A lot of good things are happening in the education sector in Rwanda and we had better take notice.
On June 18, Kepler, an American educational institution operating in Rwanda and offering American college degrees, held its second graduation ceremony at its Kimironko campus.
Few in Rwanda know about Kepler perhaps because they have not loudly announced their presence but have been quietly going about educating young Rwandans. And the results are showing.
Young Rwandans are getting world class education without having to leave their country, and at a small fraction of what it would cost abroad. The students have shown their competence by getting their diplomas in less time than their counterparts in the US take. Employers find Kepler graduates job-suited.
Kepler joins other US universities in Rwanda like the better-known Carnegie Mellon University and Oklahoma Christian University that offer master’s degree programmes in engineering and business administration respectively.
A week before the Kepler graduation, President Paul Kagame officiated at the commissioning of over forty Rwandan students and a few from neighbouring countries who will be going to study at some of the top universities in the United States.
This is the result of the work of Bridge2Rwanda, an organisation that helps select some of the brightest students, prepares them to compete for international scholarships and places them in the various universities.
The programme has been going on for seven years and every year the number of students benefitting from it has been growing.
This is in addition to the other brilliant students who get the presidential scholarship to attend university in various parts of the world.
One cannot forget the thousands of equally brilliant students who attend university in Rwanda
This is a formidable force of intellectual power in the making in both local and foreign universities. If all these do as they are expected (indeed, it is a mission), they should use the ideas, knowledge and skills they acquire from their study in some of the world’s premier centres of learning to innovate and transform this country.
And talking about innovation, news media in Rwanda has been reporting on what some educational institutions have been doing in this regard lately. On June 1, The New Times reported two innovations by students of Tumba College of Technology.
A one Ange Uwamariya was reported to have developed an IV Alert System that uses SMS or calls to alert medical staff when the drip is about to get empty. This may not sound so great, but anyone who has looked after patients on drip in our medical facilities will appreciate its importance.
Often, nurses insert the IV drip and ignore or forget to monitor whether it needs to be replenished. Untrained care givers are left to fumble with stopping the emptying drip, sometimes with dire consequences.
Another student, Imani Bora, developed “cash water’, a prepaid water meter system.
These are only some of the few reported cases. Many more go unreported, but have the potential to impact the lives of Rwandans.
Admittedly these are not the ground-breaking innovations that we should be shouting about from the hilltops. More than these modest creations will be needed to get us singing about the greatness of our scientists and inventors.
But they show that the minds of our young scientists and engineers are in the direct direction. It also shows that they have the ability to be innovative and that schools are doing the right thing to facilitate them find solutions to existing challenges.
And with all those students scouring the whole world for new ideas, it is only a matter of time before we start talking about being an innovation hub in the region.
This is not far-fetched. One only has to remember that some of today’s life-changing innovations were started by college students in dormitories or garages, not in sophisticated laboratories or workshops.
Even earlier findings about natural laws of science were accidental. Archimedes’ eureka moment about floatation came when he was in his bath tub. Isaac Newton was jolted into a find on gravity by a falling apple that hit him on the head and left a painful bump.
We do not, of course, have to wait for accidents to discover things. That’s why we have all these bright young people going out to search for new ideas and sharpen their intellect so that they can be creative.
Still, a lot needs to be done before going to hilltops to announce our arrival as innovators.
First, the young inventors need encouragement. The schools are giving it. The government and other partners are doing so through the various scholarship schemes. What remains is recognition of their work, supporting it, and helping them advance it.
Second, a method of funding innovation has to be sought. Where there have been great inventions, the private sector has often been involved, either through direct funding or indirectly through training and apprenticeship. The same can be done here.
We will, of course lament about the state of our education, but we might also do well to note that some good things are happening.