Tujenge Scholars Program is unique in many ways. It is the only post-secondary, college-preparatory educational program in Burundi. It is one of only a few English-language education initiatives in the country. Moreover, its staunch emphasis on educational quality stands in contrast to initiatives that emphasize reach as their primary goal.
When compared to other similar organizations in sub-Saharan Africa, Tujenge again stands out. Its immersive eighteen-month approach is unusual, largely in recognition of the exceptional language barrier faced by Burundian students. But even amongst similar length programs, Tujenge’s commitment to peacebuilding, educational access, and radical diversity is unprecedented.
Scholars are held to a set of core values that effectively capture this spirit of difference:
These values are guiding principles for the entire academic program, and fundamentally linked to the specific Academic Objectives and Curricular Components. To most clearly inform program and curriculum design, these values and Tujenge’s unique educational perspective have been distilled into the set of concrete objectives listed here.
The Academic Objectives of the Tujenge Scholars Program can be collected into five key pillars:
The Tujenge Scholars Program is unique amongst similar initiatives in its emphasis on peacebuilding. Every year, students from all corners of the country — all walks of life — come together and encounter opinions vastly different from their own. They live and work alongside people with unfamiliar experiences, learning empathetically from the exposure. These encounters are at the heart of the Scholars Program, and this pillar is the first and foremost Academic Objective.
Correspondingly, building respect for open and honest dialogue is paramount. In listening to someone with a fundamentally incompatible view, straining to understand their perspective, and always affording them dignity and respect, scholars exemplify the Character and Fortitude necessary for true leadership.
When articulating the objectives of this pillar, it is necessary to highlight Burundi’s history of violent conflict and genocide, and to affirm Tujenge’s view that education—particularly of the next generation of leadership—is the most robust inoculation against future conflict. The country’s history of ethnic and political divisions cannot be ignored by any conscionable educational initiative. It would be too easy, and ultimately far too dangerous, to ignore these divisions; instead the program confronts them head-on with conscious selection of scholars and dedicated curriculum to give students the academic space to grapple with this historical context.
Although success in relation to this pillar is difficult to measure, it informs every aspect of curriculum design. It is integral to auxiliary program aspects like cohort selection and alumni connectivity, long before and long after the eighteen months that comprise the academic program. All curricular and program components are assessed with this pillar in mind.
“Leadership” comes in many forms. The word is too often associated with power projection and strongmen, with little thought given to alternate, even radical, uses. Fundamental misunderstandings about leadership and the responsibilities of ethical leadership abound the world over. Emphatically, this problem is as much a problem of the so-called global north as it is a problem of the global south; nor is it to be solved by “enlightened” western democratic institutions. Indeed, the challenges of leadership in Burundi need to be reimagined by Burundians and for Burundians.
Burundi requires robust, effective leadership for its future, and years of war and conflict have decimated the class of citizen leaders who are invested in the future of the country. The Tujenge focus is of leadership as a service, rather than a position, and core values like Humility, Integrity, Radical Empathy, and Servant Leadership are echoed in this approach to leadership development.
Regardless of their intended career or field of study, scholars confront the moral and ethical questions that surround leadership. Tujenge’s radical position is that ethical leadership need not be political; whether teaching a future doctor, electrician, or burgeoning artist, this pillar calls for students to confront injustice and build the Burundi they want to call home.
In their time at the program, and in their connections beyond, Scholars are asked to reimagine what leadership looks like and challenged to practice their leadership skills throughout the academic program. The program emphasizes volunteer work both within the Tujenge ecosystem and without. Students confront issues of marginalization and are tasked with becoming advocates for justice. Service learning is integral to this pillar, pairing academic discussion with real-world encounters.
Often it is the case that the lessons learned in school are not adequately contextualized in the realities of the country. For that reason, the program endeavors to prepare scholars that are in tune with the state of their own societies. Armed with this deep understanding, scholars develop the skill set to resolve the issues they see before them, regardless of whether they are of a social, economic or political nature.
