SEATTLE — In Rwanda’s capital of Kigali, public safety guidelines have necessitated massive school closures since March, reverting education to remote learning. With a mere 26% of the country’s population having internet access, however, Rwandan high school graduates from low-income households find themselves in a special kind of uncertainty, unable to access the online learning or academic advising essential to strategically advancing their career paths. Factor into the equation a glaring deficiency in career guidance in Rwanda and it’s easy to see why Rwanda’s 2020 graduates have joined the masses in asking: What now?
Enter Bridge2Rwanda, a nonprofit organization seeking to accelerate Rwanda’s economic growth by facilitating higher education and employment opportunities for young leaders. Since its beginning days, Bridge2Rwanda has helped the brightest high school graduates secure more than 55 million in outside scholarships and network with 100+ of Rwanda’s top employers. Through their myriad of summer internships, they’ve secured over half of their globally educated scholars employment in Rwanda—and the support to graduates doesn’t end there.
With a unique emphasis on community service and entrepreneurship, the B2R program also organizes a rigorous 16-week Leadership Academy that immerses students in career development activities. Together, the Leadership Academy, study abroad support and vocational assessments post-graduation all strive to better connect students with college counseling services, severely lacking throughout Rwanda. According to a 2018 case study of the Naryugenge district’s higher learning institutions, less than a third of university students are provided with career guidance in Rwanda. An earlier report similarly found a lack of career guidance systems in technical and vocational schools, such that students’ career interests and their training program largely didn’t align.
But researchers aren’t the only ones illuminating deficiencies. Joining the call for a greater amount of academic advisors are students throughout Rwanda. In an editorial for The Kaminuza Star, Mugabo Arafat expressed disdain for academic advising at the University of Rwanda, writing that “career guidance and counseling is still a problem to most of the students where even a fourth-year student is not aware of kind of work to do after he/she graduates.”
Evidently, the Rwanda Board of Education has a problem on their hands when it comes to career counseling. Fortunately, perhaps just as evident is the board’s increasing awareness of counseling’s integral nature in Rwandan schools. In 2019, the Ministry of Education announced the creation of a specialized unit for the implementation of career guidance in Rwanda. With the goal of increasing the number of academic advisors, the plan aims to train teachers in providing effective career advice. As of last year, the Ministry of Education trained 185 teachers in the field of career counseling and is planning on expanding efforts to include 832 total high school teachers equipped for career advising by the program’s close.
Meanwhile, in the private sector, another company by the name of Kuder planned to introduce an online approach to career guidance in Rwanda. With more than 130 Rwandan high schools connected to its online assessment tool, Kuder‘s online system served some 30,000 students before wrapping up operations in 2018. Although the online service is no longer being offered, the experimental partnership reaped valuable feedback that the government is currently using to develop a more sustainable career guidance framework.
Such investments into career guidance are projected to have sizable returns for the Rwandan government, starting with improvements in student academic performance. In fact, the same 2018 study that identified career counseling shortages also demonstrated a tight connection between career guidance in Rwanda and students’ academic performance. Although only 29.8% of respondents agreed that career guidance had positively impacted their grades, comparing that 29.8% with students who found career guidance ineffective revealed that such guidance was beneficial to students’ academic records.
Benefits of Career Guidance
Strengthened by the ability to nurture aptitudes, career guidance subsequently combats unemployment and inefficacy at work. From providing key, up-to-date information on local labor market demands to helping young people secure employment faster, career guidance in Rwanda promotes human capital development. Counseling’s ability to pinpoint student interests is also vital to maintaining motivation, Kuder country director Paul Birungi Masterjerb tells The New Times, as dissatisfactory employment (or unemployment) can exhaust enthusiasm and decrease self-esteem.
While all students can benefit from career development resources, it’s students from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds that benefit in particular, according to Development Asia. Broadband digital accessibility in schools, for one, can enable access to online self-assessment tools for students who can’t afford private counseling, while career guidance in Rwanda can support students in finding stable employment.
The latter is particularly advantageous for students from low-income households. It’s natural, after all, that families living in poverty would want their children to take up highly marketable professions, but what counts as highly marketable may no longer be reserved for the fields of medicine and law. In the past decade, Rwanda has experienced an increase in the competitiveness of previously less marketable professions (e.g., hospitality and agriculture). Informing students and parents of this shift through formal career guidance is therefore essential to clarifying market demands and upholding student interests alike.
Last but certainly not least notable are the benefits of career guidance under times of great instability—under times like these. Clearly, career guidance in Rwanda has the potential to improve both educational outcomes and employment rates, particularly for students living in poverty. But can it work its same magic during times of economic crisis?
Offering Hope During Times of Crises
The European Center for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) seems to think so. In its analysis of career counseling’s advantages after the 2008 economic crisis, researchers at the CEDEFOP identified lifelong guidance as a triple threat—able to combat economic devastation, social inequity and career uncertainty. On the economic devastation front, career guidance improves profits for enterprises by fostering career management skills, which in turn increases productivity and innovation. In the case of social inclusion (particularly for young migrant workers), career guidance prevents early disengagement from education and the labor market by clarifying career options/plans and highlighting flexible qualifications. The enemy of uncertainty, guidance matches the needs of both individuals and enterprises, increasing satisfaction on both ends.
What career guidance doesn’t seem to do, however, is generalize its approach for all clients. As such, there are considerable barriers to generalizing CEDEFOP’s assessment to Rwanda, seeing as the analysis was conducted in the EU and post an economic crisis (not a global pandemic). Nevertheless, the similar goals of career guidance internationally are the premise, at the very least, for hope.
Altogether, the influence of career guidance in Rwanda on the educational outcomes, satisfactory employment and psychosocial support of youth all vouch for improvements in counseling services countrywide. Thankfully, the Rwanda Education Board together with private-sector organizations like Bridge2Rwanda are working to fill in the national shortage in counseling services. Because of their ongoing efforts, Rwanda may be looking towards a brighter economic future, with more informed, prepared graduates challenging pandemic poverty.
– Petra Dujmic