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Why private schools have resisted making Kinyarwanda medium of instruction

Kindergarten pupils at Aspire Rwanda Foundation. Most private schools have resisted a ministerial policy which says Kinyarwanda should be the language of instruction from Kindergarten to Primary 3. File.

It is not uncommon to find students or teenagers who barely speak or write Kinyarwanda despite studying and living in Rwanda.

Directives from the Ministry of Education stipulate that the language of instruction from Kindergarten to primary three is Kinyarwanda however this is not the case in private schools, something that is partly blamed for the poor knowledge of the language among the youth.


Isaac Munyakazi, the Minister of State in charge of Primary and Secondary Education told Sunday Times that schools which don’t comply with that directive will be sanctioned.


“We are going to investigate the matter, and those found not compliant will be dealt with. Every person, including parents, should understand before the decision is made, feasibility studies are conducted. The work is done by professional academicians who know better the right thing for children, therefore I don’t understand how schools can rely on parents to make such decisions,” he said.   


Munyakazi added that research has shown that early learning of the mother tongue aids the successful learning of a second language in future and has a great impact on the general academic growth of children. And the right place to learn Kinyarwanda is at school and with family as a supplement.

However, private schools across the city have been reluctant to implement this directive. For instance, at Bon Berger Nursery and Primary school, Kinyarwanda is accorded a period of 20 minutes a day, which accounts to 8 hours a week.

Bosco Tumwesigye, the Head teacher of the school said that teaching in English and French is what makes his school very attractive to parents and adds that he doesn’t see anything wrong with it as long as it does not affect children’s grades.

“The National exams are set in English and we don’t think that three years (from P4 to P6) when students are supposed to shift from Kinyarwanda to English as a language of instruction is enough for students to fullyadapt,” he said.

Fred Gacinya, the Principal of City Infant and Primary School says that they are not really ignorant of the policy but the decision to use foreign language is driven by parents.

“Parents want their children to study either in English or French or both and for us the parents’ wishes cannot be ignored. And, as schools when we think mastering English or French is very beneficial to children when they get to the labour market,” he said.

Most of the parents who spoke to Sunday Times say English is an indispensable language on the market place, which they want their children to study intensively at an early age.

Emmanuel Kimenyi, the President of Parents Teacher Association (PTA) at Bon Berger nursery and primary school, says Kinyarwanda is really important but the country is not isolated in the global economy.

“As parents it is our responsibility to prepare our children for global competition and English is the driving international language, they must learn it at a very young age. As long as Kinyarwanda is taught as a lesson, it can give them a base in their mother tongue as well”.

Children learn better in their mother tongue

UNESCO has encouraged mother tongue instruction in primary education since 1953 (UNESCO, 1953) and UNESCO highlights the advantages of mother tongue education right from the start. Research conducted in 2008 has shown that children’s first language is the optimal language for literacy and learning throughout primary

According to the same research, some of the disadvantages enumerated include children not being able to engage successfully in learning tasks, teachers feeling overwhelmed by children’s inability to participate, early experiences of school failure and so on. Some children do succeed, perhaps through a language transition program that helps them to acquire the language of instruction.

But there is the risk of negative effects whereby children fail to become linguistically competent and lose the ability to connect with their cultural heritage.

The Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture (RALC) condemns the acculturation of Rwandans who put foreign languages ahead of their mother tongue.

RALC Executive Secretary, Dr James Vuningoma, says modernisation of a society should be based on keeping cultural pillars including the mother tongue.

“Everyone should have dignity to move from that colonisation mindset and embrace our values. Parents committees in private schools should strive to include Kinyarwanda at the same level as other languages.

He blamed the inability of young people who can’t speak Kinyarwanda on the negligence of their parents. He urged them to change their mindset and love their own culture.

He admitted that, Kinyarwanda still lacks some technical terms but the academy was tirelessly working on it by creating new words for each category of profession. He said that, they have started with the judiciary and the work will continue to other areas.

Vuningoma said that they will also keep advocating for valuing Kinyarwanda in public, especially allowing people to conduct interviews in Kinyarwanda as well.

Esther Uwanyuze, a Senior Five student at White Dove Global Prep school, hardly speaks Kinyarwanda despite having studied in Rwanda since Kindergarten.

“It is a shame that I can hardly express myself in Kinyarwanda because since I started school, I was encouraged to only speak English even at home. Sometimes we would be punished at school for speaking Kinyarwanda and this affected my ability to learn it”.

What they say

Loane Mwiza Loane, student
I think that that the reason why many people who did their basic education in Public schools fail to express themselves fluently in English has something to do with them using Kinyarwanda as language of instruction for their formative years.

The world has become a global village and as long as the selling language is English, learning in Kinyarwanda is not a big deal.

Scovia Umutesi, mother of two

I can’t pay school fees for my child to go and be taught in Kinyarwanda. Where is the advantage of knowing it fluently? None has ever missed a job opportunity because he can’t speak Kinyarwanda. Job exams from written to oral interviews are conducted in foreign languages.

My first born is in Primary One at a Private school where the language of instruction is English and Kinyarwanda is taught as a lesson.  To preserve our culture I make sure at home, we interact in Kinyarwanda.

Filbert Tuyizere, student
These days, most of us, young people cannot speak two sentences in Kinyarwanda without mixing in English or French words. The ones who do so consider themselves ‘modern’. Kinyarwanda should not only be promoted in school s but cultural activists can do more awareness in the public as well.

Marcel Habineza, media consultant and video producer
Kinyarwanda is one of the most important features of our cultural identity which distinguish us from other people. From that perspective, it is everyone’s responsibility, especially young people to take pride in it and the only way the youth can get a good foundation of it is through education.

Although it makes business sense for private schools to use English as a language of instruction, they have a responsibility to respect national values. Thus, Kinyarwanda should be given the value it deserves otherwise in less than 10 years many young people will struggle to speak it.

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