What does Kinyarwanda change mean for education?

Recently Rwanda Academy of Languages and Culture announced new changes to the Kinyarwanda language. And although the statement has attracted a lot of backlash from the public, the language experts have stood their ground.
A mother teaches her daughter how to read. Most mothers say it will be challenging adapting to the revised Kinyarwanda after years of speaking the inherited version. (Internet photo)
A mother teaches her daughter how to read. Most mothers say it will be challenging adapting to the revised Kinyarwanda after years of speaking the inherited version. (Internet photo)

Recently Rwanda Academy of Languages and Culture announced new changes to the Kinyarwanda language. And although the statement has attracted a lot of backlash from the public, the language experts have stood their ground.

“Over 30 million people across the East African region speak Kinyarwanda and with imminent regional integration, changing about 16% of the language will improve its identification across borders in countries where Rwandans live,” says Dr James Vuningoma, the executive secretary of the institute in charge of conducting a series of steps that will involve changing first orthography, grammar and dictionary of Kinyarwanda. He adds that in addition to this, some new terminologies will be introduced in Kinyarwanda to broaden its vocabulary.

Justification for change

Dr Vuningoma also believes that the changes will help all people understand how easily they can write the language.

“We adopted the changes to help both Rwandans and foreigners easily write the language,” Vuningoma explained in a recent interview with The New Times.

A teacher holds a child by the hand at school. Teachers will have the duty to teach learners the revised Kinyarwanda language. (Solomon Asaba )

Vuningoma pointed out that there was need to preserve Kinyarwanda itself because currently it has become a combination of several languages.

“Our history being based on movement, every time Rwandans left, they came back with a mixture of cultures and languages such as French, English to form another language called Kinyafranglais,” Vuningoma said.

He says when you listen carefully to the Kinyarwanda dialect; you hear a mixture of these languages. So, according to him, the academy worked hard to make sure that they expose such issues and invite Rwandans to defend their own language.

Vuningoma says “A workshop to identify terminologies for agriculture, animal husbandry and ICT, among others will be conducted soon.”

Government speaks out

Dr Abdallah Baguma, the Ag. Director Academic Quality, Higher Education Council, says the changes are essential to match current trends of development. Baguma believes that current research and innovation calls for a more standardised system of communication of which change is inevitable.

“Without specifically dwelling on Kinyarwanda, language changes are purposely made to improve the writing and also make the language richer in vocabulary,” Baguma explains.

He is, however, quick to add that this move will have no effect on continuing students in higher institutions, using or offering Kinyarwanda as a language.

“Both teachers and individuals who graduated in Kinyarwanda courses will not be recalled to re-sit exams after the implementation,” he adds.

Javier Gasana, the Deputy Director General in charge of Education Quality and Standards at Rwanda Examination Board, also dismisses the argument that the language is being diluted. “The move is based on scientific findings meant to rectify the distortions partly brought about by social media and internet,” he says.

Joe Habineza, the Culture and Sports Minister, also calls for calm saying the implementation will only take effect after the public has been fully sensitized.

“The first stage is consulting the public and educating them about the purpose of the changes and later on (probably after two years) roll out the changes,” Habineza explains.

With such determination to implement the changes, one can only wonder how much will be spent on training teachers and printing new books.

Financial cost

However, a section of the public has expressed discomfort about the costs involved in terms of writing new books, training teachers and implementation. It must also be noted that REB is in the process of reviewing the curriculum with plans to effect a new one in 2016. But according to REB, there is no need to panic.

“The changes in Kinyarwanda are very timely and will therefore be imbibed in the revised curriculum. All new and revised text books will be printed following the new language guidelines,” says Javier Gasana, the Deputy Director General in charge of Education Quality and Standard, REB.

Asked whether there are enough funds to print the text books, Gasana explains: “Even with the curriculum, there were funds designated to print new text books. The language changes will require just incorporation into the text books.”

Students, parents worried

A survey by The Education Times shows that most of them still have reservations.

Fabrice Ishimwe, a senior three student at College du Christ roi, Nyanza explains that it will be very difficult to adapt to the revised version.

“We are so accustomed to the old Kinyarwanda both in terms of written and spoken. Now we have to start learning new things which is hard at our age,” Ishimwe explains. “Kinyarwanda already consumes the most number of hours at school. Does it mean they will dedicate even more hours to it so that we master the language?”

But for Fiston Gahizi from Nuvision High School, adapting to the new one is harder. “I have been having trouble with the current Kinyarwanda and now before mastering it, a new version is introduced. That’s tough,” he says.

Gael Ishimwe, another student, says his only concern is that he has to adapt to new ways of writing Kinyarwanda which is inconveniencing.

For Rachel Maliza, a parent, the challenge is in reconciling the two versions of Kinyarwanda.

“We have always taught our children the Kinyarwanda we inherited but now we have to go back to the drawing board and teach them afresh,” Maliza says.

Teachers advise

Frank Shaka, the head teacher of Essa Nyarugunga High School in Kanombe, says: “Students struggle to understand the current version of Kinyarwanda which means that a lot of effort is required in order for them to grasp the new version.”

He also acknowledges that the original dialect had been diluted with a mixture of languages which calls for correction.

“We welcome the changes but advise the Government to involve families, churches and other places where students are likely to spend time while outside school,” he advises.

Ronald Wandira, a history teacher at Kigali Christian High School, highlights the importance of culture in every society.

Just like Shaka, he welcomes the modifications but also advises the people concerned to make the changes as simple as possible for easy learning.

Wandira also has some more advice for the experts.

“The Rwanda Academy of Languages and Culture should find a way of maintaining the cultural norms and values that will make society more involved with the adjustment,” he says.

Students’ take

Cedrick Cyizere

Cedrick Cyizere

I have no problem with rectifying a few issues in Kinyarwanda as long as it enriches the language. I only have a problem if one says it should not be used in school especially in primary because that would be tantamount to dismantling our culture.

Mary Goretti Asimwe

Mary Goretti Asimwe

I hope changing the Kinyarwanda language will not eventually lead to its abolition because I can’t speak English to my grandmother. I welcome the changes but just wonder if the two versions of Kinyarwanda won’t cause confusion between the old and young generation.

Jimmy Jones

Jimmy Jones

I am totally against the idea of tampering with the Kinyarwanda language because this is the language we have used for many centuries. I doubt if the new changes will add any value to the much loved language.

Sandrine Irankunda

Sandrine Irankunda

I’m yet to scrutinise all the changes they want to introduce to the language but I just pray it does not bury Kinyarwanda because we are all very proud of our language.

Gerald Nzitatira

Initially I was worried that they were going to abolish Kinyarwanda but later learnt that they were just amending a few things. I can’t wait to see what the new version looks like. However, I don’t know if we shall be able to learn the revised Kinyarwanda after many years of speaking a different one.

Sarah Munezero

Sarah Munezero

Well I guess the language experts have good reasons to change a few things in Kinyarwanda. I think we should not dismiss their efforts without studying the changes deeply. The challenge I see is implementation. How they will teach the whole population the new language is what I wait to see.

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