When former education minister Dr Vincent Biruta, handed over the docket to Prof Silas Lwakabamba in a tinny folder last week—it did not reveal the magnitude of the task the professor of engineering was about to embark on.
Yet inside the small folder were huge challenges that the minister will have to deal with immediately if he is to deliver quality education to Rwandans.
The minister will have to move fast to expand education facilities in schools and colleges.
So desperate is the situation that there are reports of students in the public university sharing beds as numbers continue to grow beyond what available facilities can handle.
Even as a source at one campus said that sharing beds had been recently banned, he could not rule out the possibility that some students would still be doing it quietly, because in most cases, they do not have options.
Prof. Nelson Ijumba, the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic and Research at the University of Rwanda (UR), suggested that the ministry should support efforts his institution has already started in this regard.
“We are already encouraging the private sector to invest in hostels because it is clear that the government cannot deal with this issue alone,” he said.
It should be recalled that, UR recently admitted about 10,000 students for the September intake and a big number of them would need to be accommodated by their respective campuses. This however is impossible because the demand is too high to be met by available facilities.
Ijumba said the main challenge remains with campuses outside urban areas where institutions must accommodate all the students because there are no facilities by private investors.
The official also called for support in building laboratory infrastructure. While some campuses such as those of arts and humanities are on track, others that are science oriented, such as the Nyagatare campus, still lack such facilities.
Yet the infrastructure challenge is not unique to university campuses, but rather crosscutting.
Jean Bosco Gumyusenge, the director of GS Butamwa in Nyarugenge district, a 12-Year Basic Education (12YBE) school, said that some students are learning theory without practical work.
“We still lack laboratories and workshops,” he said, urging the government to try and provide more facilities, not only in the area of Technical Education and Vocational Training schools (TVETs), but also for the 12YBE initiative in general.
The 12YBE is a government universal education programme that seeks to ensure that all Rwandan children are guaranteed completion of secondary school education in order to build a strong foundation for the country’s socio-economic development.
One Laptop per Child
The program of One Laptop per Child (OLPC) requires electricity. Yet, the electricity penetration, according to recent statistics, is around 20 per cent countrywide.
Under OLPC, Mineduc has already supplied laptops to 409 schools, while the target is to serve 1,000 schools next year and over 2000 schools by 2017.
However, Nkubito Bakuramutsa, the project manager told this paper recently, that “most of the country’s schools need connection to electricity, without which our project would not work”.
The laptops need to be charged, and, on top of that, they have to be supplied with supporting accessories such as servers, which also need power.
Jean Claude Iraguha, the director of Ecole Primaire Rugote, a remote primary school in Nyaruguru district, Ruramba sector, said that, apart from this programme, it is even hard for them to manage small equipments such as mobile phones and the speakers that they use as teaching tools.
“We have put aside some money to rent a charger in Ruramba centre, just an hour walk from here,” said Iraguha, adding that on a daily basis, they have to go to this connected centre to charge their didactic tools.
Lwakabamba goes to Mineduc at the time when a new curriculum for primary and secondary schools is in the offing. First and foremost, the minister and staff would need to work hard to change the mindset of schools, to make them embrace this curriculum which will come into force in 2016.
In his report this year, the Auditor General identified idle and stolen books and laptops that were provided to the school by Mineduc in many schools across the country.
Some teachers have suggested that trainings for them should be given more importance, especially in English teaching which still needs improvement.
Ijumba have recommended the government to concentrate efforts on delivering quality education at the 12YBE level if the country is to see quality for her tertiary education.
“We are really concerned with the quality of education at lower levels. We got a number of underprepared students, especially in Physics, Mathematics and Computer Sciences. This scenario means that we need to engage important resources to train in high education while we could have done it earlier with smaller costs,” Ijumba said.
At university, the need according to Ijumba, is to help increase the number of senior lecturers to 50 per cent between five to ten years, from 19 per cent today, and to support research.
The country’s school feeding program that recently started as part of the 12YBE programme was saluted by parents, teachers and students.
But the general call from the public to the government is to keep supporting those parents who may not afford small contributions that 12YBE teachers request in order to keep providing quality education to their children.
With regards to tertiary education, students’ welfare normally implies both free and loan-based scholarships.
Referring to current reforms in government’s funding for tertiary education, through which only poor students in the community would be granted scholarship loans, Pierre Celestin Rwigema, the first minister of education after the Genocide against the Tutsi, said that “the government should set up fair selection criteria of the students who should be assisted”.
Rwigema who is now a member of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), advised that Mineduc needs to put in place scholarships of excellence for outstandingly smart Rwandan students, on top of the scholarships provided by the Office of the President that often sends smart students for training abroad.
Lwakabamba says he is aware of the challenges awaiting him.
“I know the sensitivity of this ministry. I have started receiving a number of complaints from here and there regarding scholarships and so on,” Lwakabamba said during the handover. He said that he was confident his team at Mineduc will help him make education better.
Senator Laurent Nkusi, a veteran educationist, agrees, saying that “the minister will need to look into pressing issues” and that “he will do a good job if he considers working with his team”.