High-level AAAS officials on a fact-finding trip to Rwanda pledged that the association would provide science education resources to support the Central African nation as it pursues an ambitious long-term education and development plan.
After returning from the two-day visit, the AAAS officials said they were deeply impressed by Rwanda’s effort to recover from its 1994 genocide by using science and technology to improve the economy, education, and the lives of its people. In discussions with the nation’s top science and education leaders, AAAS officials said they will provide Rwanda with curriculum materials developed by Project 2061, the association’s pioneering science literacy initiative, and other science education resources.
Rwandan Minister of Education Daphrose Gahakwa welcomed the meetings as a way to build a long-term relationship that could provide critical support to her nation. “We believe the meetings… serve to link Rwanda with the network of scientists who are members of AAAS,” Gahakwa said. Over time, she added, the engagement “would help in implementation of science, technology and innovation policy in education.”
Members of the AAAS delegation said that Rwanda’s efforts and AAAS’s support, if successful, could someday have an impact beyond the tiny nation’s borders.
“During our visit, we were again reminded of the central role that Rwanda’s leadership is placing on science and technology in their development strategy,” said AAAS Chief International Officer Vaughan Turekian. “This provides a very good opportunity for AAAS and other science-based organizations to share experiences and work together to help build capacity.”
“This partnership makes me feel hopeful and optimistic,” said Shirley Malcom, head of Education and Human Resources at AAAS. “So many people have written Africa off. We need an existence proof from Africa. We need to show it can work.
“Now we have an opportunity to support capacity-building in a context where top-level leaders have a commitment to education for all that includes science and technology, an understanding of the economic and development stakes for their country, and a systemic vision of what it takes to make it happen.”
Turekian and Malcom were joined by Sarah Banas, program associate in the International Office. In visits to the capital city, Kigali, and to the National University of Rwanda in Butare on 27 and 28 August, they met with Gahakwa; Science Minister Romain Murenzi; Théoneste Mutsindashyaka, the state minister for primary and secondary education; and James Kimonyo, Rwanda’s ambassador to the United States. The meetings also included top administrators at the university; the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology; the Kigali Institute of Education; the National University of Rwanda; and the National Curriculum Development Center.
AAAS officials also met with staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kigali, including Chargé d’Affaires Cheryl Sim and Economic Counselor Alex Sokoloff.
The bi-lateral meetings further strengthened a relationship that has developed with an October 2007 visit to Rwanda by AAAS President (and now Board Chairman) David Baltimore and an address by Rwandan President Paul Kagame to the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston last February.
Small and landlocked, Rwanda has the highest population density in Africa. Its people, most of them farmers, are poor: Some 60% of Rwandans live on less than $1 a day. Rwanda’s fragile economy was shattered by the civil war that culminated in a 1994 genocide that left some 800,000 people dead, mainly ethnic Tutsis as well as politically-moderate Hutus. Today there remains a significant shortage of educated workers—teachers and faculty members, technical staff, and mid-level civil servants in government.
But there is broad evidence that Rwanda is building strength. Between 1995 and 2005, annual economic growth averaged 7.4%, the World Bank says. AAAS officials have been struck by the efficiency and peaceful atmosphere of the capital, Kigali. The nation’s leaders have taken a zero-tolerance attitude toward corruption. And policymakers are tying to position Rwanda as a crossroads for the French-speaking and English-speaking nations of Africa.
President Kagame is committed to using science, technology and education to drive economic growth and development of the nation’s human capital. He has set a goal of investing 5% of Rwanda’s gross domestic product in S&T by 2012 (the U.S. investment is near 3%). The government has worked to build a modern information and communication technology infrastructure; a nationwide fiber-optic network is being laid to connect centers of health, education, science, business and government.
The government also is committed to education: Last year, the National University of Rwanda graduated 4000 students. Two million children—95% of the elementary school-aged children in the nation—are now enrolled. The government is expanding English and French instruction even among younger students. Another 200,000 students are enrolled in secondary school.
In early September, the nation teamed with the American non-profit group, One Laptop Per Child , distributing 5000 laptops to students; Rwanda hopes that 2.5 million children will have laptops by 2020.
The educational progress is, however, threatened by a monumental logjam: Rwanda desperately needs highly educated professionals, educators and technicians—currently, there are only 150 Ph.D.s in the whole country, Banas said. But with millions of students rising up through elementary and high school, the capacity of Rwanda’s university system is just 45,000 students. There’s further evidence of capacity stress at the Kigali Institute of Science & Technology, where new laboratories lacking in basic equipment.
“There are a lot of challenges when you’re starting from scratch,” Banas said.
The most recent talks focused on how officials from Rwanda and AAAS might collaborate to address education and capacity issues. Rwanda has an ambitious, detailed plan for development; members of the AAAS delegation said they were most interested to hear what Rwanda needs to bring that plan to fruition. Rwandan officials said they needed education and curriculum resources and teachers, especially at the university and post-graduate levels.
Gahakwa said the government would welcome support in finding faculty members who could teach in Rwanda. “We are also interested in scientists who could spend their sabbatical in Rwanda,” she said. “We would contribute to housing and local transportation.”
AAAS made a commitment to work with Rwandan education leaders on curriculum development, using materials such as the Project 2061 Atlas of Science Literacy , Science NetLinks , and digital libraries. The next step, Malcom said, may be to send AAAS or Project 2061 staff to train Rwandan teacher educators and curriculum leaders in using the Atlas.