A couple of years back Rwanda made a very bold move when a decision was taken to switch the language of instruction in schools. Initially all learning was being conducted in the French language and after 1994 English was added for those whose background meant they would be left behind if they enrolled in schools where French was used.
English gradually became more popular and even schools that had only the Francophone system soon adopted an Anglophone section to cater for the needs of the Anglophones from English speaking countries. However the country’s development needs were more urgent than the pace at which English language teaching was happening.
So the government took the bold step to immediately switch from French and make English the official language of instruction in all schools from lower primary all the way to university. This move created a huge logistical problem including limited English teachers.
The thousands of teachers in the country had grown up with the French system and had not probably foreseen the government’s plan to use the more globally friendly English language. Several steps were taken to deal with this problem including several short training courses in English for teachers across the country.
And, although Ugandan and Kenyan teachers already existed in the country, more were recruited to further address the shortage of language teachers that emerged after the switch from French to English. After the numerous training sessions, the Education Ministry then recruited mentors who were deployed in schools across the country.
All these efforts are commendable but can only be considered short-term, not long-term strategies. This is because the teachers who were using French before can only be taught to the level of functional Basic English and not to the level of fluency that allows them to claim they teach in English without some guilt deep inside.
For one to qualify as a teacher, language is not supposed to be one of the problems.
Language fluency should be fixed before one can get to the level of confidently passing on knowledge in class.
In other words, the training by the Education Ministry together with Rwanda Education Board can only do much. At the end of the day Rwanda still requires teachers who can confidently speak and use English as a language of instruction.
Therefore as the short-term efforts go on, long term ones should also be taking root. For example if we are sending mentors to schools are we recruiting language experts for our teacher training schools? We need to be producing quality teachers who do not need the guidance of mentors from Kenya, for instance.
More importantly, if we are to achieve real standards then maybe we should think of being strict when it comes to those who want to be future teachers. Considering the language problem in the education system may be it would be helpful if these are only selected after a tough language examination or that they need to have passed English language before joining the University.
We need teachers who are able to explain complex concepts to their students without having to stammer or always run for a Kinyarwanda equivalent. In a situation where students are more fluent than their teacher, the teacher will be despised. And this is already happening .
I think it is time we reflected more on the long term goal of having quality teachers in our schools, otherwise we are building our house on sand. Remember the target is to achieve a knowledge-based economy. This cannot happen with short-term strategies that give birth to glossy statistics instead of lasting impact on our education. Over to you Rwanda Education Board.