Generation Rwanda – Transforming Society Through Education

Driven by the goal of furthering the cause of social justice at the international level, the nonprofit group Generation Rwanda has worked to fill a critical gap in Rwandan education. In doing so, it has created a program – Kepler – that has the potential to transform the entire model of higher education not only in Rwanda, but also throughout the developing world.

A decade ago, Generation Rwanda was formed to provide access to higher education for the orphans of the Rwandan genocide. Originally known as Orphans of Rwanda, Generation Rwanda began by providing university scholarships to young Rwandans in need. While other organizations were directing their efforts toward educating primary school-age children and teens, the needs of college-age young adults were not being adequately addressed.

Generation Rwanda realized that a lack of access to a high-quality university education would leave today’s generation of Rwandans without the tools needed to move the country forward socially and economically. Generation Rwanda offered scholarships that covered the cost of tuition, as well as health care support, housing, and employment training programs. The 360-degree approach was designed to improve students’ ability to thrive under the rigorous demands of a university course of study and to prepare them after graduation to grapple with the serious problems of inter-group reconciliation and infrastructure-building that their country still faces.

In the decade since it began, Generation Rwanda has channeled funding from private donors and other nonprofit organizations to help hundreds and hundreds of highly motivated orphans and other socially marginalized individuals. The group has placed a particular emphasis on providing funding for female students. Among its many success stories, the group counts that of Pascaline Umulisa, who graduated in 2011 from the National University of Rwanda. During that year, Ms. Umulisa visited the United States as part of a delegation from the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. While there, she received an invitation to speak on a United Nations-sponsored panel to address the issue of violence against women and girls. Another success story is that of Patricie Uwase, who is now finishing her master’s degree in civil engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

Notwithstanding its track-record of providing opportunity to many who otherwise would not have had the chance for a college education, Generation Rwanda recognized that if it wanted to create an even larger impact, it would have to transform the very model of higher education in Rwanda. Thus, in 2013, Generation Rwanda transitioned its efforts from offering scholarships to existing Rwandan universities into creating its own university program. Now in its second year of operation, this new program, known as Kepler, offers a low-cost, U.S.-accredited degree through a combination of online courses, lectures, and classroom interaction with teachers and peers on its Kigali campus. The vision behind Kepler – that of blending online learning with hands-on classroom teaching and mentoring – shows the potential to change the very model of higher education throughout the developing world. Kepler has already been so successful that plans are underway to expand the innovative program to two other African countries by 2017.


Rwandan College Degree Program “Flips” the Traditional Classroom

There are countries in Africa in which less than 1 percent of citizens have earned an undergraduate degree. Kepler, a program developed by staff at the scholarship-awarding nonprofit group Generation Rwanda, hopes to increase that number dramatically.

Established in 2013, Kepler has since enrolled hundreds of Rwandan students, many coming from needy families, in its unique undergraduate curriculum. Kepler students earn their degrees through a combination of online study, in-class interaction with teachers and peers, and a competency-based evaluation administered through College of America.

The advantages of the program are many. Thanks to Kepler, students receive a fully accredited degree that signifies mastery of the subject matter at a level that meets rigorous international standards, followed by job training and coaching, and the chance to gain internships and placement with prestigious partner employers through Kepler’s education-to-employment model. All of this leads to a better future, not only for the individuals who graduate from the program, but also for their families and their communities. Kepler plans to expand its program to other nations in Africa and the developing world.

In 2013, the online magazine Slate published an article by Kepler’s co-founder, Jamie Hodari, that examined how MOOCs (massive open online courses) show the potential to level the higher educational playing field considerably. Offered free of charge to anyone with access to the Internet, the MOOC model has already demonstrated its effectiveness in providing scalable educational experiences for Kepler’s students and others throughout the world enrolled in programs run by organizations like Khan Academy.

The article points out that the type of blended online study and in-person seminars that Kepler makes available is replicable beyond any single program. Kepler’s open-source course materials have been incorporated into Rwanda’s national higher education system and are available free of charge to anyone eager to use them.

Some critics charge that MOOCs harm students in developing nations by preventing the formation of an indigenous educational infrastructure. In the Slate piece, the author acknowledged that students would be shortchanged by learning solely through online courses, but went on to point out that Kepler’s model of “flipping” the classroom by using MOOCs as de facto textbooks and combining them with interaction with Rwandan teachers represents a cutting-edge educational philosophy that is increasingly being adopted by well-known universities. According to the article, the biggest problem facing higher education in the developing world is not online learning but the status quo that prevents deserving but under-resourced young adults from realizing their full potential.

