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Role of education in Rwandan genocide

Catholic schools established in the 19th century were the first source of formal education in Rwanda. These schools taught African clergy and administrators, in addition to providing post-primary education for the masses. In a violent social revolution in 1959, a Hutu elite took power and the Tutsi elite lost their hold. After Independence in 1962, the first constitution of Hutu Republic declared that education will be free and obligatory. Major reforms were undertaken, and in theory, universal education was to be used to promote equality and social cohesion among community members. But in reality, these reforms perpetuated structural inequality on the basis of ethnicity, wealth and region. There was virtually no student retainment after primary school, owing to excessively high costs for secondary and tertiary education that could only be afforded by the wealthy elites.

There was an immense consciously crafted societal disconnect, as the entire system was oriented towards promoting a minority elite, cutting off from the masses, and inhibiting external cultures. Poor primary education did not prepare the students well enough to continue secondary education. Similar patterns were seen with students finishing schooling were inadequately prepared for employment opportunities. So, the rural youth pre-genocide had very less educational opportunities to avail.

On April 17th, 1994, after the death of the Rwandan President, a genocide was set into motion by the Hutu-controlled government and armed militia. 800,000 people were slaughtered including both the Tutsi minority and Hutu extremists, over a period of 100 days.

Several qualitative and quantitative studies today show that low secondary education levels are correlated with increased risk of violence. Armed rebellion has been linked with exclusion of non-elite, indigenous groups in education. It is also known that majority of the militia who carried out the genocide were undereducated, unemployed youth with few educational and employment prospects. Moreover, teacher centered, top-down pedagogy of the pre-genocide years promoted rote learning and emphasized less on critical thinking. This has said to form the genocide perpetrators' unquestioning and conformist behavior. Biases in the history of curriculum also perpetuated further inequalities.

Today, despite progress, Rwanda's educational policy and practice continues to propagate tensions in some ways.

Let's talk!

What steps should be taken by Rwanda's educational policy makers, teachers, and stakeholders to rectify this history of violence exacerbated through education?

Can you identify similar issues in education in your country? How should they be addressed?

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