I cannot even begin to relate just how often I hear people say, quite annoyingly I must add, that local universities produce “half-baked graduates”. You will hear this on television, in the media and in daily conversation. People complain that they can barely write a legible job application and when they DO get a job, the simplest tasks are beyond them. And to tell the truth, I’m sick and tired of that simplistic narrative.
When I tell someone that I, along with many of my friends and accomplished colleagues, studied in those ‘poor schools’, they often respond that we “are different”. “Why”, I ask, “ didn’t we went through the same KIST and NUR doors that you besmirch on a daily basis”? “Are we incompetent”? “Are the people who graduated from fancy, foreign universities better at their jobs than we are”? “I doubt it”.
The Ms. Geek event that took place at Lemigo hotel on Saturday proved my point. Organized by Girls in ICT Rwanda, the event aimed to showcase just how tech savvy and innovative the girls in our universities were. Although Nancy Sibo, a student at the Faculty of Agricultural Engineering, won the event with her ‘Mobile Cow’ app, she was just one of the 25 students who brought their ideas forward.
Talking with a friend of mine who attended the event, I learnt that each and every one of those girls, who presented their ideas with clarity and eloquence, went through a public speaking and presentation workshop. For a week. In a mere week, with the help of interested and focused mentors, these girls were able to stand in front of an intimidating audience and do well. The magic word here people is ‘mentors’.
In my experience, university students are callow and often have their heads in the clouds. It doesn’t matter whether they are from Wichita or Musanze. They are all the same. Which is okay. The difference is what people expect from them when they earn a degree. Elsewhere, they are treated with kid gloves and allowed to grow as not only workers but also as human beings. They are mentored and encouraged to do as many internships as possible. Here, they are given the keys to the kingdom and told ‘sink or swim’. And when they do sink, we say “look at them; they can’t do anything”.
In my opinion, a university’s job is to give its students a basic level of knowledge about their chosen career path. It should be the job market that completes their education. Employers need to stop being reactive and become more proactive.
A few months ago, I was chatting with a lawyer friend of mine about this issue. “Why, I asked him, “didn’t his law firm
work closely with the NUR law faculty to present yearly internship slots to law school students who want to work during their long vacation”? The way I envisaged it, the law firm would get gophers able to perform the most menial tasks, like delivering summons and what not, leaving the associates and partners to do the real legwork. The law firm would get to systematically train its prospective labour force cheaply, teaching them the ethos of the company and cherry picking the best of the bunch. For the students who didn’t get a job in that law firm, they’d be able to gain oh so important work experience. Giving them an advantage in the competitive job market.
Back when I was in school, the only places we could get some experience was during the yearly Expo. And those jobs taught very little. As an aspiring writer, I was fortunate to be able to work at The New Times newspaper during the holidays. The pay wasn’t great but it allowed me to grow as a writer, journalist and editor. And lo behold, as soon as I graduated I had a job waiting for me. The employer had shaped me and now was reaping the rewards.
I know that there are thousands of smart, willing and driven university students just waiting for a chance to shine. Like those smart girls who everyone admired at the Miss Geek event, all they need is a little spent on them. There is a lot of talent in our academic sea; what we need to do is groom that talent in a systematic manner. No matter how talented they seem, they need all the support that they can get. And currently, they simply aren’t getting it.