THERE is a picture of a minister that has gone viral on the internet. Clad in checkered jacket, Dr Mathias Harebamungu, the hard-talking, bespectacled State Minister in-charge of Primary and Secondary Education, is seen with a hoe destroying over 20 mobile phones as some visibly astonished students and staff members look on. The phones had ostensibly been confiscated from students.
The photo, posted on Facebook, has attracted wide-raging debate. While some commentators question how students manage to sneak mobile phones to school, others outrightly condemned the manner in which the issue was handled. One comment read: “Instead of beating [sic] the phones to their death...the Hon. Minister ought to have punished the phone holders. One was more cynical; he concluded the act was ‘symbolic of the state and quality of the education sector in Rwanda.’.
Why has this picture set tongues wagging? This is a question I put to a colleague. His answer was concise, “what is the Minister doing with a hoe? Has he not got officials supposed to deal with such small matters? I could not agree more.
The major challenge that has faced post-Genocide Rwanda is building institutions that work. The thinking has been that unless the top man at the Ministry, district or even the Head of State comes down on the ground, nothing will be done. For a Minister to be seen holding a hoe, not on a farming trip, but destroying mobile phones (health concerns aside) is telling enough of the inefficiency.
Only recently this paper reported the closure of a Kigali school barely a week into the academic year. Ecole Secondaire d’Hôtellerie et Tourisme de Gasogi in Ndera Sector, Gasabo District, was closed over poor hygiene and indiscipline. The school apparently had inadequate teaching facilities, poor hygiene, especially in dormitories and the dining hall. The students were reportedly binge drinkers.
How this rot went on undetected is what puts the inspectorate department at the Ministry on the spot. In some countries an inspector of schools is a ‘small god’. In most cases, he/she arrives in schools incognito, not through the main gate, but by the back door, making impromptu visits to the kitchen, toilets and other facilities so as to have the real picture of a given school.
The mere sight of him or her makes school heads, teachers and students literally shake, not that they intend any harm but because of what they stand for which is compliance with set education standards. These, they follow to the letter.
Laxity at the inspectorate level has left schools largely on their own, operating on a whim. It is not uncommon for teachers to conduct lessons without even preparing a simple lesson plan. Drug abuse in schools is on an upward spiral as shown by a recent parliamentary investigation. The minister has sent the ball rolling, it is high time school heads and inspectors woke up from their slumber.