I’m not going to debate the various merits and demerits of the Ministry of Education’s plan to make English the language of instruction in schools across the country.
I’m not going into the politics of its all i.e. the need to integrate into the East African and, possibly, the Commonwealth system; the perceived bad feeling between our nation and the Francophonie and its mother country, France; or the obvious need to enjoy the comparative advantage that being English speakers gives a country - more especially in light of the trends in globalisation.
I’m not going to debate whether or not the Ministry is biting off more than it can chew on this one. There are some who believe that implementing this quantum leap will be difficult, to say the least; the training of all the nation’s teachers, the need for new scholastic materials and such.
I’m not debating the policy per se because I’m pretty sure that, as we’ve learnt before, when this government decides to act, it does. So, I’m sure that the books shall be bought and the teachers trained. I’m going to talk on behalf of those who will bear the brunt (and the subsequent advantages) of this proposed language change; the students of Rwanda.
I believe that I’m in the unique position because I AM a student. I’ve been at the National University of Rwanda for a few years now and I’ve known what it’s like to study, and do exams, in a language you’re not particularly proficient in. In our first year at the Ivory Tower, we had a French language crash course (it was known as EPLM) that was supposed to give us the ability to follow the teacher’s instructions in our respective faculties.
I was given the opportunity to study in the Faculty of Law and I can say, in all honesty, the basic French we learnt was not very helpful when the lecturers spouted words that one couldn’t find in the English-French dictionary. But, as many have done before me, I’ve kind of muddled through until now. I guess my French wasn’t that bad because I’m about to finish my course. So, I guess the EPLM course actually helped me out.
Happily, I can now communicate, read and write French moderately. So, I guess this language challenge I faced has made me more competitive as a future employee. However, I’ve been facing a slight problem.
It’s all well and good that I will graduate in a few months’ time and call myself a lawyer. But there is a cost that, I think, people have discounted. On the personal front, when I look at my own academic transcripts, I see cold reality.
In almost every English language course, I was able to score pretty okay grades, but in the French there was a different story; I was struggling to get the pass marks. What does this mean for me as a student?
It means that I can’t get the kind of degree I want (I’ll have to make do with a Satisfactory and not the Distinction, that I believe I could have got if all the courses were taught in English), not because I’m stupid but because I simply couldn’t perform as well as I would have liked in the French language courses - which in Law faculty at the National University are the majority of lectures.
Therefore, a potential employer, when looking at my degree, will not look at the challenges I overcame to get the degree but rather the mediocre nature of it. Things get even trickier if the student wants to get a post-graduate degree in a university outside the country.
Students are judged by mainly their transcripts and, unless the vetting committee at the university particularly understands, getting a place in the most competitive Masters programmes is tricky.
So, while we are rushing helter-skelter into the brave new English world, let’s remember that there are going to be some students that will have difficulties.
So, here is the question that I’d like answered by those more knowledgeable than I: “what protections will this new policy give to those students that aren’t natural English speakers? Will they be judged in the same manner as those who have an English language background? And if they are, is that fair”?