It seems like ages past since I was studying for national exams in a remote secondary school in Kayonza District, Eastern Province. Feet in a bucket of cold water, we would spend the entire night memorizing bullet points that we had painstakingly written in our dusty notebooks.
The notes were themselves provided by a teacher who himself read a second-hand text-book, compiled from different studies from original authors (i.e. books about books). We called this process of memorizing cramming, reminiscent of shoving items in an overflowing container.
Even with our attempts to memorize these notes, we gained no significant understanding of the content, no lasting knowledge. We forgot everything as fast as we memorized it.
The education itself became utilitarian. We memorized points, we got points to pass classes, passed classes to graduate, and graduated to get jobs. Creativity, imagination and originality were sucked from us by the very education preparing us as the future of Rwanda.
Like a Pavlov’s dogs, our mastery of content and our excellence was for rewards. We lacked passion for the knowledge itself.
Of course, I do not intend to suggest the education I got was worthless but that it was incomplete. My education did not liberate my mind; it made me a follower, a conformist. Yes, I was able to regurgitate content but hardly able to write an essay.
In class, we jumped to mathematical answers without reading Euclid and Aristotle, treating math as if it were a puzzle instead of profound reality. Simply put, our education was like a house without a foundation.
Even the lowest member of society can be given this type of utilitarian knowledge. It is liberal education – one that liberates our minds to inquire, create, think, and understand—that opens the door to the cosmic powers of our mind.
By cramming and reading secondary texts we consumed information rather than learned and appreciated knowledge.
We who know Rwanda’s history are all too familiar with what this type of enslaving education is capable of. When you raise a generation of individuals that cannot think for themselves you have a population susceptible to negative ideology, manipulation, and propaganda.
We Rwandans know what bad political ideology can do: it can turn neighbour on neighbour and destroy a beautiful country. To fortify our current democratic trajectory we must ensure that the following generations grow up free to think, to imagine, and to overcome negative political ideologies.
We have to provide books and genuine knowledge to the entire Rwandan population. Never expect people to carry out the ideals of a democracy and citizenship without reading about it.
What I am suggesting is Rwanda does not need citizens who conform, it needs citizens who participate and cooperate, and in order to have meaningful participation, one must have knowledge.
Participatory democracy requires well-informed citizens. Period. No shortcuts. No alternatives. So we ought to encourage Rwandan youth to avoid myopic-utilitarian learning so commonplace to this country.
We need to liberate the minds of our future politicians, innovators; historians, playwrights, filmmakers, painters, artists. To do this we must give the entire Rwandan population access to knowledge.
We have to stop cramming and start learning and to do this we need books. We need to encourage and awaken (or reawaken) the imagination by tapping into the fountain of knowledge at our fingertips.
This is why the Hewitt Library, Gahini, and Kigali Public Library exist: to serve as learning centres, community centres, a place for conversation with humanity. These institutions are paving the way for liberated minds.
And thank God, things have been progressively changing for the better. The new curriculum that Rwanda Education Board says will come into effect at the beginning of next academic year – next month to be exact – has at its core promoting a competence-based pedagogical system that discourages cram work.
The writer is a graduate of Eastern University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He holds a bachelors degree in communication studies. He is also a member of the management team of The Hewitt Library, Gahini.