative innovation through its offer of training, on-line access to materials, materials adaptation and expertise in promoting on-line dialogue.

Public-private partnerships offer enormous potential to increase resources for education. However, they need to be built and managed carefully to ensure that benefit and risk are shared equally and that individual agreements do not distort national aims or divert resources from essential activities.

In addition, education personnel often lack access to the technical capacity required to effectively evaluate ICT options and proposals, some of which come from vendors or groups with vested interests.

Helping develop this capacity, and providing a forum for transparent dialogue, is important.

At the initiative of the World Economic Forum’s Global Education Alliance, a process was launched in August 2008 to bring partners together to support the national ICT policy, notably by a workshop that is the first step of a pilot programme reinforcing public-private partnerships for education.

The Rwanda Education Commons is the prototype proving ground for an Africa-wide virtual network (Africa Education Commons, AEC) conceived by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to facilitate collaboration between African education stakeholders.

REC aims to create an ICT model to connect Rwanda education stakeholders with each other and with resources, to improve access to quality education.

The Rwanda Education Commons is already making efforts to federate and support existing ICT investments for education in Rwanda. It is helping the Ministry of Education refine and program its ICT-for-education strategy.

It will support the adaptation of teaching and learning materials to the Rwandan situation as already mentioned. The technical platform for REC is in preparation, a first round of training seminars for ministry staff has begun and a calendar for training over the next year is in place.

A stakeholders’ group has been established and holds monthly meetings. In the first year, all the major mechanisms are in place to ensure REC is achieving significant impact in 2010.

The monitoring and evaluation framework developed for REC will serve as a roadmap for progress on the Commons as well as the partnerships involved.

REC is both a project and an attempt to help Rwanda in its efforts to do “business unusual” by using ICTs to compress the calendar of educational progress.

It aims to build on existing work and partnerships, to ensure that ICT for education initiatives mesh with national plans and donor agreements.

The conference bringing together all national and international stakeholders is being followed up by regular partners’ meetings in cooperation with the donor lead in education (U.K.).

To succeed, REC has to meet the usual project requirements concerning its specific aims, and participate in Rwanda’s ambition to become a high-technology hub in Africa.

Under the guidance of MINEDUC, with the collaboration of the Rwanda Development Board and the development partners, REC can leverage and build on Rwanda’s commitment to use ICTs to modernize the education system.

It can help Rwanda make the most of lessons learned by other countries and to take advantage of existing appropriate ICT-based teaching and learning materials.

By assisting the Ministry to federate partners and initiatives, it can play the role of honest broker in a fast-changing and high-pressure ICT landscape.

Dr. Robert Schware is Managing Director of GLP, supervising development of the portal and coordinating the GLP Alliance.

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