THE GOVERNMENT of Rwanda has made significant strides to improve the quality of life of all Rwandans and the second five-year Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS 2) and the Vision 2020 lay out a very clear plan of action.
The government plans to double GDP per capita from the current $644 to $1240 by 2020, to reduce poverty to less than 20% and completely eliminate extreme poverty. The Vision 2020 also aspires to bring private sector contribution to GDP to 20% up from 10%.
These are ambitious yet achievable goals if all aspects and contributors to development are tackled. Several people have commented on the possibilities of making these happen and many have proposed policy recommendations and action points for Rwandans in general and for the government in particular.
I would like to add my voice to debate by making a contribution, specifically policy recommendation for the education sector.
The UN report on the world social situation in 1997, noted that education is a fundamental ingredient to enhancing the quality of human life and ensuring social and economic progress.
Indeed, this was an echo of earlier assertions by many scholars like Professor Fredrick Harbison in his book Human Resources as the Wealth of Nations, who noted that “Human Resource constitute the ultimate basis for the wealth of nations… the rest are passive factors of production.”
Education is therefore a very important aspect that the government should focus on for purposes of improving the capacity of the human resource, preparing them to make significant contributions and bettering the quality of life as a lot of evidence shows.
Through several conversations I have had with business owners in Rwanda, one of the biggest challenges that they face is finding qualified and competent people to employ.
As many would testify, several businesses and some government departments have resorted to hiring from neighbouring countries to fill several high skills oriented positions.
It is on this premise that I suggest that the government seriously considers taking some radical steps to reform the education sector in addition to the current efforts of providing laptops to children through the one-laptop per child programme, working with Microsoft, and the skilling programmes for graduates.
For the education sector to produce meaningful results, it is important that the government focuses on raising the status of teachers and the teaching profession.
Evidence from Finland, a country praised to have the best Education system in the world, shows that it’s more competitive to become a teacher than a surgeon and teachers are held in very high esteem there.
To make this happen, efforts should be made to improve the working conditions of teachers (all teachers) and to significantly increase their salaries, require upgrading for existing teachers to a minimum of a degree for primary school teachers and instituting a competitive hiring process to ensure that only the best teachers get into classrooms.
This will make the profession attractive, rather than one of last resort. These efforts might be controversial in the beginning, but will pay off with time as the education sector starts to attract our brightest students to make their fundamental contribution to the economy.
The second area of reform is the learning environment. We need to improve the curriculum to make it relevant to the 21st century needs of Rwanda and beyond.
Our curricula need to focus more on critical thinking skills, as they are very essential to problem solving; interaction skills, expressive skills and such other skills that enable participation and initiative.
These will be fundamental in spurring innovation and creativity and improving workforce productivity. In classes, it is important for the curricula to be brought alive, igniting the learner’s imagination beyond their villages and encouraging them to dream and imagine the possibilities of a better world.
The teachers will need to take more time to prepare for classes and this means that class sizes must be small, to encourage participation as well as individual support and guidance from teachers.
For these to be achieved, the government will need to build more classroom blocks, ensure a comprehensive rollout of this reform as well as the stability of teachers and learners.
With these reforms, other aspects like providing food in schools or improving nutrition in families can be added as a holistic effort to build human capital and prepare them to productively work in the private sector or even set up enterprises that would leap-frog Rwanda forward.
The writer is a Commonwealth Scholar at the London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK