How Rwigema’s passion for teaching influenced the education system

Rwigema embarked on his teaching career from a refugee camp, in 1973. Kelly Rwamapera

While the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA-Inkotanyi) was fighting to liberate on different fronts Rwanda, John Rwigema was making a mark in the country’s education sector.

For 18 years, Rwigema contributed greatly to the country’s education system. A teacher by profession, he took it upon himself to help in revamping the education system when he came back from exile, this was in 1993.

He volunteered in teaching but also mobilised others who were in position to step up and assume roles in teaching. 

“Anyone who had a background in education was encouraged to volunteer in teaching. Each one of us was given a class according to their level of education; it was hard though to find the ones who could teach in secondary students.”

Slowly by slowly the teaching profession picked up pace that at some point they had to appoint someone to serve as a district education officer. This one was meant to inspect schools especially in the areas of Nyagatare and Byumba, Rwigema recalls.

Because there was less manpower in school administrations by then, Rwigema had to take up numerous roles. At some point he had to work as the Bursar and the head teacher for different schools and was also expected to continue with his role as a teacher.

Accomplishing this was tough, but he managed to do it because all he wanted was to see progress in the country’s education system.

“In everything I did, I was being inspired by a common cause of making an impact to my country. All of us who were teaching had had a dream of returning home and help in transforming the country’s education to a better level,” he says.

The Francophone and Anglophone question

It so happened that there were very many students who had returned to the country and were mostly from English speaking countries yet Rwanda, by then was a Francophone country. This posed a great challenge in how classes were conducted.

Rwigema says that one class could, for example, be having different streams but one could be taught in French and another in English.

“It was just impractical to, for instance, teach subjects such as Chemistry in French to a student who had a background of English, we had to strive for a system that allowed both languages,” he notes.

Something had to be done to balance the Francophone and Anglophone aspects in the education system, Rwigema says.

He hence pioneered the establishment of Rwanda English Medium Education Services (REMES), an Anglophone body that was meant to help in the adoption of the English language in the education system.

Rwigema was one of the teachers who could set and mark exams for the Anglophone students.

A retired teacher now

In 1970, he completed his O-Level studies and joined a Teachers’ Training College and in 1973 he graduated as a grade III teacher.

While in exile, Rwigema had worked as a head teacher for different schools in Rwandan refugee communities until 1993 when he returned to Rwanda.

The 74-year-old retired in 2011 and now resides in Kabeza, Nyikiga Cell, Karama Sector, Nyagatare District in Eastern Province where he stays with his family.

Last year, a group of his former students visited him and gave him a cow for his influence on their lives.