In my previous column, I argued that the Government’s recent move to scale down its funding for public tertiary institutions and to increase budgetary allocations for vocational or technical education as well as primary and secondary education augers well with our country’s economic blueprint.
Some readers agreed with me while some thought otherwise. Of course if money was not in short supply, then no one would be talking about budget cuts for any of the education sectors. As a matter of fact, tertiary education should be receiving more funds, instead of facing budget cuts.
However, because we live in a world of limited resources we are forced to make choices, with the most important items topping the list of preference. The things we deem to be indispensable in our daily lives will receive the utmost attention, or most funding in this case, whereas others, some of which may be seen as luxurious depending on the particular context, will make the ‘waiting list’.
That is the hard choice we have to make as a nation. This choice is further complicated by the fact that being the developing nation that we are today, Rwanda considers almost everything as a priority. Yet one cannot afford to take on everything at once since there are constraints in many aspects.
Most governments are currently grappling with high unemployment levels. Last week’s massive public spending cuts in the UK will likely result in nearly half a million job losses, and that prospect has sparked a widespread public outcry.
However, the British Government did not shy away from making their own difficult choice between unveiling new austerity measures on one hand, and taking no action on the other, which would keep the nation in huge debt.
Many other western governments are faced with difficult times as a result of hundreds of thousands of job losses, a legacy of the global economic crisis. In developing and emerging economies, jobs remain a major factor in their development processes. Rwanda is in the same situation.
A few thousands out of, let’s say, five million Rwandans who should be working, are employed by the State. Similarly, a few thousands more are working in the private sector, mostly in informal businesses. A huge percentage of those remaining are in the agricultural sector, which remains largely at subsistence level. Off-farm jobs remain scarce although they have been on a steady increase in the recent years.
An estimated one percent of our total population hold university degrees. Figures indicate that 24,098 students are presently in public tertiary institutions, while more than twice those numbers are in private institutions of higher learning.
Nearly three million students are in the lower conventional education system or in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system.
If figures are anything to go by, Rwanda’s is not a university economy. Yet the biggest challenge in our economy today is not fewer degree holders, but rather simply the lack of skilled personnel. Our private sector has made great strides over the last decade, but there is one considerable challenge that it continues to face; its lack of skilled labourers.
Our current student population of 2.8 million in the pre-university education programmes might make a big difference if they all graduated from the university, but their impact can be much bigger - to almost unimaginable heights - if they were empowered with the skills badly needed by the industry.
We would have more job creators than seekers.
While everyone should support the Government’s Nine Year Basic Education programme and, eventually, the Twelve Year Basic Education programme, we should all double our efforts when it comes to imparting to our children the skills they need to become competitive and relevant in today’s world.
This can only be achieved by promoting a TVET system that responds to our country’s development agenda, presently enshrined in the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) and Vision 2020.
Through TVET, we will be able to get the plumbers, masons, surveyors, welders, carpenters, veterinarians, agronomists and hairdressers, among others, that our economy badly needs to make significant headway. You do not need a grueling four years in university to become any of these professionals; all you need is the right training in the shortest time possible.
The Government needs to closely follow up on the implementation of the national TVET policy and ensure that every school-going and working-age citizen has access to vocational and technical programmes. Age shouldn’t be an impediment since different short-term modules can be developed for different age groups.
Every module learnt will bring several jobs into the economy. That way, our country will get a pool of skilled professionals as well as entrepreneurs capable of delivering its much needed economic independence.
The writer is a training editor with The New Times.