Soon after colonialism, most new African governments inherited the few colonial schools that the European masters had left behind.
Some of the white teachers stayed behind to set a strong foundation as they trained some African teachers to take over once they left.
Later on the number of learners enrolling in schools steadily grew to a point where the African governments could no longer handle the pressure.
Incidentally this came at around the same time that major world financial players like the World Bank and IMF were compelling poor nations to embrace their Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs).
With the SAPs African governments were encouraged to liberalise their economies and privatise most of their enterprises.
The logic was that a ‘modern’ government had no business running enterprises. They encouraged the private sector to indulge in these businesses. These changes never left out the education sector.
Although most governments then never actually privatised their schools, the funding to some of these institutions reduced and issues like cost sharing came into play.
Gradually private schools started opening up every year. Now private schools easily out number government run schools even here in Rwanda.
Private schools are simply investments like any other financial undertaking. A lot of money is invested in putting up of structures, hiring staff and buying the necessary scholastic materials.
This being an investment, the investor certainly expects good financial returns on his/her business venture. The traditional perception has always been that of taking education as a service to the nation and its people.
However a private educational investment is expected to make some profits to at least break even. To do this it first has to ensure that it has got clients in this case -the students.
What I am driving at is that private schools need to devise techniques of attracting students to enroll because it is them who keep the school in place by paying school fees. There are several ways of attracting or making a private school attractive to prospective learners.
Initially a school may need to put up wonderful structures and all the necessary scholastic facilities to attract students.
These include things like a standard science laboratory, a fully stocked library and a computer facility to take care of the emerging IT trends.
But like most businesses world over, there is no better way to cut ground other than through advertising. Advertising is something that private educational investors should embrace whole heartedly.
If you have invested millions to put up a school then it is only right and fitting to embark on some form of publicity to let people know about your school. Here in Rwanda, many private schools have not cared to promote themselves at all.
According to my observations, Riviera High School in Kabuga has really taken a lead as far as promoting themselves as a first class school is concerned.
Days before they had admitted their first student, huge posters had been pasted on most of the Jaguar Executive buses plying the Kampala-Kigali and Kanyaru (Burundi) routes.
The impact of their advertising campaign was that within a very short time, many people and prospective students in Uganda, Rwanda and even Burundi had known about the new school.
This way they were able to attract many learners when they finally opened the school. Some schools surely do not have buses to put posters on but then again, running adverts in the daily newspapers can also do wonders.
Apart from the newspapers, advertisements can also be aired on radio or even on Rwanda Television. Advertising has done wonders for many businesses and I believe the educational sector should not be left out.
The trick with advertising is that you need to market your band so enthusiastically until the general public is not only aware of your brand but can easily recognise it. See what advertising has done for brands like MTN.
Many students on holiday now are contemplating changing from one school to another. Some have completed their ‘O’ level and now want to move to a different school for their ‘A’ level.
Some have been studying from Uganda or Kenya but wish to study from here now that Rwanda has got good standard schools as well.
With that in mind, private schools need to seek ways of wooing these prospective learners and their benefactors before it’s too late.
I was impressed to see the lovely calendars made to further market Riviera High School in several offices in Kigali. Others should take heed.