To produce quality graduates, overhaul entire school system

Sunday December 24 2017

The poor quality of graduates is often blamed

The poor quality of graduates is often blamed on what some call a “theory-driven” education system. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYANGAH | NMG 

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For years now, there have been persistent voices decrying the poor quality of graduates and the need to put in place a better quality education system.

A few years after the genocide, the problem was perceived to be an overemphasise on quantity of graduates over quality in order to overcome the deficit created by our self-inflicted tragedy.

The poor quality of graduates is often blamed on what some call a “theory-driven” education system. In part, this led to funding skills-based training through technical and vocational education centres.

But it didn’t solve the problem of poor quality. Yet, some individuals still emphasise on this.

For example, Jean Leonard Sekanyange, the chairperson of Rwanda Civil Society Platform told the media at last week’s National Dialogue that “the government needs to focus on skills development rather than theory-based training in order for the country to cultivate more innovative ideas that will shape the future of the country.”

However, while it’s true that investing in practical skills is important, the problem isn’t a “theory-driven” education system but has to do with our perception of knowledge and self.

Those who blame the problem on “theory” perhaps don’t understand the broader role of theory. It has many roles; including predicting what can happen when a country doesn’t have quality education, explaining why that is the case and how it can be solved.

Those who blame “theory” also tend to locate the problem at the level of higher institutions of learning, because that’s where “theory” is perceived to be taught.

And while this blaming of universities has some merit, the real question to ask is: “What is the quality and mentality of students who are sent to universities”?

Colonial education system

The short answer is that the quality is low and relates to the colonial education system inherited at Independence, which teaches students how to pass exams rather than create things or innovate.

Because ensuring quality is complex, it in part explains why the ministry of education has had the highest turnover of ministers in the past 23 years.

While the country has developed very fast in the past 10-15 years, education hasn’t kept the pace because this would have required an overhaul of the entire education system. President Paul Kagame acknowledged as much last week while opening Umushyikirano w’Igihugu (National Dialogue).

He said, “I believe that a revolution in the quality of education, at all levels, must be among our highest priorities.”

To get quality graduates will require overhauling the entire education system right from kindergarten to university. This will not be easy especially given that leaders were educated in the same system and some have vested interests in maintaining the status quo.

But, where there is a will, there is a way.

Revising curriculums

To overhaul and put in place an education system that produces quality graduates will require revising curriculums and doing at least five things:
The first is to mobilise all stakeholders and convince them to buy into the idea of putting in place an education system that produce thinkers and producers of knowledge.

The second is to inaugurate a student-focused education system where the learner is a free thinker. That means teachers become facilitators.

The third is to instill a sense of self-worth, self-belief and responsibility in students with the objective of making them trust in their intelligence, skills and talents.

The fourth is to emphasise the role of and power of language in producing knowledge.

Finally, put in place a reward system that allows institutions of learning to hire and retain the best. This is important because Rwanda aspires to build a knowledge-based economy and that can’t happen with a poor reward system.

This rethink is urgently required especially with the increasing privatisation of education and emphasise on profit generation, or else the quality of graduates will continue to deteriorate.

Christopher Kayumba, PhD. Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR; Lead consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd. E-mail: [email protected]; twitter account: @Ckayumba