Former Senate president, Dr Vincent Biruta, was last week named the new Education minister, two months after his eight-year, non-renewable reign at the helm of the Upper Chamber of Parliament expired.
He was appointed to a position that had been left vacant following the appointment of Pierre Damien Habumuremyi as the new prime minister.
Dr Biruta is not new to the cabinet. He previously held at least two cabinet positions (health, as well as transport and telecommunications) before replacing Joseph Sebarenzi as the Speaker of the Transitional National Assembly in January, 2000; three years before becoming the president of the country’s first Senate.
The medical doctor and Social Democratic Party (PSD) political party president is a seasoned politician, and one of the few remaining politicians who continue to serve the country at the highest level since 1994.
That he was to be given an appointment was not unexpected. At 53, Biruta still has more to serve at the top level. The question was which job was awaiting the man who had been the country’s number two for a period of eight years? That vastly-experienced Biruta has been handed the all-important education portfolio underlines President Paul Kagame’s continued commitment to building an economy anchored on competitive human resource base, a philosophy that has seemed to guide the overriding national economic agenda for the past 10 years or so.
The position, which has, tellingly, changed hands five times over the last ten years, is critical for Rwanda’s economic aspirations as the country looks to position herself as a regional ICT and knowledge hub – a convenient bridge between the Francophone central Africa and the English-speaking east.
Biruta may have last been part of the Executive in 2000, but as someone who has since been at the helm of the Legislature, has an extensive understanding of the issues pertaining to the country’s education system, and possibly why the ministry has seen the most reshuffles in recent years.
While he may yet understand the sector inside out, he does know the major priority areas and the main challenges that stand in the way. In its last years, the First Senate – which he headed – was quite vocal on the quality of our education system, and he will have known that that is an issue that requires as much attention as basic education.
Indeed, the challenge of quality education returned in the headlines last week; first, a meeting on the country’s competitiveness citing quality education as a major ingredient in the quest to making Rwandans more competitive on the labour market, and later, the State Minister in charge of Primary and Secondary Education, Mathias Harebamungu, appealing to private institutions of higher learning to prioritise quality in their teaching programmes.
But quality education is far broader than its literal meaning. It’s something that you can never achieve without ably tackling certain underlying issues across the education sector. For instance, you need qualified and motivated teachers, appropriate training equipment, and relevant curricula before you talk about producing graduates who are competitive on the ever-changing job market.
Then, there’s the challenge of public perception, which continues to undermine the otherwise positive policy on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programme.
It will take more than just public speeches and policies to convince Rwandans that their children stand a better chance to ensure their desired future if they enrolled for TVET courses, rather than the largely theoretical classic education programmes.
The public will want to see, with their own eyes, how hands-on courses are a reliable way to success, as opposed to the more protracted conventional education programmes.
It is difficult to imagine sustainable development without ensuring that the youth are empowered with entrepreneurial skills, thus averting potential unemployment, and its resulting effects.
Rwandans are grateful that basic education is easily accessible; but they will want to see more being done to help secure their children’s future.