Innovating in Rwanda

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Giraffe sighting in Akagera National Park. Photo by Robin Worley

Radically changing education is exciting to talk about and gets everyone’s pedagogical juices flowing, but transferring the theory into reality is another educational experience altogether.

I’m writing this post from my home in Kigali, Rwanda. It’s 5am and still dark outside, but the birds are starting to wake up and provide some background music to my writing. One of the reasons I decided to move to Rwanda to work at a small international school is because I wanted to witness firsthand the transformative innovation journey that the country has embarked upon to lead it from its devastating past into a dazzlingly bright future.

When you hear “Rwanda,” you may immediately think about the genocide against the Tutsi minority that decimated the country and its people 25 years ago. But in those 25 years, an almost unbelievable transformation has taken place, both socially and economically. Today, the capital city of Kigali is one of the fastest developing cities in Africa, and the government has stated a lofty ambition of becoming the “Singapore of Africa.”

Looking at the numbers of buildings being erected and reading about the foreign investments pouring in, it is not difficult to imagine that happening in the near future. There is an energizing buzz in Rwanda that is palpable, and I am thrilled to be living here at this time in history to learn all I can from this country’s journey.

On a much smaller scale, I live and breathe innovation every day as the Director of Technology Integration and Innovation at an international PreK-12 school in Kigali. My raison d’etre at this school is to help transform a traditional Western-based learning culture into a truly Innovative Culture of Learning that will allow our students to prepare for their uncertain futures. 

This job does not come with a “How-To” manual. Instead, it’s trial and error, working with students and teachers to empathize and make observations, ideate new ways of teaching and learning, try them out on small scales, get feedback, iterate and try again. I’m using the Design Thinking process as I introduce design thinking to students and teachers as a foundational piece of our new culture. It’s messy, but it’s never dull. 

Years ago I brought my students from Hawaii to Kenya to collaborate with young Kenyans on media projects that would create positive change. At the end of the trip, one of the Kenyan group leaders and my friend, Dennis Kimambo, gave me a small wooden carved giraffe. He said that to make positive change now, we need to have the perspective of the giraffe and be able to see far into the distance. I keep that small giraffe on my desk to remind me that our students’ future success depends on what we do now to make education relevant and effective in a rapidly changing world.

I will use this blog to share my experiences, reflections, and lessons learned on the unchartered path to innovation, perhaps providing food for thought and generating discussions with others who are on the same journey to help our students to thrive now and in their futures. 

3 comments

  1. Dr. Worley, it is so good to hear from you! Thank you for sharing your journey with me and the rest of the world. I admire you so very much! I shared this post with some of my colleagues in OUSD and was excited to learn a new phrase Raison d’être – Google Dictionary helped me with the pronunciation, “chuckles.” There’s a small wooden elephant sitting on my desk…he reminds me of my power and strength. Take good care, and I look forward to the next blog posting.

    Blessings, Arielle

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    • Hello Arielle! I’m thrilled to hear from you, and thanks for reading and sharing my post. With our small wooden animal totems to guide us, we can’t go wrong. 😉

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  2. Thanks for the insight into your position Robin and the work you are doing!! It sounds exciting – and innovative – to ‘coin a phrase’. Will look forward to hearing more from you.

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