As a graduate of Rwanda’s education system, I am happy for and proud of all the efforts that have been undertaken in nurturing fresh talent for the betterment of our society.
The stories of Rwanda’s graduates are very recent, spanning a few short years. Yet the qualities they embody – Boldness, Resourcefulness and Spirit – are timeless, and part of the culture of our universities.
Their stories also remind us that, for over 15 years, our universities have nurtured countless graduates who can be transformative leaders and agents of positive change in society.
As products of these domestic universities, however, we must not rest on our laurels; we must not be satisfied with this product.
Instead, we must ask ourselves how to make this local product even better, so that we can continue to encourage students to study here (rather than exporting themselves to Asia, Europe and America), and so that we can continue to make Rwanda’s human capital more and more competitive. But how?
To begin answering this question, we can look to the US, whose 2008 Department of Labour Report indicates that the average US college graduate will have held about 6 jobs before the age of 27 (often because of jobs held during high school), and 10 jobs by the age of 42; the youth of America have experience.
While I don’t have similar data for Rwanda, my sense is that we are nowhere close in that direction. Instead, Rwandans head to their first post-graduate job fresh and naive, with little more than their formal education to guide them.
To continue answering the above question, I ask another: What will be the three most in-demand jobs 10 years from now? Nobody knows, and so we must anticipate.
Knowledge, science and technology are advancing so fast that some of the most in-demand jobs in the future may not even exist today. So how do we prepare graduates for that unknown future, how do we anticipate?
We teach our graduates “how to think,” not how to memorize data.
How can we best do this? Clearly, it will not be a matter of putting on more courses or piling on more content. Instead, we have to work more closely with our students, to hone the quality of the mind and person. Some few specific areas include first of all “critical thinking” because it enables our graduates to arrive at well-reasoned judgments or conclusions, not just in their discipline, but more generally.
In fact, it is often in areas outside of our main knowledge domains where critical thinking is most crucial. Beyond critical thinking, is “thinking differently”. When our graduates study an issue, can they think about it quite differently from other people?
Can they propose creative alternatives to the same problem? This different approach to education, prepares our graduates to function in any situation after completing their education, even the completely unknown.
Finally, our schools can encourage its graduates to look beyond their own planned careers, such that they become constructive members of the Rwandan society and the global community.
There are many areas, big and small, where their talent and leadership can make a difference.
I hope you will also give your time, energy and talent, to your university community, and to the extended Rwandan society.
In giving you will touch the lives of many others, and be an agent for positive change. At the same time, in giving, you too will gain and grow.
Liban Mugabo is pursuing a Masters degree