Kepler’s innovative model of “blended” learning proves that the Gates Foundation’s vision for education in the developing world can become a reality

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the emerging Kepler college degree program in Rwanda share some important convictions. They believe that education is one of the most significant means of making inroads against poverty. Further, they estimate that people in the developing world are on the brink of gaining greater quality of life and greater equity with their peers in the developed world. Just as Bill Gates and Microsoft created disruptive technologies that transformed the daily lives of people around the world, Kepler aims to change the way people with comparatively few resources educate themselves and transform their societies.

Kepler is an innovative educational program that combines online study with in-class learning to help young adults in Rwanda earn the college degrees they need. Already, since its founding in 2013, Kepler is changing the lives of hundreds of young Rwandans. At a cost competitive with, or below, other options for higher education in the third world, students benefit not only from Kepler’s unique “blended learning” curriculum, but they also take advantage of employment opportunities when they graduate.

In 2015, the Gates Foundation issued its annual Gates Letter. This year’s themes include a focus on how advances in software design and implementation are contributing to leveling the educational playing field for people in Africa and other developing regions. Kepler is living proof that this strategy can work!

Kepler’s curriculum includes coursework through access to massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered by major universities, and then adds a face-to-face teaching and mentoring component as students gather in the classroom to discuss what they’ve learned and to complete projects. The competency-based degrees they earn, awarded through the United States-based College of America, demonstrate their mastery of their subject at the international level.

Does the Kepler approach work? Consider a few data points to shed light on this question. 100% of students entering Kepler since its inception are on path to achieve their AA degrees in 2 years or less. More than 80% of students gain internships after their first year. In the area of Core Skills Mastery (CSM), considered a key metric to evaluate the effectiveness of an undergraduate curriculum, Kepler students have the highest completion rate of CSM out of any organization CSM works with globally.

All of these facts, and more, point to an exciting truth. The future of education is happening now — in the small country of Rwanda. Where the Kepler model is changing the paradigm for higher education in the third world.

Bill Gates Praises Online Courses like Those Offered through Kepler

Bill Gates recently spoke on the future of online learning in a widely viewed video. As head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the co-founder of Microsoft has played a major role in funding educational projects on a national and international level. Gates believes that online learning offers the potential to deliver high-quality university courses to people all over the world regardless of their income or social status, provided they have access to a cell phone or other mobile device. This type of open, easily accessed education has the potential to even the economic playing field for people in the developing world. Kepler serves this same demographic through its innovative combination of online undergraduate courses and in-person seminars.

Kepler is a project of the nonprofit organization Generation Rwanda, which was originally established to fund higher education for orphans of the war-torn Central African nation. Now, through Kepler, under-resourced Rwandan young adults who show academic promise can earn an accredited college degree at the cost of only about $1,000 annually. Kepler’s program offers students access to massive open online courses, known as MOOCs, and then brings teachers and students together on its Kigali campus for more in-depth discussion and exploration of the concepts they have learned. This type of “flipped” classroom, in which the lecture component takes place away from class and the project-based, hands-on component takes place on campus, is gaining currency in some of the world’s most prestigious educational institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In Gates’ video, he noted the ways in which online courses have transformed over the last decade and a half, from simple video recordings of professors’ lectures into interactive sessions designed to help students practice new skills.

Gates also discussed the ways in which online learning could actually increase inequality rather than eradicate it. For example, there is currently a gender gap in access to smartphones and other mobile telecommunications devices in the developing world. In Africa, women are about 24 percent less likely to own such devices than men are, and in Asia the gap is wider still. Women’s educational levels have a direct effect on the social and economic health and development of their societies, so Gates’ words offer encouragement to leaders of developing nations to promote the importance of higher education for girls and women. Through programs such as Kepler, the gender gap in access to technology and education has begun to narrow.

How the Kepler Program Measures Success

The scholarship organization Generation Rwanda created the innovative Kepler university program two years ago. Kepler combines online courses, real-time classroom discussion, personalized academic counseling, and internship and job placement for program graduates. The education-to-employment model, which costs only $1,000 per year for students, is designed to be replicated beyond the current Kigali campus to other locations throughout Africa and the developing world.

Kepler uses a data-driven framework to define and measure its success. Students graduate only after demonstrating a mastery of skills congruent with study offered in prestigious U.S.-based universities. The practical curriculum that Kepler offers initially focuses on general studies that build essential critical thinking skills, then on business administration in particular. The program additionally provides university-to-work assistance with job training, advice on developing 21st century business practices and attitudes, and immersive internships and work-study programs.

