8 November 2012

Rwanda: In Pursuit of Higher Education

Mount Kenya University's weekend program wins hearts of Rwandans:

It may not have meant much when Mt. Kenya University (MKU) pitched camp in Kigali almost 3 years ago but now some of the programs it offers have found a willing and hungry audience.

Since its opening, MKU offers weekend programs that are increasingly winning the hearts of learners in pursuit of higher education. Weekend study programs are not a new concept in Kenya where the university originates because most of the universities there offer the same program. But in Rwanda, MKU continues to enjoy a monopoly.

This is a system in which those who opt for the program have their lessons entirely over the weekend, starting on Saturday morning and ending on Sunday evening. The students still cover the required contact hours just like their day and evening counterparts in a given semester.

The program is very popular with the School of Health Sciences which has close to 300 students taking weekend classes at the Kicukiro branch of the university.

"The weekend programs have taken Rwanda by storm because they offer the convenience of studying without necessarily taking a study leave for those who are working," says Mr. Onesmus Marete, the Head, School of Health Sciences.

Marete also says the program is applicable to those from outside Kigali mainly because of one highly sought after program it offers: Bachelor of Biomedical Laboratory. Antoine Majyambere travels three hours from the furthest corner of Ngoma District near Tanzania to attend class.

A community health officer, and pursuing a Bachelor of Public Health degree, Majyambere says it's difficult but philosophizes that nothing comes for free. It may be a difficult journey he has undertaken but terms it as a necessity. Also travelling from Ngoma District and with a determined look is Dative Byukesenge, doing a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Laboratory.

To Byukesenge, MKU opened a new chapter in her life. She had been pursuing a degree in Economics and Management from Kibungo Institute of Agriculture, Technology and Education (UNATEK), the only university in the area.

This was not her heart's desire and even though she had covered one year, she quickly terminated the course in favour of the degree she is currently pursuing. She is a health educator by profession and needed to upgrade her skills alongside her line of career. What's more, MKU offers the degree in the shortest time possible--just in 3 years.

Most of the students who do the weekend program actually come from outside Kigali, with many opting to arrive in Kigali on Friday night where they will put up with close relatives and friends before attending class on Saturday morning. While some opt to travel back on Sunday evening, some commence their return journey early Monday morning.

So when do they get time to study and do their assignments if they work Monday to Friday and are in class the entire weekend?

Dominic, a clinical officer in Kayonza District, and a student of Public Health at MKU, says it is indeed a very difficult journey but if you know why you are back in school, nothing will stand in your way. He says after work, he goes straight home and does an hour or two of reading before turning in.

It has affected his social life where he no longer attends family or friends' functions but he knows it's only for a while. The business of acquiring more skills to better fit into his career of choice is of more importance right now.

The nearest institution of higher learning, Kibungo School of Nursing and Midwifery does not offer the course he is pursuing, hence his decision to travel the two hours to Kigali every weekend.

Most Rwandans are Christians, attending church either on Saturday or Sunday, which means many of these students will miss church for the entire duration of the course unless they decide to miss class and sneak into church.

From Muhanga District comes Fabien Munyampundu who also has a similar story as his colleagues since Catholic Institute of Kabgayi (ICK) also does not offer what he was looking for.

However, church to him is very important, even more important than education. Hence, being a Catholic, he makes sure he attends the early morning mass every day, Monday to Friday. Another student Bernadette Nduwamungu attends her church service on Thursday evening.

The weekend program is organized in such a way that classes start on Saturday morning at 7am. The students are required to do seven units per semester. The program schedule is structured in the following order: 7-10am, 10.30am-1.30pm, 2-5pm and 6-9pm. On Sunday, the same program prevails only that it ends at 5pm to give the students time to start travelling back home.

The program does not only attract those from outside Kigali but also those within Kigali who are unable to attend the evening or day programs. For instance, Alice Umwizerwa, a Bachelor of Business Management student is unable to simply because she is a field worker who leaves Kigali early morning to return late in the evening, so the program suits her perfectly.

Pauline Munganyinka, who is also pursuing a degree in Bachelor of Business Management, says that though she works within Kigali, her schedule is unpredictable as she can sometimes leave work at 7pm, which happens more often. In order to avoid an erratic life, she joined the program and finds it perfect.

According to Mr. Erias Juuko, the Deputy Principal in Administration, the program is popular because of its uniqueness.

"The program has made sure that all stakeholders are involved and it is very accommodating because all interest groups are taken care of, from day, evening, weekend to virtual learning," he says.

Mr. Zach Thiga, the university's Registrar and also a student of International Relations in the same weekend programme, says he finds value in the program because it is a whole day compact flexible program that ensures he stays on campus to study.

"Students have nowhere to go. Between Saturday morning and Sunday evening, we are confined within campus which compels us to go either to the library or computer lab for studies or research in between lessons," he adds.

Whether students opt for the day, evening or weekend program, the time frame within which to finish the course is the same. Other schools which offer weekend programs include School of Business, Journalism, Education, and Pure and Applied Sciences.

Indeed MKU has given Rwanda an opportunity to be at par with other East African nations in competitiveness in education, thus cementing healthy inter regional relations.

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