Some schools in the country have not complied with a ministerial instruction stating that schools should use Kinyarwanda as a medium of instruction up to primary three, Sunday Times has learned.
According to the Education Sector Strategic Plan developed in 2013 by the Ministry of Education, Kinyarwanda should be used as a medium of instruction and English and French as subjects in all lower primary schools, public as well as private.
However, the Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture (RALC) has voiced concerns that there are schools that are not using Kinyarwanda as a medium of instruction from nursery to primary three, which poses a threat to their education and the role of the mother tongue.
Various school headteachers and parents who talked to Sunday Times expressed that teaching children in foreign languages – English and French – is better than Kinyarwanda, contending that school-going children can learn Kinyarwanda while at home.
RALC revealed that the issue is especially prevalent in private schools, which, being more driven by monetary interests, are using foreign languages to attract more Rwandan parents to enroll in their pre-primary and primary-school-age children there.
The Academy made the revelation during a recent session with the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, ICT, Culture, and Youth, which intended to understand how culture-related policies are implemented.
“We realised that especially in private schools, in a bid to get money, they are imparting English and French into children, which might even make them risk suffering from early mental stunting, instead of helping them. And, they are prohibiting them from speaking Kinyarwanda,” said Prof. Cyprien Niyomugabo, Chairman of RALC.
Niyomugabo, who is also the Dean of the School of Education at University of Rwanda observed that parents should have the understanding that Kinyarwanda helps children have sustainable knowledge and know foreign languages.
However, there is a worry that even some families do not encourage their children to speak or learn Kinyarwanda at home, with the mindset that speaking foreign languages is superior.
Veneranda Musengimana, a head teacher at Fruits of Hope Academy in Gasabo District, said that the school has been using English only as a medium of instruction, and teach Kinyarwanda as the subject for an hour a day, adding that their students are good at Kinyarwanda.
Musengimana compared children to blank paper, indicating that they can master everything they are taught.
“We are in a world where communication matters a lot. If we teach them [in] Kinyarwanda as our mother tongue, they will complete their education with a poor command of other languages. Yet, they are not limited to the country (local market),” she said.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), it is through the mastery of the first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing, and numeracy are acquired.
Adelaide Dusabeyezu, head teacher of APACOPE primary school in Nyarugenge District told Sunday Times that when a child learns French early, it becomes easier for him or her to know other languages.
For Teddy Gacinya, head teacher of City Infant School in Gasabo District, the school uses French from nursery up to primary 3, adding that, for Rwandans, learning Kinyarwanda is not as difficult as foreign languages.
“We chose French as a medium of instruction because it was parents’ wish, and it’s too difficult, which made them put the effort into it and teach Kinyarwanda and English only as subjects,” she said.
Damien Nkurunziza, head teacher of Kigali City School in Kicukiro District argued that it is teachers who completed their studies and had knowledge and capacity in English who decided to establish that school.
“We chose to use English so that we shape children who know that language and that when they enter the job market in any sector, they are able to support government programmes,” he said.
Jean Bosco Niyomungeri, a parent whose 2-year-old toddler studies in a Kamonyi District-based nursery school that teaches in French, said that he feels proud when his toddler speaks the language.
He pointed out that it is not a bad idea to know the mother tongue, but insisted on focusing on using French and English, and learn Kinyarwanda only as a lesson.
“Parents feel proud of their kids who speak French and English at an early age and the system strengthens the children’s courage to go to schools. However, parents are needed to help them learn Kinyarwanda in families while outside school,” Niyomungeri observed.
MP Damien Nyabyenda, chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, ICT, Culture, and Youth said that both nursery schools and the first level of primary schools have to learn all lessons in Kinyarwanda and use other languages from upper primary as is instructed.
“That instruction should be complied with. There should be sensitisation starting from families so that Rwandans understand that foreign languages are important, but that for one to better master them, they should first know their mother tongue,” he said.
Further reporting by Emmanuel Ntirenganya.