Isaac Munyakazi has been an active player in the education sector since 1995. He served as a secondary school teacher for several years, served as a head teacher, university lecturer in different public and private universities, and was until recently, the dean of the Faculty of Business Management and Economics at the University of Kigali.
On October 4, Munyakazi was appointed the new Minister of State in charge of Primary and Secondary Education. Education Times’ Diane Mushimiyimana talked to him about his agenda in the new office.
Briefly tell us about what’s top on your agenda
The current five-year Education Sector Strategic Plan (2013/4-2017/8) highlights top education priorities. My agenda in this new position is to work with others to achieve the completion and transition rates of students while reducing drop¬out and repetition rates in basic education, as well as ensuring that the quality of education continues to improve, among others.
What is your take on the education sector currently
I see it as an important sector that will in the long-run foster a knowledge-based economy. I am glad that the country was recognised for having the highest primary school enrollment rate in Africa with 96.5% children in school. This is a good foundation for greater achievements now and in the future.
How is the ministry positioning itself towards achieving the SDGs on education?
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda has 17 goals to be achieved by 2030. SDG4 talks about ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. We stand well in terms of achieving this goal. The policy on inclusive education is clear and is being implemented. We have free education for all primary and secondary school-going children; there is special needs education and my contribution to this is to make sure we continue with the positive trend.
Teachers have for long complained about poor salaries and inadequate motivation in general. What is your plan about the teachers’ welfare?
I would love very much to see my teachers being well catered for. My contribution to this will go beyond salaries. I will advise on finding alternative ways and means to make teachers happier and more motivated because they are the basis of the quality of education we are looking for. There are different schemes already in place, such as Umwalimu Sacco and Gir’Inka Mwalimu, to compliment the salaries. There are also more to come, it is being looked into by the cabinet.
About the issue of teachers’ accommodation, it has been taken into consideration but the priority was building schools, and when we are done, we shall also look at how teachers can get homes near their schools. Of course, it may take time as it requires a big budget and planning, but surely it will come to pass.
Countrywide, about 1,100 students under the nine and twelve-year basic education are covered by the school feeding programme. What is your plan to make sure all the students are catered for?
The school feeding programme is really a good incentive to keep students concentrated on studies and it positively affects their performance. Every student has to make some contribution to make the programme run but we know there are some who cannot afford to give that contribution. Already, some money is being picked from the capitation grant going to boarding secondary schools to help vulnerable students contribute to the school feeding programme. However, we are aware that the programme has gaps to be filled and I will make sure all students get covered in the long-run.
Programmes such as the One Laptop per Child (OLPC), aiming at promoting the use of information and communication technology in education and improving critical thinking in young learners, have for long been stained by a number of issues. Do you have any plans to revamp this programme?
Actually, I am glad that the integration is there and successful to a certain level. I acknowledge that a lot still needs to be done, but we appreciate that something was done, that all our primary and secondary students can be equipped with ICT skills and go up with a good foundation.
Now, we have introduced the ‘smart classroom’ model across the country and schools have been supplied with computers, starting with those who have a conducive environment (having electricity through various sources and access to internet connectivity). By 2018, we plan that all schools will be reached.
Figures from the Ministry of Education for the year 2014 show that 10.3 per cent of primary, 14,4 per cent of O-level, and 5.9 per cent of A-level students dropped out of school. What is your plan to address this issue?
School dropouts are a serious issue that involves many stakeholders other than the ministry alone. Those stakeholders are mainly the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, Ministry of Local Government, Ministry of Health, parents and the private sector, among others. It is good that every stakeholder is making an effort to achieve their responsibilities.
At our level, we are making sure we fight anything that can discourage students from attending school, such as banning students’ dismissal over school fees, corporal punishments, and other forms of setbacks at school level.
Also, we look forward to continue to creating a conducive environment with a better school feeding programme and providing free education for all, among others.
Some people, including educators, question the automatic promotion policy that allows students with poor grades to be promoted to the next grade. They argue that it promotes laziness and affects the quality of education. What is your take on this?
Concerns that automatic promotion promotes laziness among students is true. Saying that it affects the quality of education is also true. As a professional educator, I recommend that a student should only be promoted if they deserve it. I also agree that teachers have a big role to play to make sure a big number of students can be promoted to the next level.
Therefore, if there is a policy encouraging automatic promotion, I will make sure it is reviewed because for education to contribute to the country’s development it must equip students with competencies rather than encouraging them to come out empty-headed.
What plans do you have for pre-primary education?
It is a fact that pre-primary or early childhood education equips learners with basic skills that strengthens their overall capacity to be competitive in the future. It was really given little consideration in the past but now things are changing. Policies governing it were devised and forwarded to the cabinet for approval.
This also goes with regulating how it is done. Some people are still running pre-school unprofessionally, but when the law comes, the chaos will be removed.
Some people say that in this era of information technology, students should be allowed to carry mobile phones and use them even at schools for research. Do you agree with this?
Personally, I am of the view that no primary or secondary school student should be allowed to take or use their cell phones at school. Cell phones are a major source of distraction for young people. Young people are the most targeted audience on most social media platforms such as Facebook and Whatsapp, meaning that they will most likely spend more time on them other than doing academic research.
Also, they are likely to spend a lot of time calling their friends, playing games, and engaging in many other forms of distraction. At their age, their ability to control that temptation is very low.
Though some people may say that in this era of information technology students should be allowed to use cell phones for research, we can’t expect them to be responsible enough and use them when in need.
The Ministry of Education is introducing the ‘smart classrooms’ concept in schools to complement the one laptop per child programme. Therefore, with these programmes cell phones are not necessary.
I recommend that students caught using cell phones be sanctioned according to internal regulations of schools that could include even suspension.
What is your take on holiday coaching for students?
Ideally, holidays are meant to give students an opportunity to relax after months of school work. Also, at some point, students who had some weaknesses in a certain courses can take some time during the holidays to do research and revision and recover from that lapse. However, students should not be overloaded with studies as some parents do as it deprives them time to relax. Holiday coaching should be done in a controlled manner.