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Rwanda : technology for education

 Education, a major pillar of Rwanda’s digital strategy, is one of the main beneficiaries of the investments made in ICT to achieve the country’s social and economic transformation. A winning bet on technology and youth. 

By Abraham Uwimana, in Kigali

Jean Népomuscène Havugimana, a 42-year-old entrepreneur based in Kigali, recalls his university days, when computer tools were just beginning to make inroads into the Rwandan education system. “I had a lot of trouble because everything was a challenge for me [and] it took a lot of energy to get used to using computers on a daily basis,” says the former student turned business owner. This is a commonplace story in the Land of a Thousand Hills, and it reminds us of the many difficulties encountered at the turn of the century by a whole generation of young graduates who were forced to use information and communication technologies (ICT) in their daily work from one day to the next, without having been trained for it before. 

Things have come a long way since that day and students who study today do so in a system based on digital tools (computers, tablets, Internet…), from elementary school to university. That tech-savvy approach owes much to the voluntarism of the Rwandan authorities, determined to develop a knowledge economy, based in particular on ICT. In 2016, the government launched, through its dedicated “ICT in Education Policy”, the national “Smart Classroom” program, an initiative aimed at equipping schools with an IT infrastructure facilitating the digitization of learning and teaching processes. 

The Rwandan government has also set up the “One Laptop per Child” program since the end of 2008. This program has provided laptops to all public elementary schools in the country to facilitate learning and introduce students to ICT tools at an early age.

Teaching and learning made easy and productive

As a result, “teaching and learning is now very easy and productive. We are able to show students everything we teach and it is easy for them to do research on every topic they study so they know more than what we teach. It is also possible to give most of the assignments and tests online,” says Richard Ishimwe, a teacher at Mbogo Secondary School in Southern Province. Sandrine Umutoni, a third-year student at Rugando secondary school in Kigali, is pleased that the process is “more fluid and that [students] no longer have to worry about competing with others from elsewhere because they now have the same skills and training. 

Better still, despite several challenges that still need to be addressed, such as upgrading the digital skills of unqualified teachers and improving access to higher education, the inherently inclusive nature of the system has allowed many students from low-income and provincial backgrounds to take innovative initiatives, based on their newly acquired knowledge of ICT.  

Technology exposure in schools, a starting point for innovative initiatives 

IsaïeTurikumana, a 16-year-old student from Rwamagana (Eastern Province of Rwanda), made an FM radio accessible within a one-kilometer radius, while living in a one-room house with his mother. When contacted by the local media, he confirmed that he “learned everything by himself, thanks to an early ICT exposure” in school. Victor Emmanuel Ndayisaba, a third-year student in Muhanga, Southern Province, built with local materials a robot that was used by district authorities to provide information on the COVID epidemic. That initiative was made possible, according to the young inventor, by the fact that the school had “familiarized him with technology, which he liked and pushed him to pursue his project alone”. These are all good examples of a youth taking the initiative by using technology wisely; it also provides material for further study by education experts who believe that an early exposure to technology can contribute to make a significant (positive) difference.  Especially in terms of skills in a globalized and highly competitive job market. 

Leveraging ICT well beyond the education field

This also reinforces the Rwandan authorities’ decision to focus on ICT, well beyond the education field: In the Land of a Thousand Hills, besides the essential mobile banking, public services are fully digitalized – via the Irembo application – and most public transport is equipped with Wi-Fi; a unique case on the continent.

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