Opening Our Schools

WHEN a number of young people sit at the bus stop area located in front of the KCB main branch in town—just outside the headquarters of the City of Kigali, in the car-free zone—they are not waiting for a bus to take them to Kimironko, Remera or Kanombe. Not anymore. Nor are they chilling around for some air in the open, relaxed space. They’re sitting with the smartphones or tablets (it can’t be laptops because most of them cannot afford one that can maintain a suitable battery-life). And this happens more when students are in their holidays.

In early-December last year, I went to town, passed through the car-free area, and got a picture of the situation. From this and other instances we have witnessed, I am reminded of how much the internet has fast become an essential part of our lives; we want to use it to communicate and learn as we grow.

I usually tell my friends that without the internet, I don’t know what most would have become—thanks to the leadership of President Paul Kagame. (Thinking here of all the geeks and free thinkers in town, especially those whom the school system has failed.) It is the internet that has led many of the smart people I know to be more open, think broadly about concepts and learn to do things differently. It is the information they got from their favourite sites that is leading their minds to think faster and smarter, think forward and look ahead of their time and the old-fashioned, out-of-date books that they were almost forced to read while at primary and secondary school; or even university.

The internet has taught us the good and the bad sides of open. We have come to learn of how much it takes to be smart and what it costs, not to be innovative.

Majority of schools remain closed. Pedagogy still follows the colonial model of education. The new curriculum will take years to adapt. More teachers are dedicated, passionate but not equipped enough. What if we applied less control to students? What if “student-centred” was more “self-directed”? What if education was done in the right place? What if the free Wi-Fi was put in a school, open to any young learner, and not in a public space that isn’t made to accommodate people for hours? What if we could let young people, at least those who’ve had the basic training, consume content independently and then focus on creating great, engaging content? What if we opened our schools and transformed them into learning centres for everybody to access, even in holidays?

And what if the clock was ticking faster now?

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