Education: emphasizing sciences alone a questionable strategy for economic growth

African countries such as Rwanda and Uganda have over the years emphasized science subjects in their curriculum in an attempt to boost their mostly agricultural based economies.
Sonrise students attentive in a class.
Sonrise students attentive in a class.

African countries such as Rwanda and Uganda have over the years emphasized science subjects in their curriculum in an attempt to boost their mostly agricultural based economies.

However, with many years of emphasis, the economies persist with the same dominant characteristic of exportation of unprocessed agricultural products and the importation of processed products.

Thus compromising their ability to effectively create employment, for those graduating in specialised fields - such as the sciences.

Revelations by the Ministry of Finance and Planning’s external trade statistics show a huge dominance of products imported into Rwanda than those exported. 

Statistics on the ministry’s website reveal an average rate of Rwf 43 billion per month in the year 2006 of imports over exports.

This implies that Rwanda largely depends on imported goods. Nevertheless, it also means that Rwanda’s industrial capacity needs a scientific elevation to manufacture products that will minimize imports surging into the country while fostering employment creation. 

The government of Rwanda’s nine-year education plan focuses on science subjects - it is an education strategy meant to equip the population with technological knowledge forming part of a long-term plan to bolster the economy.

According to the website of the Ministry of Education, statistics show an average net enrolment rate of 82.8% annually in primary schools with an emphasis on science subjects.

With programmes such as free primary education and education for all by 2015, the government’s target is a largely an illiterate population.

However, Alphonse Uworwabayeho, a lecturer of mathematics at the Kigali Institute of Education said the strategy is only intended to develop a ‘critically thinking’ population.

He defined education as ‘basics for the human being’ that alone cannot lead to economic growth as expected by the government.

“That is our assumption, that when you think hard you can solve problems. But only education can’t solve economic development,” he argued.

For the government to achieve its economic goals, “the ministry of education must collaborate with other departments so that when the students graduate, their skills are developed,” he advised, suggesting that the government put aside a fund that encourages students to start projects upon completion of their studies.

In Uganda, the same strategy is in place of free primary and secondary education, the government has also increased the number of science students sponsored at university level. Despite prioritizing to boost economic growth, Uganda seems to be flooding its streets with unemployed science graduates.

After graduation, just like artists, the scientists languish on the streets in search for jobs. Gradually, the practicality of the strategy has been questionable as the economy continues to lean more on unprocessed agricultural exports and privatization that attracts more expatriates.

Alphonse explained that after failing to secure jobs, frustrated graduates switch to activities outside their professions as others cross to other countries resulting into brain drain.

Jean-Damascène, for three years the District Education Officer, Nyarugenge, revealed another set back to the education strategy.

He stated that according to a general examination done every term by secondary schools, the recent performance in science subjects was poor.

Damascène disclosed that an inspection later launched in all secondary schools in the district unveiled that there were underlying factors to the poor performance.

“We found that teachers were not qualified. They teach in many schools and do not follow up students. The students are also not disciplined,” he said.

The ministry of education website reaffirms the same set back to the education strategy.

“At both primary and secondary levels, these subjects suffer from a shortage of laboratory equipment and materials, as well as a lack of adequately qualified teachers. This leaves a poor environment for the teaching of sciences.”

The website also mentions that the there is low enrolment of science students at secondary level citing girls as being fewer.

“Out of 64936 students in the second cycle of secondary education, only 13282 are in science streams and of these girls account for only 4138. Girls’ participation in science and technology is still much lower because of gender stereotyping.” The same problem persists to the tertiary level.

The website reveals that some science departments at the National University of Rwanda and the respected Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), are not operating due to lack of qualified personnel.

The website only reveals training of secondary level teachers at Kigali Institute of Education endeavouring to increase the number of trained science teachers.  

Casmir said that despite the improvement of information technology to access developmental ideas on a global scale, the information is not put to use due to absence of facilities.

“They can now communicate and learn from abroad using computers. They know what to do but don’t have what to use.” He pointed out international aid as another weakness to the government’s economic growth.

“International Monetary Fund [IMF] keeps dictating do that- do this. We need to avoid debts and go forward. It (IMF) encourages over dependency,” he said.

Casmir said that once aid is received, it should be appropriately used to the betterment of the economy. 


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