This is the age of the entrepreneur. If you have any doubts, I will only mention one name; Mark Zuckerberg. Even if you have been living under a rock for the past 10 years, chances are that there is someone who knows your story and has created a facebook group named "support people living under rocks".
I was following the Facebook Initial Public Offer (IPO) and all the drama in its aftermath. The company is valued at over USD 100 billion. At the close of trading on day one, they sold 573,622,571 shares, the highest ever by any single share stock on the NASDAQ and the third highest in the whole world.
All that kept coming back to my mind was one fact; Mark Zuckerberg is 28 years old and he is the reason for all this! He was named the world's youngest billionaire in 2008 by Forbes Magazine.
The average ages of the richest 5% of any country tend to be dominated by people in the 50-65 age brackets. So if you work hard, you can dream of retiring rich. That's great but I am sure deep down every young person wants to live the Mark Zuckerberg dream. He is valued at a net worth of just under USD 15 billion! So what makes it possible for the likes of Zuckerberg to achieve every young person's wildest dream?
I have a theory. With a few exceptions, we are all capable of achieving such outlandish dreams. The only difference is in the fields of endeavour that we choose and what motivates us to do so. It might surprise you to learn that Zuckerberg excelled at classic Literature at an early age but his real passion turned out to be computing. Who knows he would have made a really brilliant professor of literature albeit never featuring on the Forbes rich list.
When I was at high school, I had the privilege of going to some really good traditional schools. These schools boasted of elite alumni across the region and beyond. Consequently, I interacted with some really smart students. I had been a straight A student at primary school and that's how I ended up at one of these schools; the prestigious King's College Budo in Uganda.
At Budo, it was not uncommon for the top student in a class to score 100% in 5 or 6 of the subjects taught. It was usually in the traditional subjects of Maths, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Geography, and History that students excelled.
When we left school, it turned out that these top students took to the traditional professions such as medicine, Engineering, the law, accounting and other public service jobs.
The B students, on the other hand, ended up in business, finance, and marketing and did rather well outside the school system. I would go as far as to say that they outshined the A students when it came to cutting it in the real world.
This has made me doubt the efficacy of the Education systems in Africa. Many of these systems are relics of our colonial past. The very countries that designed the systems i.e. Britain, France, Belgium and the like have long since seen their folly. While they still appreciate the need for traditionally trained professionals, they have all so created diversity to allow for different or new age skills to flourish. So while you still have Oxford and Cambridge as fountains of learning in England, Universities like Loughborough have emerged as unchallenged beacons of excellence in the area of sports science.
Rwanda needs to take advantage of its nascent stage. We can address the issue of making an education system fit for purpose and not just churn out graduates with degrees in engineering and nuclear physics whose pinnacle of success would be a professorship at the national university.
Steps are being taken that must be commended. The recent restructuring of Technical colleges into TVETs such as the one located in the premises of the former Kicukiro College of Technology is a good start.
More can be done. The emergency of private institutions such as Rwanda Tourism University College (RTUC) in Kicukiro is a beacon of hope. There is no reason why this cannot become a centre of excellence for tourism in the East African region. We need to steadily move away from parochial education systems that put a premium on passing Exams at the expense of encouraging free thinking.
In Sweden, for example, schools focus more on the individual performance rather than a student's relative performance to his class as is the case in most systems in African countries.
Assignments are graded as very good, fair or Fail. This means that a student can focus on improving his grades and not just his position in class.
I am a strong believer in the notion that there is an ounce of greatness in each one of us. Like the mustard seed, if natured well we all can achieve things beyond our dreams. The crucial stages of learning and growth occur to us in the first 20 years of our lives. We are then expected to live anything from 40 to 80 years building on that foundation.
It's often said that youth is wasted on the young, I beg to disagree. The onus is on those with the power to shape policy (definitely not the young) to get the most out of the youth. All focus should be on creating an enabling environment for the young to realise their wildest dreams.
Who knows, the next Zuckerberg may be an acne-faced pubescent youth from Biryogo in Nyamirambo!