At the occasion of the recent publication of national exam results for Primary and Secondary (O' level) students, Education Minister Vincent Biruta warned heads of schools who prevent some students, who have shown poor performance in class, from sitting the exams, and force them to retake their year, with the aim of obtaining a better overall result for their institution.
"Retaining a student at such a level is an unnecessary waste of time," the Minister stressed.
An anonymous student at a school in Gahini (Kayonza district) in the Eastern Province told The Rwanda Focus that the principal decided to retain 40 students in the second year because he thinks if they are promoted to the third year, their performance in the national exams will make the school's performance poorly ranked. "He is interested in his personal image and not the knowledge we are getting," the student complained.
Such issues invariably cause heated debate. "It's the principal's responsibility to make sure that every student gets ready for the exam," argued one observer who did not want to be named.
Others however stress that no one should be promoted to the next level when they are not worth it. "Why can't they retake the year if they have failed the exams?" asked Patrick Muhizi, a Master's Degree holder owning a PR consulting firm in Kigali.
Muhizi said the concept of 'education for all' has been misunderstood, and Mineduc and other stakeholders should control the quality of the education and make sure that exams and promotion are clear and marking is impartial. "The rest are unnecessary details," he said, adding that when the ministry sets conditions for retaking a year, it is kind of interfering with the teachers' job. "That has to be their decision because they are the ones who assist students daily. They know their students' abilities."
Different sources see a contradiction in the fact that Mineduc promotes quality of education, yet complains when students are retaking classes. "I know they promote access to education for all, even elders these days have been joining schools, but why can't you let those kids who didn't succeed retake the year until they are able to pass the exams? Don't they take into account the Rwandan job market, its needs, and the unemployment rate that we are suffering these days?" questioned a policy analyst who requested anonymity.
Many suggest that what Rwanda needs is not a good ranking in promoting education, but knowledge and capacity to develop our country. "If we keep on messing up our education system, then our diplomas will be worthless," said Claude Nkundimana, a lecturer at the National University of Rwanda. "Can you imagine that some children who finish primary school can't even spell their own name correctly? I'm not in favor of delaying kids in school unnecessarily, but neither of promoting them without anything in their brain."
Nkundimana further remarked that such issues have also started to affect some private higher learning institutions where lecturers are under pressure to let all students pass for fear of being fired or having their salary reduced, because the university's budget depends on how many students it has and graduates.
"Promotion to the next year is not a favor or a question of luck, it is something you have to deserve. They have to work hard to get promoted and if they fail, they have to retake the year," Nkundimana argued.
According to him, some heads of schools let the mediocre students pass just to impress the locals wheb they sign performance contracts. "Those incompetent education stakeholders compromise the quality of our education," Nkundimana fumed.