'We are not going to miss out on the technological revolution' Paul Kagame (paraphrased)

Rwanda 2012 Reflection #4 – do you use your role for a higher purpose?

As Principals, Superintendents or school leaders, do you use your position to try and ‘be the change’? It seems like a straightforward enough question – but probably one that bears a little more thought and conversation.

School leaders do have the capacity to speak out or take action more than others in a community. I guess that just “comes with the territory”. Though, if your experience is anything like mine, getting politicians and policy creators in my own State to listen is probably the hardest task of all. For some reason, the hometown is tough territory.

However – not so in Africa. My experience over the last few years in three different African countries – Malawi, Uganda and Rwanda has demonstrated otherwise. As a school leader from the developed world, I can have quite an influence on education systems in countries seeking aid. There are two reasons for this that I can see: firstly, Principals are respected as community leaders and secondly, as a result of my own experience, knowledge and understanding, there is in fact a lot I can share.

Only barriers in my mind

Rwanda is a nation that looks to use ‘borrowed talent’ in order to help development. In relation to education, I have found people in the different sections of education administration, extremely willing to talk and support whatever focus we bring. I have been honoured to be able to speak with a range of government officials over the last few years, including the Minister for Education (now an Ambassador), the Director General of Education, Chief Inspector of Schools, Head of the Higher Education sector and the Rector of the Kigali Institute of Teacher Education, among a number of people. These people are all excellent educational administrators and understand well what directions they need to steer their departments or institutions. Their main challenge would be resource related. The only barrier to supporting these people comes from my own perception that there is little someone like me might contribute. Such barriers exist only in my mind!

My African experience has also taught me that Principals really value the encouragement and support that can come from professional sharing with colleagues. In Australia (as well as times in the States, the UK, Finland, Canada, Sweden and elsewhere), we take the ability to talk with colleagues for granted. The opportunity to meet with and support fellow school leaders in developing nations such as Rwanda is more limited – largely because of the constraints of distance, travel, costs and staffing.

Share the journey – at any level

In the last three years I have travelled to Africa and had the opportunity to mix with fellow educators over there. I wish I had done this earlier in my professional career and I want to encourage you to use your talents, your gifting, your social standing for such purposes. By highlighting my journey, I am inviting you to share it.

I recall a comment, made by the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, that I have read somewhere where he said (my version): “we [Rwanda] missed out on the industrial revolution; we missed out on the agricultural revolution. We are not going to miss out on the technological revolution”. A visionary statement indeed!

A challenge thrown, a challenge received

During my second visit to Rwanda, I was thrown a challenge by Bishop John Rucyahana (now the Rwandan Reconciliation Commissioner). He told me that the churches are responsible for all the government schools in this region. But they have no money for it. He threw out a challenge to consider whether there was something that I could do that would help the schools. “Do something to help the schools. Do something to help the children.”

One possible way ahead

Having visited a number of the schools I can see what is needed. We need to help:
- reinvent the direction of learning
- lower the high post school unemployment rates (80 – 85% in many instances)
- rebuild many buildings
- retrain many teachers so that their English is more fluent
- improve literacy and numeracy achievements
- provide opportunities for the children so that they might be able to realize their dreams and ambitions
- find some funding
- direct new mobile technologies to the students and teachers

Obviously, a comprehensive strategy is needed – far bigger than my solo capacities!

So, my thoughts … what if I hold a summit? What if I used the natural beauty of this area to hook people into an African adventure? What if we had a collision of minds? What if I led others to walk the same journey for a few days – educators, entrepreneurs, architects, IT specialists, consultants, carpenters, explorers, anyone! What if we could use our collective thinking to describe a model for learning that would help in all these areas? What if we used our collective connections to find innovative ways of achieving the goals?

Rwanda was let down by a world which abandoned it in 1994 with devastating consequences - ‘We could and should have done more’ – Kofi Annan, 2004 (see my previous blog post: http://www.connectedprincipals.com/archives/5257). Let us use that as inspiration to help now.

The tale of two schools

To conclude, I’ll focus on the story of two schools. I am hoping to include a participant visitation to both of these schools as part of the [rw12] Innovate Rwanda summit during 24-26 May, 2012. Perhaps like me, you might compare the circumstances with your own school’s context.

Maya 1
Maya 1 is a rural school in the northern Province, not too far from Rugeshi– it can be found after travelling just a little way off the main road via rocky tracks created out of volcanic rocks within maize fields. There were hundreds of children that I saw the times I visited. I was told Maya 1 was built in 1934. The French & Kinyarwandan speaking Headmaster is an absolute gentleman – a stoic, resilient, compassionate educator. I’ll summarize his challenges:

• There is no electricity.
• There is no running water.
• There are no English-speaking teachers in a school where the children are being prepared for national exams in English.
• Some classrooms are so badly damaged by the earthquakes that accompanied the volcanic eruption in nearby Congo about six years ago, that the children have to huddle on to the benches in just one third of the classroom.
• In many classes over 70 children sit crammed on benches with no books, no pencils.
• There are few working blackboards.
• The windows are forced shut.
• There is little light.
• The children therefore learn largely by rote - for hours on end.
• When it rains, the teachers take the children into the adjacent church. The roof is safer there.
• The textbooks are in English. They sit in a dry room, hand built by the Principal.

It would seem to me this is pre-industrial revolution era education. The amazing thing is that the children seem happy in general and are very mindful of any opportunities that come their way. Imagine how much more we will be able to offer if we combine the enthusiasm of these children and their teachers with some assistance from the developed world. I spoke on this last trip with a parent of the school who lives adjacent to the property. She said it is “a good school – but it needs urgent help because of the roof”.

Kagogo Secondary School

Kagogo Secondary School stands above the beautiful Lake Burera in the northern province, nearby the Volcanoes NP – an amazing location. It currently caters for about 530 students - boarders. The school is already noted for its outstanding outcomes – especially in Science. Many students have gone on to further study at tertiary levels. It is already oversubscribed with waiting lists of local children who would love to come here to study. However, Kagogo has some significant infrastructure challenges:

• There is no electricity.
• There is no fresh running water.
• There are very limited toilet facilities for the students (3 latrines for over 120 girls; 7 for over 400 boys).
• The washrooms have no water supply – other than the buckets which the students carry with them.
• The boarding dormitories are crowded.
• There are no electric lights in the evening.
• The students need to bring their own mattresses and mosquito nets (if they have them).
• The chefs prepare food for all the students on wood-fuelled burners, in a kitchen with no electricity or running water. Meals are cooked for 530 students plus teachers three times a day.

Inspired to help? Join us!
On 24th, 25th and 26th May, 2012, SCIL (Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning) is holding a summit as a starting point to do something. We are going to locate it in this region. We are going to take people to these places - the fields, the homes, the schools. We are going to take people to join our journey. We are hoping for a collision of minds to find ways to construct a different future for these children. We have no other agenda. It may just be that we can create a template that can be applied to schools anywhere in the developing world! Wouldn’t that be outstanding!

We are hoping you will join us:

W http://scil.com.au/rwanda
T @scil #rw12
E aknock@scil.nsw.edu.au