BESIDES from the mother tongue [Kinyarwanda], Rwanda is one of the countries in the sub-region that has advantage of using multiple languages; inter alia English, French and Kiswahili, which are recognised as official languages.
These languages are crucially important as they enable Rwandans to be able to communicate easily with non-nationals. In other words, it gives the country a competitive advantage over other regional countries.
During the 15th National Leadership Retreat concluded last month, the leaders resolved, among others, to “improve the quality of education at all levels and review the teaching methods of languages in primary and secondary schools with emphasis on English proficiency”.
But the leaders, more specifically, underscored the importance of improving English proficiency not simply because it is the most important of all languages, but it is one of the most predominantly used languages in the world.
Rwanda isn’t an island; it does need other countries as all countries live interdependently.
As a land-locked country, it is committed to engaging with other countries for bilateral and multilateral relations. This is essentially important for doing business, attracting foreign investors, and sending Rwandans abroad for further studies to gain more employability skills desirable on the labour market.
Why emphasis on English?
Today’s economy is increasingly globalised, and this means that many of us are interacting across cultures in a way we never did before.
In such an economy, the importance of learning a second language, which is predominantly used globally, becomes self-evident. Improving English language helps communicate across cultures and to conduct business in lands you may never have previously considered viable markets.
There are vitally important reasons particularly for Rwanda to continue putting much emphasis on English language. First, Rwanda acceded to the Treaty of EAC since 2007, where the original Partner States predominantly use English language.
To fit very well within the EAC systems, it was necessary for an acceding State to adapt to English language.
Second, in a meeting held in Trinidad and Tobago in November 2009, Rwanda was officially admitted in the Commonwealth as its 54th member. The Commonwealth acknowledged that Rwanda had a well-deserved reputation for governmental efficiency and for being one of the least corrupt countries in Africa.
Of course, the English language wasn’t as an essential prerequisite as good governance, good record of human rights and observance of democratic principles, but it is an important communicative tool given that it is the commonly used language in the grouping. Rwanda too is by default compelled to adapt to English language.
Third, just last March, Rwanda together with other 44 African countries signed up to the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) agreement, creating a single African market that will also ease mobility of people across the continent.
The agreement would allow mainly the movement of goods and services, flowing freely in and out between African countries. Obviously, the main medium of communication would be English, which may be followed by French and lastly Swahili.
Frankly speaking, Kinyarwanda, which of course, we cherish as one of our major unifying factors, won’t be a key medium of communication except with only nationals. If one of our potential benefits is to create tens of thousands of jobs and significantly reduce unemployment among the continent’s youthful population, how could it be achieved without enhancing the major communicative tool?
Though we must cherish our mother tongue, which is part of our culture that we all have a moral obligation to uphold, we must be flexible and welcome a second language that would open for us potential opportunities.
Enhancing English language doesn’t signify undermining Kinyarwanda, nor does it lead to its decline.
I think everyone should welcome the recent decision by Rwanda Education Board (REB) to make it mandatory that all university students, prior to graduating and be awarded their degree certificates/diplomas, must have passed the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEL), or International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
Interestingly, the test would be uniform to all students. Even if a student moves from one university to another the test would remain the same.
For effective implementation, it is quite important to recommend relevant authorities, in due course, to set out strict procedures to scupper any loopholes for cheating. This decision is, arguably, an implementing strategy to earlier noted resolution of the National Leadership Retreat which agreed on bolstering English proficiency.
As explained by REB’s director general, the strategy to improve English proficiency will apply right from primary and secondary schools to higher learning institutions—both public and private.
REB’s decision is a great undertaking; it is incumbent upon all stakeholders of education system to synergise their efforts in order to achieve this milestone. Anyone who has passion to see things turn around would welcome such an undertaking that seeks to improve the quality of our education system while enhancing, in a special way, English language. Let’s not simply resist change yet we don’t know what it holds for us. English language is and will remain a major communicative tool enabling us to fit very well in contemporary world.