How to restore some creativity in our mediocre education system


I am not very sure if there is any serious conversations on how to establish a creative and innovative culture that will engage the vices that are eating up the nerve centre of our existence as a nation.

A friend of mine asked me recently to explain what happened to the vibrancy exhibited in debating national issues in the early years of independence, and for sure, I was challenged. But the more I thought about this, the more I realised that, perhaps, our problem has a lot to do with a flawed education system.

I think we are now betrothed to the petty, common and the mundane to worry about ideas of a higher attic formulation.

We neither problematise how the architecture of the education system is contributing to the lack of growth of an innovative spirit nor do we care to reflect on the obvious path of destruction that we have taken.

Recent research findings have continued to show that there are weaknesses within our education system that should be addressed if we have to produce innovators and creative individuals who can drive the economy.

It has been documented that our education system largely encourages competition for marks, and not skills.

It does not instil the skills and competences that should enable learners navigate through life challenges as innovative creators of job opportunities. But more damning, it overburdens learners with a heavy dose of facts meant to be memorised.


In the final analysis, it has been concluded that it creates mentalities that limit the development of the spirit of creativity and innovation.

We seem to live under the illusion that we will be able to change our society using techniques we used to create it. This does not sound logical.

I think we should all worry about the value of education that we are giving to our children if we aim at producing entrepreneurs.

Think about this. Three months ago, a gentleman walked into my office looking for a teaching job. The gentleman has a PhD degree in Public Administration from a local university.

I took time to explain to him our stringent employment procedures and invited him to develop a few short courses in his area of specialisation, which we can offer, if they are approved by the various organs of the University. This would create some opening for lectureship positions.

“With devolved units, part of our mandate is to build capacity for governance of these units,” I explained.

It is now going to the fourth month and the gentleman has not come back to me with anything concrete. I have only seen a text message saying he hopes my University will advertise for positions in his area of specialisation soon and that he is still jobless!

What do you make of this response to an invitation for one to create a job for himself?

I think it has a lot to do with flawed training. We do not train learners to be critical thinkers who see opportunity in every event even if it is an unfortunate one.

I do not blame this gentleman. In fact, our system wires learners with the fear of failure. It does not encourage the spirit and courage to try and fail. The courage to fail is an important ingredient of success as an entrepreneur.

Our curricula are knowledge-based and not competence based. So much of what goes on, all the way from primary schools, is the rote learning of facts. These facts are regurgitated in examinations at all levels. Within this prism, one is a first class student only if she can cram facts and not necessarily think through and apply them.

I am convinced that these weaknesses have much to do with pedagogical flaws. Over reliance on memorisation does not help produce innovative thinkers. A good system presents, to learners, those activities that enable them learn through discovery and adventure.

The flaws in our education system cannot be fixed by one individual or institution. The ministry of Education Science and Technology (MoEST), universities and all stake holders have to re-think the way the country edu­cates its people.

Now that we are committed to producing entrepreneurs, we should strive to establish a system that also connects the learner to our national aspirations. There is need to impart practical life-skills and develop inborn talents and gifts in all learners while constructing the entrepreneurial spirit. Our educational system has to be made to produce imaginative and creative individuals, and not robots.


Though Vision 2030 put emphasis on education, it does not envisage the kind of system that we are encouraging. The need for a shift in our pedagogical approaches is, therefore, urgent.

The starting point is to re-define what is taught and how and when it is taught. We have to overhaul the curriculum that leaves learners with little time to learn through play and other co-curricular activities.

At university level, the need to respond to this challenge and to market demands is crucial. Some universities, including my own university, are shifting from closed book to open book approaches to student assessment. This comes with a complete overhaul of pedagogical practices.

The main difference between open and closed book approaches is the way that they use theory. Open book tasks expect the learner to demonstrate their ability to apply, analyse, and synthesise knowledge learnt with a view of solving problems in real life situations.

The closed book assessments are a product of surface learning as opposed to open book assessments which emanate from deep learning. Open book assessments stimulate the application of knowledge.

We have to shift from traditional closed book approaches partly because of the advent of modern technology. Traditional closed book formats are irrelevant to real life experiences. They simply encourage cheating since it relies on recall type of learning which is easily forgotten by the students.

Some African countries have already shifted and are now developing competence based learning resources. I am happy to be part of this project in the Republic of Rwanda.