Sciences find a home in Rwanda

Saturday February 20 2016

Primary school pupils in class. In recent

Primary school pupils in class. In recent years, Rwanda has promoted science and technology as enablers of economic development. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA 

By Jean-Pierre Afadhali

In recent years, Rwanda has promoted science and technology as enablers of economic development. However, this goal requires enormous efforts to ensure high-quality education for sciences and their effective application to solve problems in various fields.

As result of gaps such as poor curriculum and infrastructure, some talented youths go abroad for studies at world-class institutions and remain there yet the country needs specialists and experts in many sectors of the economy.

The government has now signed a partnership agreement with the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences – Next Einstein Initiative (AIMS-NEI), which may reverse the trend. The South Africa-headquartered institute’s mission is to nurture bright students to shine as independent thinkers, problem solvers and innovators capable of boosting Africa’s scientific and economic future.

“We need to promote mathematics as a basis of science teaching since promotion of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is very important,” said Dr Marie-Christine Gasingirwa, the director-general for science, technology and research at the Ministry of Education.

As part of the deal, Rwanda will host a Pan-African centre of excellence in mathematical sciences in August. Affiliated institutions in the country will include the AIMS Secretariat, the global headquarters of the Next Einstein Forum (NEF) and the Quantum Leap Africa Research Centre.

NEF seeks to promote knowledge generation in Africa while QLARC promotes research for continental initiatives to boost Africa’s competitiveness.

Rwanda hopes to reap from these institutions and initiatives to boost science education, research and application.

Methodology of teaching

“The challenge we have always had is the methodology of teaching,” said Dr Gasingirwa in an interview, however adding that there is progress in the interactive approach.

AIMS and local officials said the agreement will strengthen the scientific community “through an innovative mathematical sciences curriculum relevant to development issues facing Rwanda and the region.”

Dr Gasingirwa said local teachers and talented students lack exposure to boost their innovation and creativity which can be used to apply sciences. She cited an example of a teacher from Gakenye District who went to a scientific centre in Switzerland for a training programme, and when she came back she started a workshop to make physics teaching equipment.

“Imagine if that one had been exposed much earlier!” she observed.

Africa lags behind in the application of mathematics in industries. Berry Green, chief research and academic officer at AIMS South Africa, told Rwanda Today Africa has not done much in applying mathematics to industrialisation.

Joseph Ntahompagaze, a former University of Rwanda lecturer who is pursuing a PhD programme in astronomy and astrophysics in Ethiopia, is an AIMS Ghana alumni from Rwanda with an interest in the application of mathematics in physics.

He told Rwanda Today that the linkage between mathematics education and industry for increasing the productivity may start by making engineers have enough skills in mathematics.