Genocide studies key in fight against hate speech in schools

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Students queue to enter the Genocide memorial during a commemoration at Kinazi. Genocide studies will empower students to understand the consequences of Genocide Ideology. (File)

When close to one million people were killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the perpetrators never discriminated between age or sex. Both the young and old, male and female, suffered at the hands of the genocidairers, who were even promoting this monstrous ideology within schools.

Schools such as Nyange Girls and ACEDI Mataba, among others, were fertile grounds for threats, and while the versions may be different, the intention was the same. For example at Nyange School, some students lost their lives after refusing to heed Intarahamwe’s demands to separate them into Tutsi and Hutu. In other schools such as ACEDI Mataba, notes embedded with Genocide innuendos were common. Such practices form what is termed as Genocide ideology.

Even after reconciliation, several practices promoting the Genocide ideology were noticeable within schools. For example, a parliamentary report issued in 2008 found that there were instances of Genocide ideology in at least 84 of the 637 secondary at that time.

This was characterised by anonymous text messages and literature that threatened Tutsi students.

It is against this background that educationists beefed up plans to deal with this niggling mentality of misleading learners. Under an approach that instills proper behaviour in pupils, teachers ensure that appropriate content is delivered to all pupils irrespective of their background.

As such, Genocide studies have been introduced in the new curriculum for teachers to ensure that schools become the first place where students learn to fight all ideologies related to the Genocide.

Like Dr Joyce Musabe, the deputy director general in charge of curriculum development at Rwanda Education Board, says, Genocide studies are taught as cross-cutting issues in all disciplines to ensure that students remain aware of Rwanda’s past.

“Most of the studies have been introduced in history and citizenship but these are just two of the long list of subjects. This ensures that all students become beneficiaries for a long-term cause of wiping out Genocide ideology from schools. Even mathematical approaches are supposed to engage students in a way that encourages resistance towards these issues,” says Dr Musabe.

Musabe, who is also a trained teacher, adds that unlike in the past when instructors gave limited attention to Genocide issues, class sessions now compel teachers to assess individual behaviour and the way learners relate with each other.

“Under this holistic approach, it is a must for teachers to monitor and assess how learners relate with their colleagues through group work and also monitor their attitude under different learning environments,” she adds.

On top of such establishments, teachers like Theoneste Ngirowunsanga of College APPEC Rukoma in Kamonyi District believe that creation of relevant debates within schools greatly contributes to the erosion of Genocide ideology.

“Through school debates, students find the opportunity of understanding the events that transpired during the Genocide. This promotes unity among the participants,“says Ngirowunsanga.

He also adds that encouraging students to visit memorial sites regularly enhances learning for those who have limited information about the Genocide.

“The best way students can learn about the Genocide against the Tutsi is by visiting these sites. Here they get to learn how a series of events unfolded and the gruesome experiences. During these visits they get to meet the caretakers who explain most of this history,” he adds.

Preventing ideology through publications

As Rwanda commemorates 22 years of Genocide against the Tutsi with a theme revolving around fighting Genocide ideology, several experts believe that publications accessed by students have a huge role towards preventing the same.

According to Stephen Mugisha the chairman of the Rwanda Publishers Association Limited, access to local publications within schools risks forcing learners to search for foreign material that sometimes corrupts their minds.

“No one understands our history better than ourselves. Even when it is known that very few people read, the challenge remains that local content is limited. The threat is that some foreign textbooks may lack facts on Rwanda’s history,’’ says Mugisha.

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Students in a group discussion. Experts believe that such activities are essential in addressing Genocide ideology. (Solomon Asaba)

Mugisha, however, advises that literature published outside Rwanda needs thorough scrutiny to ensure that it is safe for the students.

“Only material that is deemed authentic should be allowed within the market because poor literature can promote Genocide ideology,” adds Mugisha.

Eric Mahoro Uwitonze, the executive director of Never Again, echoes similar views, explaining that students who access a lot of foreign material have increased chances of landing on content from Genocide deniers.

“Without orienting these students on appropriate literature, chances are high that they will meet dangerous content from those who deny the Genocide,” says Uwitonze.

Using school clubs

Besides parents, students encounter different people while away from school. To avert any intentions of promoting Genocide ideology, several clubs have been set up to address these vices within schools.

Jean De Dieu Mirindi, the coordinator of Association des Etudiants et Eleves Rescapes du Genocide(AERG), an association for the genocide survivors, points out that sometimes Genocide ideology originates from the parents or caretakers students interface with on a regular basis.

As such, Mirindi advises that routine activities at schools are necessary to sensitise students about the dangers of Genocide ideology.

“Being a collection of many people from different areas, ideas are quite different but regular group education on the dangers assists in wiping out the vice,” says Mirindi.

This association of survivors has several branches in primary, secondary schools and higher institutions of learning charged with the duty of mentoring students on ways to resist acts promoting Genocide tendencies.

“We can only perform this job with assistance from the school authorities and other leaders. This is the same reason we spread out in the different schools,” he adds.

Also, the ‘Never Again’ club operates in at least 200 schools within the country. Together with affiliated clubs, it aims at ensuring that students live in harmony with each other to eliminate all chances of Genocide ideology.

“Almost 52 clubs are affiliated to our operations. These help by mentoring students and teaching them how best they can overcome ideologies leading to the Genocide,” adds Uwitonze.

It should be known that the Rwandan law relating to the crime of Genocide ideology encompasses speeches, threats, documents, and acts aimed at exterminating or inciting others to exterminate a group of people based on their ethnicity, colour or religion. This is punishable and according to the law offenders received a jail sentence of up to nine years.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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What is the best way to promote unity in schools?

Jacky Nyiramini, S3 student at St Patrick Kicukiro

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Jacky Nyiramini

Being at school itself is promoting unity since students interact under the same environment. Teachers should use that chance to encourage students to talk about the different issues that affect them. That way they will start bonding as a family, which will eventually lead to unity among students.

Erick Migisha, S4 student at GS Kimisagara

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Erick Migisha

Engaging students in activities such as working together in school gardens or cleaning the compound promotes unity among them. Forming clubs such as the Christian Union Club in schools will unite students as well as inculcate in them good morals.

African Mudahemuka, S3 student at GS Rugando

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African Mudahemuka

Unity among students can be promoted through holding group discussions. In the groups, students are able to share their successes as well as their grievances with the guidance of their teachers. Such close interaction will help them get united in the long run.

James Habimana, S2 student at Ifak in Kimihurura

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James Habimana

It’s good to have clubs that promote peace. In my school, for instance, there is a debating club where motions relating to students, teachers and even parents’ issues are tabled and discussed. I believe this strengthens our relationship while at school, thus promoting unity.

Aline Ngabonzinza, a university student

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Aline Ngabonzinza

The best way to promote unity in schools is to form clubs that promote co-existence. For instance, during this time of commemoration, anti Genocide groups should be there to teach students what they are supposed to do or not to do.

Compiled By Lydia Atieno.