Civil society seeks greater consultations on education sector policy decisions

A teacher conducts a lesson in Nyamasheke. Emmanuel Kwizera

Education affects everyone- including generations to come; therefore any policy change should involve pre-consultation with all stakeholders involved–which isn’t the case, at the moment says the Civil Society.

The complaint follows the recent changes by the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC), where private schools were given the right to continue teaching in their usual respective languages, a move that was warmly welcomed by parents.

Public lower primary schools were also affected by the sudden change because MINEDUC urged them to shift from using Kinyarwanda as a medium of instruction and use English.

For public schools, however, the ministry said it will soon announce a transitional mechanism for them to move from Kinyarwanda to English as a medium of instruction in lower primary schools.

As some teachers attest, Kinyarwanda has been in use as the language of instruction in lower primary public schools for the past seven years.

The competency-based curriculum that came into effect in 2015 emphasised the policy by stipulating that; the language of learning in pre-primary and lower primary classes be Kinyarwanda while other languages are taught as subjects.

“It’s true that policies evolve over time based on realities on the ground. But while making the changes, all stakeholders should be consulted,” Joseph Ryarasa Nkurunziza, Chairperson of Rwanda Civil Society Platform, told The New Times.

“The changes in the education sector lack pre-constructive dialogues with all stakeholders; to ensure ownership by everyone, not just informing through announcements”.

Ryarasa continued to say that: “Education affects both the current and the coming generations. Society is now informed and more literate as compared to previous years, therefore they need to be engaged more in decision-making.”

Defence of old policy

Research by UNESCO revealed that using the learners’ mother tongue in the early stages of education is crucial to effective learning.

The same research was quoted by MINEDUC on many occasions, as the catalyst for using Kinyarwanda as a medium of instruction in lower primary classes.

Leo Mugabe, Coordinator of Rwanda Education for All Coalition (REFAC), a Civil Society Organisation, told The New Times that: “For us, that policy was fair because it was based on research and recommendations from organisations like UNESCO.”

“If you look at the language used by many parents and children at home, you’ll find that it’s Kinyarwanda, therefore, it should be the one taught in schools, especially in lower classes”.

However, some parents often said that “teaching in English benefits learners more by opening them to better opportunities in the future”, adding that “Kinyarwanda will always be taught as a subject and spoken at home”.

“What wasn’t fair was to find students from public schools learning in Kinyarwanda and other students from private schools learning in English, and then both end up doing the same national examination,” Mugabe added.

“Teachers in public schools had started using Kinyarwanda and going back to English will not be that easy. Keeping in mind the financial implication; books that had been translated to Kinyarwanda will no longer be of need after the change, and many other resources as well”.

Apart from the English subject, other subjects were taught in Kinyarwanda in lower primary public schools, and subjects would be taught in English in primary four up to primary six-when they would sit a national examination in English.

‘Policy change requires time’

A ministry statement dated December 5, 2019, highlighted that: “All public and government-aided schools currently using Kinyarwanda as the medium of instruction at lower primary level will gradually transition to using English.

The transition will be done within a determined period to be communicated by the Ministry of Education.”

Stephen Mugisha, a publisher of books, told The New Times that policies involving language of instruction should be given a long transition period.

“Something to do with the medium of instruction must have a time frame; because it is the core of teaching and learning. It needs a long transition period, so as to phase out what has been existing and embrace the new one,” he said.

Mugisha also reiterated that more clarifications should be provided to stakeholders before changes are made.

“Policymakers should know that it’s very easy on paper, but very difficult on the ground. For any transition, stakeholders should be prepared and given tangible and justifiable reasons for the change,” he said.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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