At the end of last year, news concerning the decision by Government to halt the monthly welfare stipend (‘bourse’ in French) offered to university students and channelling the same funds to the lower sections of the education sector was shocking.
The money is to be pumped into the Nine-Year Basic Education scheme that has seen millions of children accessing basic education.
The decision raised a lot of controversy as facts were misrepresented to suit various lines of argument. At the end of the day, the Government was portrayed as a body that was making life harder for needy university students. Several Government officials took time to respond and clarify on this issue.
The stipend in question was only Rwf25,000, a monthly welfare allowance that was re-channelled within the education budget to benefit lower primary education.
I believe focusing on basic education to improve literacy rates at the bottom of the educational pyramid is vital. A smart Government will invest more in basic or primary education because it benefits the wider community as opposed to investing in tertiary education where returns are more individualistic.
For example, sponsoring a student for a PhD may result in the beneficiary taking up a big job in another country that can pay the huge wages he desires to live a good life. This after all is what the global phenomenon of brain drain is all about.
That is why I was happy to see the Rwandan President himself, on television explaining to students why the decision had to be taken. President Paul Kagame pointed out that the decision was, “timely and well thought out,” considering the priorities in the education sector. This should be enough to put the debate to rest for now.
There are several other worthy educational debates that students, teachers, lecturers, other educationists and the general public should engage in for a better Rwanda.
For example, we need to brainstorm on how quality can be achieved at the lower levels of our education system to train graduates who are skilled enough to create their own jobs.
At Kigali Institute of Science and Technology, the president stressed the need to strive for quality and increased access to education without hindrances to the system. This is indeed a tough but not impossible target.
The availability of free education for nine years should not result into a sea of half-baked graduates churned out by Rwanda’s schools.
One of the best ways this can be achieved is through encouraging a reading culture at an early age (P.1 to P.3). Doing this will equip our children with the necessary skills to seek and also interpret knowledge.
Children in lower primary school should be introduced to simple fun-to-read books so that they do not associate reading purely with academic study or the need to pass exams.
A crucial part of a child’s education is the ability to read well. Without this skill, children will find trouble learning other things and the eventual failure to interpret examination questions.
It is good to know that VSO Rwanda took time to demonstrate to some schools how reading can be encouraged in schools with inexpensive Kinyarwanda books.
As we celebrate the Easter weekend, we should also participate with the rest of the world on April 23rd to celebrate the World Book Day!