Guest Post: Rising to the Tech Challenge in East Africa

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Author: Jessie Gakwandi
Information Systems Program Manager

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The last month at Akilah was busy and very productive for the newly-launched Information Systems program, which I was recently hired to lead and develop. Having met students, staff, and other stakeholders, I am even more excited about the work ahead of me to establish a top-notch Information Systems program for Akilah.

I worked in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) all my life prior to joining Akilah, and I can say that it is undeniably the most promising sector in Rwanda today. As a graduate of the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology, I had incredible opportunities waiting for me, such as attending a training in Kigali held by the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later winning the African Innovation Prize for my startup.

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The country’s investments in ICT, both in infrastructure and knowledge development, clearly demonstrate Rwanda’s ambition to become the region’s ICT hub. New jobs are being created in ICT every year, and opportunities are so abundant that universities can hardly keep up with the demand for qualified job applicants. In fact, the most recent national skills audit shows a 60% gap between available jobs and qualified applicants in the private sector, and a 40% gap in the public sector. These are positions that are waiting for skilled professionals, and Akilah students ought to be numbered among those who qualify.

When I was first hired, I was impressed to learn that Akilah boasts a 92% job placement after graduation. Throughout my meetings on campus, I learned that the secret to Akilah’s success in job placement is in the curriculum design, which was developed in close partnership with stakeholders across government, civil society, and the private sector. Students are fully equipped with market-relevant skills – such as English fluency, leadership, critical thinking, and teamwork – that ensure students are already in high demand when they graduate.

Taking input from knowledgeable partners and adapting it into an actionable curriculum is really the only way to ensure market relevance. So as I design the Information Systems curriculum, it is imperative to reach out to our partners, gather their feedback, and consider their priorities while setting up the course list.

Over the past month, I had the opportunity to meet a number of ICT entrepreneurs and managers in search for the right curriculum. Although their backgrounds differed, their answers to my questions were surprisingly similar. When asked about the top three skills they look for when hiring a ICT professional, they all answered: communication, business acumen, and programming skills.

I was very curious about the first two, since the third is an obvious given for an ICT professional. One business owner explained that programmers first and foremost must understand the organizational and business processes of their client, and secondly be able to communicate their solutions to the client.

Knowing that communication skills and business acumen are such top priorities in the sector, I am very optimistic about Akilah students’ potential to rise to the challenge in ICT. Akilah is an English-only campus that puts great emphasis on leadership and problem-solving. Not to say that my job in curriculum design will at all be easy, but we already have two out of three! It’s very encouraging to learn that Akilah is already on the right track.

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