Realign curriculum – experts

Last week , the Ministry of Education released exam results for candidates who sat for primary leaving and ordinary level exams in 2013. Candidates who passed with flying colours are still celebrating, while those who did not have been branded failures. But all this is wrong.
Experts believe that a more liberal curriculum that promotes both academics and talent is the way to go. Sunday Times/Timothy Kisambira
Experts believe that a more liberal curriculum that promotes both academics and talent is the way to go. Sunday Times/Timothy Kisambira

Last week , the Ministry of Education released exam results for candidates who sat for primary leaving and ordinary level exams in 2013. Candidates who passed with flying colours are still celebrating, while those who did not have been branded failures. But all this is wrong.

Why you shouldn’t celebrate yet

There is little to celebrate about high grades in this year’s Senior Three examinations because the candidates have not yet achieved anything to write home about. This may sound mean to most but quite fair after a critical look at the evidence. 

At Senior Three, the children who have just been declared ‘smart’ on account of passing their exams in division one, wouldn’t survive on their own if they suddenly dropped out of school because they have no skills yet.

What they have managed to achieve so far is to find the value of X or Y in the mathematics examination; and to construct correct sentences using ‘no sooner…than…’ as the English examiner wanted. But how useful is this to life outside school?

Just like many smart students who have managed to find X or Y in the past, these, too, will proceed to the best school to undertake almost similar subjects at high school, joining university to rack up more theory and return to find thousands of other graduates still on the streets looking for jobs. 

Graduates can’t find employment because employers say school has not given those employable skills or inculcated in them the right attitude.

While everyone agrees that education is an investment, it seems parents are investing in the wrong subjects not worth the exorbitant fees.

Parents are not sure exactly what they are paying for and the students have no idea what they expect beyond solving mathematical equations.

The irony is, thousands of the students who failed to find the value of X or Y, will be told to re-sit until they find the missing figures or else they will be sent to what some erroneously consider “less fancy” Technical and Vocational Training Schools for hands-on skills.

In May last year, the Private Sector Federation (PSF) released the Business Investment Climate Survey (BICS) results in which employers voiced outstanding hinderances to increased production.

They found that low level of skills and poor attitude among school and university leavers were the biggest deficiencies among the graduates. These were closely followed by the high cost of training that firms have to incur to retrain the graduates before they can deliver on the job.

The researchers quoted a banker as saying: “We have resorted to hiring attitude and not skills. At least if someone has the right attitude, they can be trained, work in a group and take ownership for their work.”

An ICT entrepreneur also expressed his reservations. “Rwandan school leavers have bad attitude at work. They neither take ownership nor go the extra mile.” 

A local construction firm CEO also added: “We have civil engineers who join our team but do not want to touch cement and also fear heights.”

What is worrying is that these employers were referring to university graduates and not Senior Three or primary school leavers. This means that as far as skills are concerned, there’s no difference between a Senior Three leaver and a graduate.

What’s wrong?

In November last year, Rwanda Education Board (REB) hosted a two-day national conference on curriculum review for pre-primary, primary and secondary schools in Rwanda, in which experts discussed the flaws in the country’s current curriculum.

They also suggested how to make Rwanda’s curriculum responsive to Rwanda’s needs under the second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy goals. Under this arrangement, the country wishes to have an education system that develops youth productivity and employment creation by focusing on imparting skills and attitude, promoting ICT, encouraging innovation and entrepreneurial acumen.

Experts established that while today’s students are given a lot of theory, the education system doesn’t empower them with ‘knowledge and skills to earn a good living and social benefits.’

Dr. Harvey Smith, an education expert working with REB, said the current curriculum is inappropriate for delivering competencies and skills among students, adding that it encourages teacher centeredness while overloading students with mostly unnecessary theories.

“The curriculum is oriented towards the provision of theoretical knowledge as opposed to practical skills needed outside the school system,” Dr. Smith notes.

He adds that even after graduation, most school leavers face significant difficulties communicating effectively, adding that ‘they are too focused on preparation for further academic studies and not enough on world of work.’

Dr. Joyce Musabe, REB’s deputy director general in charge of the Curriculum and Pedagogical Materials department, noted that previously, the national curriculum encouraged specialisation right from Senior One. It also taught primary and secondary students subjects such as crafts, needlework and home economics.

But changes were introduced after the national conference in April 1995 that recommended the restructuring of the education system leading to the harmonisation of the curriculum.

Between 2009 and 2013, the ministry reduced the number of core subjects on the curriculum but introduced compulsory and optional vocational subjects.

Way forward

After two days of deliberation, the way forward was delivered by Dr. John Rutayisire, REB’s director general who said: “It’s not business as usual anymore.” 

The experts agreed that Rwanda urgently needed a new national skills and competency-based curriculum that is relevant to demands of the labour market as outlined in Vision 2020.

Perhaps one of the most important observations was the call for stronger partnership between schools, employers and creation of ‘curriculum for all.’

A curriculum for all would mean a more liberal and open education system where if one student fails to locate X and Y, such a student can sharpen their football, music or writing skills in the same school which would end an era where differently gifted pupils are judged on the same academic yardstick.

In other words, schools should become more technical than theoretical and start investing in students’ talents and non-academic skills right from the lower stages instead of wasting time and money on subjects that will never help them.

For instance, 14-year-old Patience Murekezi Ihirwe who was the best student last year says: “I am a football player and fan of Chelsea FC. Much as it is good to concentrate on studies, one should also engage in co-curricular activities.”

Unfortunately for Ihirwe, schools dismiss football and other talents as mere extra-curricular or leisure activities. 

Under an open and liberal curriculum for all, students should have the liberty to excel in football, dancing, singing or boxing besides just academics. 

Under such a system, Ihirwe could easily end up playing professional soccer for his favourite English club, Chelsea FC and be the next Didier Drogba or Samuel Eto’o earning hundreds of thousands of pounds per week.

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