The debate on the quality of education, in Rwanda has become more pronounced in recent days. But it has been on going, be it at the formal level among policy makers or even on an informal level.
At the informal level you find people relating stories of how many graduates “of these days” can not measure up intellectually.
And as writer and academic Dr. Fredrick Mutebi Golooba put it in an article published in the daily New Times, this is a problem that is not limited to Rwanda.
Each country has its own unique education quality challenges that may not be found in other countries in the East African Community.
It is important for something urgent to be done to rectify the situation as many leaders and policy makers have been saying.
For this piece however, I would like to concentrate on something else, though connected to the issue of poor quality graduates in recent years.
In most cases recent graduates or should I say our generation since I left campus, as recently as 2005 (four years a go) has been in a way told that-we can not stand shoulder to shoulder with the generations that came before us, at the intellectual level.
It is true. But on the other hand, I tend to believe that many in our generation tend to have divergent interests compared to say the generation of our parents and others who went to university in the eighties and early nineties. I will come back to this.
To understand the low quality of graduates coming out of universities, especially in the countries that undertook education liberalization, one needs to look at the way it was adopted and undertaken.
A case in point is Makerere University in Uganda, where the university was turned into a marketplace of sorts starting in the 1990’s.
This is what Professor Mamdani has written about in his book “Scholars in the Market Place”.
In other cases, allegedly, it became possible for someone to buy himself a place in a university. This was mainly among (some) those considered mature students.
In fact a lucrative business developed whereby people in their middle years, would hire bright young boys who had scored excellent grades a year or two prior, to sit exams in their names, score for them good grades and join campus as private sponsored students.
In some cases, some would repeat their own excellence, though without a lot of effort and send their rich buddies to campus on a full government sponsorship. Of course at a handsome fee!
Somebody who joins university under such dubious circumstances will never put any effort into his studies, as he can always purchase good grades.
And then, the fact that a perception developed, that to get employment-good employment, you just need to be connected to high ups and nothing more.
Then reading hard and working at quality becomes a mirage. The lecturers also developed a love for money than anything else.
The commercialization and hence introduction of privately sponsored students, though noble and well intentioned, in some universities in the region, created a money culture in the education sector. So university courses were duplicated and classes packed like beans.
I remember our own experience as “freshers” (freshmen) in 2002, before choosing majors where we used to study in the enormous sized Makerere main hall, with the lecturer using a public address system to conduct classes.
It’s only in smaller classes after majoring, later on, that we were able to have tutorials where one would have a chance to talk one on one with a professor.
In the former case, there was always little incentive to even go for lectures or at times when one went, conversations about what happened in the nightclub the previous night would take priority for those who sat at the back, than what the lecturer was talking about.
Many would only read for tests, not knowledge.
Back to the issue of our generations’ interests and how they diverge from earlier generations: Some young people grew up in families where parents, had gone to good- traditional schools, and gone on to university and in some instances, went to the west or east for further education and then returned to a government job for many years.
They spoke foreign languages well, and were cultured only in a way that those who were educated could be.
But they lacked street smartness, and never thrived financially despite the quality education they had received. They had had good quality education but they just survived. Many in our generation want to get rich and the quicker the better.
Instead of being in class, one can easily find young people chasing deals in town or on a full time job. This is the difference between the generations.
The problems in the education systems in our region and beyond are so many to be listed here.
But the bottom line, I agree, is that the quality of education has sunk, and more importantly there is need for relevant-quality education.