"A country that has messed up its education can never achieve its much-needed growth," Dr. Donald Kaberuka, the former President of the African Development Bank, told leaders meeting for the National Leadership Retreat on Sunday.
He was highlighting the drivers that will enable Rwanda to achieve the Vision 2050, a blueprint for growth and transformation in the next 30 years.
The blueprint, launched in 2018, seeks to position the country as an upper-middle-income status by 2035 and high-income status by 2050.
Kaberuka described the agenda as a "good plan" saying it has been designed to incorporate key features, including achieving growth without volatility, transformation, sustainability, resilience and shared values.
In 1980, the now Global Fund chair was asked to predict countries that will have achieved middle-income status by 2020, and he mentioned Cote d'Ivoire, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Mauritius.
Only Mauritius has been able to attain that status.
Those that failed, he said, is not because they lacked technical know-how or resources.
"Zimbabwe was a manufacturing powerhouse by then and Ivory Coast's economy was booming, but they lacked sustainability in what they were doing," he argued.
For Rwanda to achieve the Vision 2050, the economist said it needs to make strategic investment, and safeguard its brand, among other things, to sustain the growth.
That growth should be above double-digit for at least a period of eight years, highlighting that it also requires to invest 40 per cent of the gross domestic product.
"It's also about the choice of investment you make. If you invest a dollar, it should be strategic. The question should now be about where we get the 40 per cent with the resources we have," he noted.
Kaberuka suggested the success of the blueprint also lies on its brand (economic, political, environment) as well as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) agreement expected to come into force this year.
"Rwanda's brand is its comparative advantage. The country is secure with a clean environment, and it is open to all Africans and all other people. That brand should be safeguarded," he said.
However, he said, all that cannot be achieved without fixing education. He highlighted a case of Zimbabwe, saying if it was not for the strong education the country would have collapsed during its economic turmoil.
But, he doesn't believe that it is necessarily about investing in universities.
"We are making a mistake if we think all people should go to university," he said, adding that countries like Germany and Switzerland have low rates of high-school graduates who attend universities but there are more opportunities compared to the United Kingdom with high levels of college entry students.
President Paul Kagame himself took aim at business leaders who put forward profit before quality only to invest in universities that produce incompetent people who are unable to perform work.
He challenged the Education Ministry to do something about it even if it requires "shutting down all universities" that are not providing quality education.
"It's not about how many universities you have, it's about what they give you. Most universities don't qualify to be universities. Some of these universities are just spoiling for us. How can we even fail to meet the average standards of Sub-Saharan Africa," he wondered.
During the meeting, many shocking developments emerged. For instance, teachers who completed their teacher training at the College of Education sat for exams, and less than 10 per cent passed it.
The Minister for ICT & Innovation, Paula Ingabire highlighted that a recent study commissioned by the government to figure out the existing gaps in education in Rwanda showed disturbing revelations.
"In Rwanda, a student reads 23 words per minute on average. The global average is 60 words. A teacher in Rwanda reads only 90 words per minute compared to the global average of 120 words," she revealed.
Minister for ICT & Innovation, Paula Ingabire said that the country needs to make investment in human capital. / Courtesy
She insisted such a situation portrays lack of cognitive ability by students.
"We should now be thinking about the kind of questions we ask students that help them grow their cognitive ability," she said, adding that comprehension is another big challenge faced by students in Rwanda.
Ingabire indicated that the country needs to make investment in human capital if it is to achieve the ambitious target for the next 30 years, highlighting South Korea and Singapore as having done the right investment.
Ingabire was speaking on the panel that sought to examine what the country needs to achieve Vision 2050.
It also featured Soraya Hakuziyaremye, the Minister of Trade and Industry as well as Anasthase Shyaka, the Local Government Minister.
Soraya also suggested reskilling people could have far-reaching impact.
By 2050, Rwanda is expected to have a population of 22 million people and the target is to have $330 billion gross national income, and $15,000 per capita with energy capacity of 15.6 to 22 gigawatts.