By Catherine Gashegu
As I listened to Yusuf Mugenzi’s BBC programme on Saturday April 2, I realized how much we, in Rwanda, take for granted what other countries don’t. The major complaint was that Government had cancelled financial support for students, an issue that was being explored on the radio show, with heartfelt concern.
Some student was woefully mingling his Ugali, saying that this was not only a difficult task, but disrupting his schooling as well.
As I listened more closely to the Minister of Education’s explanation, I realized it was not the school fees that had been cancelled, but the living allowance of Rwf 25,000. I shrunk in embarrassment as the Minister got hard talked into the fact that some students had actually dropped out of school because of this. Hopefully I heard it wrong.
Now, now, Rwf 25,000 may not seem much but given that some students are very poor, this is more than a fortune lost. Secondly, according to hearsay, some of these students actually forego this amount to send it back to their families, some of whom earn less than a dollar a week.
I imagine some of them feel they are worse off than a lot of other Government institutions in the region and abroad. Probably, there is some sense of self pity as well, you know, the bit about being born poor, struggling to survive and the rest.
The grass always looks greener on the other side, doesn’t it? Else, why do students from abroad always seem smarter, more polished, better educated, and of course much more practical and down to earth (notwithstanding some that come off with this superiority complex).
With a good scholarship in pocket, any Rwandan student abroad, if honest, will give you the right side of the story that the Minister so ably highlighted during radio talk show.
Quite important is that many students live off government loans (SFAR model) that they have to repay once they start working. As equally important is that nearly all students have to work to supplement their loans, and hopefully reduce the amount of debt that they have to repay.
Many students learn to budget and save, part of which includes; walking or riding a bicycle to school where possible; eating homemade sandwiches for a week instead of buying them; and forgoing some personal benefits to save for a trip that they wish to take some place.
Students (graduate or undergraduate), are not afraid to take on waitressing, guarding and other small jobs that are considered rather humiliating in Rwanda.
It is true that quite a number of private students are already doing this, but like the Minister said, this goes to show all is possible where there is a will. If their fellow students are able to work and study in the evenings while fully funding themselves, why should Government-sponsored students not do likewise?
It is embarrassing when such complaints are aired on radio, where many more children are unable to complete schooling at the lowest levels due to lack of funding.
Perhaps the main concern for Government and the students should be on the availability of small part-time jobs that students can apply for on campus and off-campus facilities.
To enable this better, institutions or businesses that offer this service could be provided some incentives like tax discounts or other since our economy is not yet as active as those of the more developed nations. Priority could be given to the very poor students, with special focus on those coming from the countryside.
Another common practice is to reward the best students at each level of university, to encourage the poorer students to work harder for extra funding. The advantages of the above initiatives are threefold. One, they help students gain work experience before graduation, while helping them appreciate the importance of earning income.
Secondly, rewarding the best students increases their sense of worth and confidence building especially for the poorer students that realize there is a world of opportunities beyond their studies.
Most important, just like those students abroad who scrimp and save to support their schooling, our students will learn not to take every little detail for granted, just because they are university students.