I recently came across a story about an NGO in Kigali which ran an advertisement for a Project Management vacant post. The main requirement for the post was Bachelor’s Degree, according to the story.
Now, given the rampant unemployment here in Kigali, it came as no surprise that within just a week, the organization had received no less than 100 applicants for the post, all of them holders of a Bachelor’s degree.
What instead came as a surprise was that no one, not even one among all the candidates qualified for the job.
So what could have caused this inexplicable turn of events? As I tried to think over it, an equally inexplicable question came into my mind.
What became of the fabled intelligence and brilliance of Rwandans? Where have their acumen and precocity gone to?
On its own free will, my conscience took me off some years back, somewhere in Nshungyerezi. Now, for those who don’t know it, Nshungyerezi, together with its sister village of Nakivale was just one of the numerous sites throughout Uganda in those days, which had been allocated by the Ugandan government to the United Nations to serve as refugee settlement camps.
Nshungyerezi and Nakivale were localities where some of the first wave of Tutsi refugees, survivors of the 1959 massacres in Rwanda, had been amassed, some living in tents, and others in makeshift houses made of thatch they built themselves.
As days and years inexorably went by, with the mainly pastoralist Rwandan refugees’ hopes of ever returning to their motherland growing dimmer, they gradually turned to agriculture, in a bid to supplement the irregular food rations by the UNHCR which, had begun to dwindle dramatically both in quality and quantity.
And by their perseverance and remarkable resilience, they attacked the thorny, snake-infested forests surrounding them, and eventually turned them into veritable farms.
But we were talking of the fabled intelligence and brilliance of Rwandans?
Yes! But we want to look at the activities of the adults first as they are busy fending for the survival of the young ones, before we come to the activities of the kids. And don’t you go thinking that these kids are idle or that they are playing soccer somewhere in the field. No Sir, they are at school.
Where at school? Under the trees! What, under the trees?
Yes Sir. Forty years ago Rwandan refugee children in Uganda had their lessons conducted under trees, for lack of classrooms. And that meant that during rainy seasons such classes were simply abandoned.
And don’t forget, the pupils were mostly taught by their elder brothers or sisters or other relatives who had had their own education interrupted back home. Yes, necessity is the mother of invention.
Perhaps what I am trying to say here is that, about 40 years ago in Nshungyerezi, maybe the case of unemployable graduates was not yet an issue at that time. But I would like to uphold, as I am sure many would like to bear me witness, that Rwandan students of that generation were the brightest there ever was.
They were so bright that every year, High School headmasters and principals of the region would descend on schools in refugee camps to interview likely candidates well before the results were out, before their rivals would snatch them up.
So, about this question of graduates who prove unemployable despite the fact that they possess required professional qualifications, it is obvious that it should be of great concern to the authorities concerned. There is no doubt whatsoever that Rwanda still has more than its fair share of brilliant boys and girls in stock.
The problem, I find, is that as someone once said, as the world keeps on changing, market demands will keep changing, and obviously, education shall have to keep up with these changes in order to equip students with essential skills that will help them deal with such challenges as they come up.
Proof is that the Ministry of Education has been restructured more times than any other government institution.
In Rwanda today, competition in education is at a cut-throat level. Every one wants to go university if he can, whether qualified or not. And many varsities are mushrooming in Kigali and in towns upcountry for whoever has his franc to spend.
In those days, whenever a student failed exams, they would simply change a name; retake exams with chances of success, and a likely remunerable employment. But not today! Trends today are that, many students leave high school with little or nothing at all in their heads, refuse to take a second chance at attempting failed examinations, and instead hold their parents at ransom demanding that they be registered at private Universities.
You heard of those who are sent to India, or to Dubai or the USA. Or maybe you have heard of those who write their theses in English here in Rwanda, and at graduation time defend them in Kinyarwanda?
Are you, maybe, beginning to think that these could probably be among those Bachelors degrees with no practical skills that get rejected during job interviews?
Mind you, I am not saying that those students who get opportunities to study abroad all fail academically. But if they are so successful in their endeavors abroad, are they compulsorily bound to come back to Kigali to compete for Project Management jobs?
The writer is a veteran journalist.