Part 1: “There is no magic wand in education. It will take time to build good quality” retired UR DVC, Charles Murigande

Dr. Charles Murigande, former Minister of Education and Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Institutional Advancement at the University of Rwanda retired on May 30, after 26 years in public service. He retired at the age of 62. Murigande had occupied Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2002 to 2008, as Minister of Governmental Affairs from 2008 to 2009, and as Minister of Education from 2009 to 2011.

As one of the seasoned education enthusiasts, Kaminuza Star interviewed him. This first part of the interview focuses on education issues both at the University of Rwanda and education system in Rwanda. Below are the excerpts.

How can you describe your 4-year experience working at the University of Rwanda?

I have had a wonderful experience. I have always loved education because I believe that everything else hinges on it. If we want to develop our country, we need to have a very good education. Education must not be just intellectual but also holistic.

When I joined the University of Rwanda, I was happy because I knew I would be able to contribute to educating the next generation. As we talk I am retiring, so I was aware that soon I will be retiring. That is why I came excited and I think I lived that excitement over the last four years.

The quality of education both at UR and in Rwanda has been heavily criticized to be poor, as former education minister and DVC, what do you think about that criticism?

I think the statement has some truth, but we also need to see why it is that way. The university is the top of education. It is not where you prepare good graduates they have shaky foundation. It would be very difficult for the university to turn these people around and produce good graduate.

First of all, the most important ingredient in education is the teacher. You need a competent, motivated and passionate teacher. When you look at our teachers in primary and secondary schools, you realize that they were oriented in Teachers Training Centers because they had lower marks. That is a very bad foundation.

Secondly, after they have struggled with their training, they are the lowest paid employees, which is not very motivating. Without motivation, they are not passionate, they only teach because they have no other options. For instance, the government came up with Umwalimu Savings and Credit cooperative to improve their lives. Instead, the scheme is enabling them to quit education because when they take loans and buy motorcycles or establish small shops, they quit teaching.

No wonder why we have children completing primary school without knowing how to read or write well. They have not been taught properly.

We have democratized education, the rigor of the past when we were growing up, when almost half the class could repeat, but that is no longer the case. We therefore end up having people graduating at every level of education having not been properly taught. That is why people criticize our education. I took an example of primary schools but it can also apply to secondary schools.

Added to that, not all our schools are well equipped with sufficient laboratories and other resources. There are a lot of elements that contribute to questionable quality of education.

Do you think Rwanda has what it takes to remedy all those faults in our education?

Yes, it is possible but it will take time. Because you can’t replace them all, neither can you double or triple their salary overnight. The government took a decision last year to orient in education students who have passed well because we all became convinced that the future of our children must be put in hands of capable and well nurtured teachers. It will take time to produce enough brilliant teachers, but at least the journey has started. There are also continuous professional developments that are in place to help improve those who are already in the system.

The government has taken an initiative to increase teachers’ salary by 10 percent every year until they reach the same salary standard as other civil servants. A combination of these measures and many others, is going to gradually change the situation. In education, there is no magic wand. A child is educated over many years. There is not a single or combination of acts you can pose that would transform the education and produce high quality graduates overnight.

However revolutionary and transformative taken measures can be, we will have to wait years for them to start producing observable results.

There has been arguments on whether encouraging STEM than non-STEM courses is right for our system. What is you take on that?

This is a worldwide debate. There is this fact that STEM is what creates things. Engineers, biotechnologists, genetic engineers create things that are sustained by mathematicians, physicians, biologists and chemists. Therefore, when you only focus on development, you tend to think that we need to emphasize STEM. But at end of the day, the goods you create will only generate money if you have good managers, sales persons and marketers.

The society will be balanced if you have people who understand social dynamics. Social scientist are needed, psychologists are needed because development causes mental illnesses. You always need to understand where you are coming from and where you are headed. So you need historians and anthropologists. I don’t think one can only say you only need STEM courses but I understand that you need to put on STEM to produce wealth and non-STEM people will help to manage that wealth. We should find a good balance.