The education payback

Child with water cannister

In the west it is generally assumed that a child will start school at age five or  thereabouts and continue until at least sixteen. It is the dream of some politicians in the UK that every child leave the education system with a university degree. Leaving the dreams of the politicians aside, children in the third world don't need university degrees to benefit from education.

We have been sending children to school for some ten years. Our first group started in primary school at a time when a child didn't progress into the next year until he had met the required standard. In extreme cases, we have seen teenagers sitting in the same class as seven year olds. Now our first group of children are all in secondary school. Some have finished and been through what is called here vocational training. The youngest is in the S2 class.

It is unlikely that any of those children will obtain degrees but that doesn't disappoint us. Already we are starting to see the fruits of even a basic education. A substantial number of children in Rwanda don't go to school. These children are never difficult to spot along the tracks and rough roads that make up rural Rwanda. The clothes they wear are ragged from daily wear. They spend their lives surviving by collecting water from the local stream and doing whatever menial jobs they can find. The ones that beg are happy with a 100 franc coin - less than 10p Once into their late teens and twenties, these children will make their way in life as domestic servants, cleaning the streets or finding work in the building industry. A basic wage for those who are hired is RWF2,000 - RWF3,000 a day - less than £2-£3.

We are beginning to appreciate the real value of the schooling our children have received. One boy has gone into the military. Another teaches the Rwandan equivalent of the theoretical driving test. We are currently looking for tool kits for two two boys who have just finished motor mechanics vocational training. They will find jobs in a workshop and earn perhaps RWF200,000 to RWF300,000 in a month, something around ten times a basic wage. Two of our older boys have passed their S3 national exams and have been sent to schools specialising in teacher training and electrical engineering. Their prospects are good.

The past five years have seen significant changes to the the Rwandan education system, generally for the good. That said, there are many young people who have missed out on the changes or have bypassed the education system altogether. The inevitable consequence of an education system which doesn't include everybody is a growing gulf between the haves and the have-nots. Thankfully, our children don't look as if they will need to find their way to university to avoid falling into the have-nots.