There is a universally held opinion among Rwandan employers that university graduates are half-baked and totally unprepared to compete in the job market. And as someone who has interviewed a few young aspiring journalists I can say that the sentiment holds a bit of truth. For the longest time I believed that the main issue was the outdated curriculum that put more emphasis on rote learning rather than practical skills, but a recent encounter changed my mind.
After receiving my post-graduate degree I thought of ways I could use the skills I learnt in Beijing to better my country and profession. So, I decided to do what I’ve always wanted to try: teaching. I reached out to several universities that had an undergraduate programme in communication, mass media or journalism and sent them my resume. I got a call back from a certain well-known Kenyan university and meeting was arranged with the dean of the faculty of journalism and communication.
The sad state of the campus and its facilities should have warned me to expect the worst. I can honestly say that I had never seen such a disappointing facility; my high school classrooms looked better than them, never mind my university lecture rooms. “What kind of conditions were these”, I asked myself. The facilities weren’t the only things that made me reconsider my teaching dreams. After agreeing in principle to teach two courses, business writing and reporting and citizen journalism, the dean and I got into the topic of payment. “We will pay you five thousand francs an hour to teach; if the class is larger than twelve students, you will get seven thousand an hour”, I was told. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. What the dean was proposing was a weekly take home of Rwf 30,000 for six hours of teaching!
Now I don’t know about you, but receiving less than two hundred dollars a month for twenty-four hours on teaching (not including all the hours of prep work needed to teach a class) was nothing less than an insult to not only me, but to any potential lecturer worth their salt.
I understand that Rwanda is poor and our private universities work within that reality. But giving lecturers a pittance is simply not a good idea. Sure it makes sense for private universities (the less they pay, the more profits their owners make) to do so, if we are to be simplistic about it. However, I simply refuse to believe that education is a business like any other. It simply cannot be all about the money; there has to be a social responsibility aspect to it. Universities have the responsibility to ensure that their students receive the best education they can get. But I must ask, with such little compensation, what kind of teachers, and therefore education, are they getting?
Ever heard of the saying, ‘if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’? I don’t want to insult the teachers that are accept such miserly amounts, but I have to ask, are universities getting the best teachers? I doubt that.
What made me decline the opportunity to teach at the’ institute of lower learning’ was a conversation I had with a student. He informed me that he paid tuition fees of Rwf900, 000 per year. That was disgusting; if they university could ask for such amounts from students, it stood to reason that they would provide them with an education that was relative to their tuition fees. The students, I felt, were being cheated and so were their parents, who are paying the fees with the erroneous belief that their children will receive a good education.
I would have considered teaching some classes for free if the university was a public university; however, I would not allow myself to be a part of some kind factory that spewed graduates hurly-burly into our job market, lining the pockets of its owner and doing more harm than good.
As someone who has interviewed graduates from journalism schools for jobs I can say, with all honesty, that they are worse than half-baked. They can barely write, conduct an interview or understand story angles. Despite the fact that they have graduated with ‘honors’. It is easy to blame graduates, but they are only as good as they are allowed to be. And sadly, some of the universities in this country aren’t allowing them to reach their potential.