Impacting student learning through spelling competitions

Language studies are compulsory at primary and secondary school levels for purposes of improving proficiency and communication skills among students.

And, for Richard Kaweesi, the executive director of Brain Teasers Rwanda, what drives his enterprise is the desire to contribute to language proficiency among students through conducting spelling competitions, dubbed “the spelling bee.”

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Kaweesi speaks to participants at a recent spelling competition. / Courtesy

The former marketer left his previous job and ventured into education in a bid to help students improve their vocabulary through spelling.

Having successfully started Brain Teasers Uganda, he decided to bring the same concept to Rwanda where he started operations in 2015 as an education support activity in both primary and secondary schools within Kigali.

“Most schools gave it a big welcome and I realised that people were eager to learn, which is why all schools wanted to work with us, both private and public ones,” he says

Kaweesi also works with Rwanda Reads, an initiative under the Ministry of Education and the Rwanda Education Board dedicated to developing a culture of reading in Rwanda.

“Rwanda Reads supported us because we had the same goal. Spelling aids in reading and writing. It helps cement the connection that is shared between sounds and letters. Spelling and reading also have a common factor, proficiency with language,” he explains.

Brain Teasers Rwanda is also supported by the Cambridge International College that sponsors the best student and their English teacher in the competition for English courses.

His inspiration

“I was not good at spellings in my primary school days, which affected my academic performance. I decided to have spelling competitions with my classmates and would pick words randomly in various subjects, from magazines and newspapers. This helped me improve my spelling and eventually pass English,” Kaweesi says.

It is from his experience that he came up with the idea to help others.

“My young brother also had a spelling problem and I realised that some students are failing languages simply because of challenges in spelling. Because I can’t single-handedly help all the students like I did for my brother, I decided to come up with national spelling competitions to help the students,” he says.

Kaweesi also says the one challenge they are still grappling with is that schools tend to pull out of the competition because they only consider the competition aspect and forget the most important aspect, which is learning.

He encourages schools to come up with spelling clubs to help their students improve their vocabulary, give them exposure, and boost their confidence to help them pass exams and succeed in other spheres of life.

“My wish is that students are able to write application letters themselves. They should be good at both writing and self expression,” he says.

Future plans

Taking one step at a time, the 35-year-old’s aim is to ensure that all languages that are taught in schools are spoken and written with proficiency by the students.

Spelling Bee covers both Kinyarwanda and English languages, but he plans to introduce French next year.

“It is important for the students here to learn to the International languages because Rwanda is currently attracting a lot of foreign investment and they, therefore, need to be able to fully exploit the opportunities that come with it.

“To achieve this, they need to give languages more time and commitment. Some people are good with writing, but not speaking or vice versa, yet it’s important that they balance both skills,” Kaweesi says.

He also plans on extending the initiative to the rural schools if he gets enough financial support.

“We are still working within Kigali because our budget cannot allow us go to the villages, but, hopefully, we will be able to reach out to them as well,” he says.