Like a huge spaceship flying low above the earth, the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi cast a huge (gloomy) shadow on the education sector of Rwanda. Professionals were among the first targets of the killers.
The effect was not just the loss of technical staff but also the relegation of the benefits of an education. Why would one strive to be a doctor if they could not be spared by the killers? That was the painful question as role models became death statistics.
School children were murdered and a lot of school infrastructure was rendered useless. Even before all this madness, many Tutsis were being denied a chance to receive education. Many others had long fled the country and spent years in refugee camps where the quality of education was lacking.
As the saying goes, a lot of water has passed under the bridge and the education sector has seen numerous achievements. Today, more students get a university degree in a single year than in all the years before 1994 combined.
Education is now accessible by all regardless and free for a full nine years. During last year’s presidential campaigns, the President promised to extend the free education programme to cover 12 years or simply put, to cover the entire primary and secondary education.
The 9-Year Basic Education programme has already seen the completion levels at the primary level rising to 76 percent from 53 percent in 2008 before it was launched.
The best thing about this programme is that communities were involved in the construction of classrooms and thus bequeathed a crucial sense of ownership and responsibility over the schools.
At the higher end of the scale, more universities have opened up. Today, being at the university is not an automatic reference to Butare (National University of Rwanda). Even regional universities like Mt. Kenya have opened branches in Kigali and all these are doing a great job in addressing the country’s skills’ gap.
Reflecting on the deep hole that the sector and the thousands of innocent lives were plunged into in 1994, it is quite safe to say that the future is indeed bright. This brightness is not limited to the education sector alone but intrinsically tied to the future of the nation as a whole.
Education is undisputedly the oil for Rwanda’s development machine. The ongoing reconciliation efforts serve to ensure that those in school are preoccupied with academic success and not ethnic hatred.
The government has done a good job to put the basics in place. Schools have been constructed, laboratories and libraries equipped. Teacher training colleges are producing more qualified teachers and the gap is also being filled by qualified teachers from neighbouring countries, a result of forward looking labour and immigration policies.
The switch to English had created some anxiety but this too is ebbing as teachers have undergone several trainings to boost their fluency levels. Other international partners from countries like Britain, USA, Japan, and South Korea have all offered support to the education sector.
The week dedicated to remembering the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi has ended but not the mourning and remembrance. We should not forget that the dark days were 100 not a mere week. The same can be said of the education sector, we should not entertain complacency based on the modest gains. The struggle continues and new targets should be set at every stage.
If today we are being told that many more children are staying in school after Primary Six, then we should start working on more of them staying in school after Senior Three and beyond.
More importantly, the focus should move to improving competence of the graduates of our school system. The question should not just be about how many have completed a certain level but how many are skilled or competent enough to partake in Rwanda’s development process. I hope my readers share the same optimism with me on this.