How hard should it be to earn a degree? The way private universities are mushrooming across Rwanda virtually ensures that graduation rates have continued to rise significantly over the years.
Getting a degree should not be hard, Prof Silas Lwakabamba, former education minister says.
“The standard of admission should be kept. You have to raise the bar, standards should be kept but most important is that teachers are there to assist to explain to students how they can do well.”
At the recent 17th National Leadership Retreat in Gatsibo district, education took center stage as a key driver Rwanda needs to fix to achieve her Vision 2050, where the nation aspires to have attained upper-middle-income status by 2035 and high-income status by 2050.
President Paul Kagame in his remarks faulted education investors in the country who he said prioritize profit instead of quality by investing in universities that produce incompetent graduates.
Kagame challenged the education ministry to search for a solution even if it requires “shutting down all universities” that have compromised on quality.
In the final resolutions of the retreat government adopted a series of measures aimed to improve education quality.
These include move to assess the quality of education in existing higher learning institutions and review the current accreditation and licensing requirements for the new ones.
Lwakabamba concurs that there is a lot of competition among universities in trying to get numbers into their institutions.
So I think there is a problem that we need to solve, he said.
What is the problem?
According to Lonzen Rugira, a researcher and commentator on public affairs, leadership and policy changes in the education sector mean that the sector lacks consistency and sustainability.
“I think there’s a need to drive a sense of purpose in the sector. Changing officials and policies that contract each other is an indicator of the absence of a sense of purpose and direction,” he told the Nation Magazine.
Lwakabamba also thinks there are many underlying causes.
“If you have teachers in primary schools who are not very well trained or the classroom is too big it is another problem because a teacher cannot focus on students. In that case students will not be adequately prepared by the time they join university level,” he said, stressing that in some countries best graduates teach in primary schools.
What needs to be done?
Lwakabamba said there should be quality checks internally and externally.
“Internally there should be systems that follow up institutions to ensure quality is not compromised. Students also need to be adequately prepared before they join university by ensuring classrooms are manageable,” he said.
More importantly, he said if you need quality you also need to make quality input in terms of quality teachers, quality facilities, and infrastructure.
“There is a need to evaluate our education quality by improving the education environment, I think. The government should improve the way the education system is managed so that there is efficient utilization of Sector resources,” Ismael Buchanan, senior lecturer of the department of political science at the University of Rwanda told the Nation Magazine.
“Once again when the government implements a new policy in education, they should follow up to make sure that it is working well. Remember the introduction of Kinyarwanda language as a medium of instruction which did not work well at the beginning.”
Buchanan added that the government needs to invest in improving teachers’ organizations capacity helping them to play stronger roles as advocates and problem solvers that can achieve good quality education outcome.
Lwakabamba on the other hand argues that if a professor is teaching on his or her own and there are no checks and balances you may find one using material which has been used for so many years yet this could be avoided with critique from their own colleagues.
He believes if you get students who come out of institutions and cannot get a job then there is something wrong.
According to experts, if you need a sustainable economy you need a minimum of 10% of the population to be graduates.
Donald Kaberuka, the former president of the African Development Bank, told leaders at the retreat that a country that has messed up its education can never achieve its much-needed growth.
A recent report from government-commissioned study on existing gaps in education in Rwanda showed that a student reads 23 words per minute on average against the global average of 60 words.
A teacher in Rwanda reads only 90 words per minute compared to the global average of 120 words.
Meanwhile, the retreat also resolved to discontinue automatic student promotion practice in schools which had been introduced in early 2000 to prevent school dropout.
Schools will now reinforce a merit-based system to prioritize quality in education.
It also resolved to increase number of Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) schools and devise a strategy to make them more accessible and affordable.