Letters: the bittersweet irony of Rwanda's job market


I am the communications director at , a college with campuses in Rwanda and Burundi that prepares young women for professional careers in the fastest-growing sectors of the economy. I was delighted to see the recent article on . It's very gratifying to read that people outside east Africa understand what is happening economically in this region and the unique educational challenges of rapid growth.

Take as an example: a country with a burgeoning economy – the result of political stability, an influx of foreign direct investment, and the growth of information technology and tourism – but a population utterly unequipped to take advantage of the new job growth. Employers frequently complain to Akilah that they can't find and hire qualified candidates fast enough. Your article quotes Rwanda's education minister Vincent Biruta: "Students may be able to answer exam questions but they need to be able to have the skills to go out and find a job. Critical thinking is key. They need analytical skills, to be able to come up with solutions."

The irony is bitter: the vast majority of Rwandans are underemployed while the vast majority of businesses are understaffed. While the education sector is making strides to rethink a historically inadequate learning model of lectures and rote memorisation, most colleges and universities are still focused on churning out large numbers of graduates that are not qualified for the workplace. Indeed, the expansion of educational access often comes at the expense of quality.

What we do differently at Akilah is simple. Our graduates earn a two-year career-focused diploma instead of a four-year bachelor's degree, which minimises their financial burden and gets them onto the job market as quickly as possible. The entire programme spans three years. The first year is an intensive foundation course that precedes the two-year diploma, helping young east African women make the transition from a shaky secondary school education to advanced, market-relevant college coursework. Most high school graduates have been taught by teachers with very limited English-language skills, so this boot camp style training in English communication, math, information technology, and leadership is essential for advanced-level coursework. No other institutions of higher education in Rwanda or Burundi do this, but practical learning is the only way to go if you're actually committed to ending youth unemployment, not just expanding access to education.

After the first-year foundation course, Akilah students select one of three majors: entrepreneurship, hospitality management, or information systems – the three highest-growth industries in east today. The curriculum immerses students in hands-on, team-based learning with an emphasis on leadership, problem solving, and critical thinking skills, a minimum number of lectures, and a mandatory internship component. Our model may not be so revolutionary in the western context, but in countries working overtime on finding their place in the modern global economy, a practical approach to education is indispensable. Our results prove the value of our model: a 92% job placement rate upon graduation.

Anastasia Uglova is the communications director at . Follow on Twitter

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