Since online coursework is such a significant component of the Kepler program, it is easier to track data that gauges students’ performance. Academic advisors add these data to on-site assessments of qualities with more complex variables, such as growth in perseverance, determination, and the ability to analyze, synthesize, and create new ideas.

In addition, the Kepler program uses insights gleaned from internationally recognized academic systems, including the Knowledge is Power Program, to generate its own analytical tools for benchmarking success. Once the staff assemble the data into visual and statistical representations, they can more readily identify less-effective instructional methods and fine-tune solutions to students’ stumbling blocks.

So far, Kepler has produced significant results. Its students have demonstrated academic mastery at or above the level of their peers enrolled in universities outside of the program. Moreover, 98 percent of students admitted to Kepler are scheduled to graduate on or before their scheduled completion date. Kepler’s focus on taking a leading role within the international academic community translates into a transparent sharing of methodologies and results with the goal of promoting the highest quality of teaching and learning possible.

Generation Rwanda’s Kepler University Program Offers Affordable Degrees

In 2013, the nonprofit organization Generation Rwanda launched Kepler, a program to provide affordable, U.S.-accredited university degrees to Rwandan students who show promise of becoming future leaders and agents for positive change. Generation Rwanda currently devotes the largest part of its team’s efforts to building the capacity of Kepler. The project is projected to expand to two additional African campuses in the near future and eventually to other locations in the developing world.

The goal is to extend the reach of the original Generation Rwanda scholarship program, which attracted more than 4,000 applicants in 2012. Generation Rwanda, previously known as Orphans of Rwanda, has provided extensive financial aid to talented young people who have demonstrated the potential to heal the social wounds caused by devastating civil wars and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Now, the Kepler university program aims to translate this effort to a larger arena, giving more Rwandan students the ability to develop academically and professionally, and to make lasting contributions to their country.

Kepler combines the best features of 21st century technology and the traditional face-to-face classroom seminar experience at the Kigali campus. The program consists of three components: Students engage with rich content through MOOCs, or massive open online courses, provided by some of the world’s finest institutions of higher education. On campus, they meet with teaching fellows who facilitate the same kind of robust debate and discussion that traditional universities provide, and who also offer academic advising and coaching services. In the third part of the program, students benefit from job training, placement services, and mandatory internships and work-study programs with partners in the business community.

Kepler students spend their first two years in the program developing fluency in a core curriculum of general studies, and cultivating language and critical thinking skills. Afterward, they concentrate on a single academic subject. Kepler offers a major in business administration, with plans in place to expand to additional fields in the coming years.

Students entering the program in 2015 will pay only $1,000 in annual tuition. The result of their work will be a competency-based degree accredited by the New Hampshire-based College for America, assuring employers that Kepler graduates will be able to offer the same kind of high-level skills that reflect the best of the American higher education system.

Youth of Los Angeles Find Educational Support at A Place Called Home

A Place Called Home logo pic As devoted advocates for vulnerable children all over the world, film producer Marc Shmuger and his wife Louise Hamagami support a number of charitable organizations. One of these is A Place Called Home, a youth center servicing the children of Los Angeles. By sitting on this organization’s advisory and directorial boards, Marc Shmuger and Louise Hamagami actively involve themselves in the wellbeing of young people in their home city.

South Central LA has historically experienced high crime rates, high truancy, and low academic performance. As a result, only one-quarter of area residents have a high school diploma, and only around 1 in 30 have a four-year degree. The current economic climate exacerbates the problem, trapping more and more locals in chronic poverty. A Place Called Home (APCH) combats this destructive cycle by boosting educational opportunities for the poorest young people in the city.

APCH provides children and youth with a safe environment where they receive educational support, training, and mentorship programs to help build them into productive citizens and community leaders. In addition to nutrition, arts, and exercise opportunities, the organization offers tutoring and literacy classes to help students with school work. APCH also provides children with school supplies and access to modern computer facilities, as well as free eye-exams and prescription glasses.

As part of its dropout recovery program, APCH includes a highly successful Continuation High School operated in partnership with Los Angeles Unified School District. The center also maintains strong ties with area schools, so that member youths’ academic progress can be monitored.

The philosophy of APCH ultimately comes down to empowerment of youth through education. By tackling the hardest education problems in LA’s poorest quarters, APCH’s force of over 1,000 volunteers strives to open new avenues for the next generation of thinkers, entrepreneurs, and community leaders.