Effectiveness as a leader is also of prime importance to Tujenge’s vision of growth for its scholars, and it is from this fundamental goal that the remaining three pillars derive their mandate. The program believes that effective leadership in Burundi requires a level of English proficiency and requires further education. In preparing scholars to be global citizens, the program gives them the tools to pursue leadership in whatever field they may enter.
Evaluation of this pillar can only be in observing students’ daily interactions: the kind words to a classmate, the volunteering to help janitorial staff clean up a classroom, and the devotion of one’s time to a community service project. There are no straightforward ways to assess this wild and new kind of leadership, nor should there be. Leadership comes in myriad forms, and it is up to each individual student to chart their own leadership journey.
The importance of this pillar is two-fold. First, as Burundi increasingly integrates into the predominantly English-speaking East African Community, language skills become crucial in building connections and fostering international cooperation in the region.
Second, English is undeniably the language of business and academic inquiry worldwide. The program believes that the ability to interact with—and to a lesser extent integrate with—the anglophone global community is vital for aspiring Burundian leaders. Any young person who wants to be an effective leader in the world of the 21st century simply must have a base level of English proficiency.
In measuring curricular success in relation to this pillar, two separate benchmarks can be evaluated. Most fundamentally, the program strives to see robust improvement of English communication skills for every scholar, across reading, writing, listening, and speaking tasks. Secondarily, a nebulous but important metric for the program is scholar readiness to attend English-language university classes at any university in the world. Standardized tests, while a useful measurement tool, cannot fully determine either of these benchmarks, and are used in concert with teacher evaluation to evaluate outcomes.
The goals articulated under Pillar 4 are intertwined with those of the previous pillars. English language preparation at the university level falls under the third pillar, while critical thinking skills are crucial to student engagement with Pillars 1 and 2.
After completion of eighteen months with the program, this pillar calls for the academic, emotional, and social readiness to thrive in a university environment. Tujenge Scholars Program is well-classified as a liberal arts program, with subjects running the gamut of STEM, social science, humanities, and arts disciplines. Exposure to a wide variety of fields is a large goal of this pillar, as students start to rethink previous notions of what a successful university career might look like.
Students coming into the program from the Burundian system of education have often learned by rote memorization and fact regurgitation. The ability to think critically and the ability to formulate and articulate an argument are crucial skills for any aspiring university student. They also constitute an end in their own selves. Grappling with abstruse questions and dissecting one’s own positions are important steps for anyone engaging in a dynamic dialogue, and they are important skills to develop for any aspiring young academic.
Upon finishing the program, students should have the requisite English and math skills for placement into freshman-level coursework. They should have had the opportunity to explore previously unimagined subjects, and they should have the critical thinking skills to actively question the world around them.
This pillar, while still a governing piece of the academic program, is unequivocally the final one. In contrast with college preparatory programs that equate university placement (and often specific geographic placements) with program success, this pillar calls simply for university access. It takes its mandate from the recognition that the goals articulated under the previous pillars will continue to be explored and developed by scholars throughout their time at university. By providing university advising and placement assistance, the program helps students join otherwise inaccessible academic environments where they can be pushed to learn and study.
Finding sources of funding can be a hurdle for university applicants, and is often the only barrier keeping a student from attending a particular school. Helping students navigate the financial landscape is clearly a crucial part of the access process.
Many students who join are particularly interested in this aspect of the academic program, thinking that this may be their ticket to a prestigious institution. Indeed, many students each year will apply to these institutions, presenting compelling applications for admission to the vaunted ivory tower. Tujenge’s role is to support and advise students going through this process.
However, it must be stated clearly that program success under this pillar is not predicated on student admissions to elite schools in the global north. The opportunity to cultivate leadership skills, to learn, and to think can be found at schools throughout the world, including in Burundi itself. In the words of one Tujenge Scholar ’18, “We do need to acquire adequate skills, but those skills are not the God’s gift to USA’s universities. [Brilliant African students] have to be enrolled in those universities because [these are the students] who will bring about innovations, changes, and enhance the qualitative training offered by those universities.”
The program expects 100% university placement for each cohort of students. There are no geographic restrictions. Success means that students are admitted into programs of interest, that match their specific educational preparation and goals, and that will give them the opportunity to grow.