In a surprising but predictable change of policy, media reports indicated this week that the government will stop funding or drastically reduce funding social science and arts courses at the University of Rwanda in favour of STEM Courses.
Social science and arts courses include subjects like sociology, history, psychology, communications, economics, anthropology, geography, political science, etc, while STEM courses include natural sciences (like chemistry, physics, and biology), technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Broadly, social sciences deal with the question of human nature; human and societal relations, while STEM deals with human anatomy, matter, motion, innovation and problem-solving.
This means that the questions social sciences deal with, and the problems it seeks to solve are different from those STEM subjects handle and, in a good education system, both are needed and are complementary.
But as The Chronicles media reported on July 22, “Since the 2016-2017 academic year, government decided that it will no longer pay for arts courses. The focus would be on…‘STEM’” and “After 2020, Government University Scholarships Will Be For STEM Courses Only”.
As a result of this policy, the paper added: “For the last two academic years, no single student has been admitted into the History department of the University of Rwanda on Government sponsorship”.
This raises an important question of what our education is for.
If we take it that Rwanda invests in education to impart its children with knowledge and skills to understand nature so as to conquer it and find solutions to the pressing problems the country has today and might have in future, then the policy of funding only STEM courses is ill-advised.
To be sure, prioritizing STEM subjects is of strategic importance but doesn’t need to be achieved at the expense of decimating other realms of knowledge that would also contribute to the country’s development.
It’s no secret that STEM courses equip students with real life problem-solving skills, creativity and innovations – that give the human family material and non-material elements that make life possible and enjoyable.
It’s, for example through knowledge and skills acquired from STEM course that the cure for different diseases is possible; applications for different solutions discovered and societies connected through wireless communication technology.
It’s also through STEM knowledge that we have skyscrapers of all shapes, bridges; railways and trains that connect societies just as it’s from the same know-how that today, we are talking of driverless cars, space vehicles that visit the moon and the globalization of access to news through wireless technology.
Rwanda, without a doubt needs a critical mass of human capital with skills derived from STEM subjects to solve problems of its landlocked-ness, build an e-economy, and institute cyber security, etc.
However, because material things happen within a context occupied by human beings, the country also needs human knowledge and skills offered by social sciences to deal with its social problems that cannot be handled with skills acquired from STEM.
For instance, Rwanda is today one of the countries on the continent championing the idea of “Africans telling their own stories” and speaking with one voice to affect global economic, political and diplomatic outcomes.
This can only be achieved with individuals possessing expert knowledge from social sciences.
The country also backs “Africa’s solution to Africa’s problems” and is championing Africa’s economic and social integration under a single market and airspace.
At the global level, the country is also one of the countries that demand fairness in the global system; backs the reforms of the United Nations and the Security Council – to ensure global peace; participates in peace-keeping and peacemaking endeavours – and skills needed to effectively affect outcomes are acquired through social sciences.
At the national level, the government backs gender equality; seeks to find solutions to poverty, curb unsustainable population growth and effects of climate change; consolidate reconciliation and consensual –power-sharing political settlement.
Clearly, at both the national, continental and global levels, Rwanda perceives today’s major problems as located in the human condition, unresolved problem of basic needs at the national; disjointed relations among Africans and the unfair global relations.
To solve these problems and contribute to national transformation, continental and global alternative orders, Rwanda needs a skilled workforce and human capital with balanced knowledge and skills from both STEM and Non-STEM subjects.
If this analysis is correct, the aforementioned policy isn’t informed by the country’s contextual social problems or needs nor market demand.
Instead, the policy might be based on an obsession with what science and technology can do and should be reversed to have an education system we need.