The Ministry of Education (Mineduc) recently adopted a new policy to make French an examinable subject by 2016 for O’ Level students. The justification the ministry gives is that schools that used to teach French had started ignoring it yet it is still relevant in society.
“The schools that have been teaching French are now giving up; some of them even use the hours for French to teach Sciences, Mathematics or English language, which are the examinable ones,”said Emmanuel Rutayisire, the Director General of Rwanda Education Board (REB).
Rutayisire said the relaxation on French teaching started in 2008 a year after the country had joined the East African Community (EAC) and adopted English as a language of instruction to replace French which had been the language of instruction since the colonial era.
“Change was inevitable as regards to the regional integration demands that Rwanda faced. It should also be remembered that Rwanda is not the only country that has realised the global influence of English. Even the French are giving English great consideration, because it is a language of business, new technology and even a language of research and entertainment,” he added.
Rutayisire was also quick to add though that no one said French should be shut out and none said it is not important. Rwandans still travel to different countries including francophone ones. They attend different schools and conferences without forgetting some research that still need knowledge of French.
Come 2016, French will return as an examinable subject alongside English and Kinyarwanda.
However, the number of hours the subject was accorded remains the same, which is two hours per week. Some people still argue that the time is very little and ought to be increased.
“Two hours of French per week, really? Do we want a bilingual country? Is this how they plan to achieve that? I am lucky I finished my secondary school in 1999 before all this came up,” commented a one Laurent on The New Times website the day the story first appeared.
What others think
According to Emmanuel Kayumba, a parent from Gicumbi district, “Teaching French gives students an opportunity to be bilingual. So this is a step in the right direction.”
“Let children be open to use this language, and it will help them if they seek any service from a Francophone country”, said Celestin Ndagijimana, the Director of GS Gakanka in Nyamagabe district.
Dative Uwimana, the director of GS Masagara in Nyamagabe district says “it is a shame to see that our children finish O level, without knowing even ‘bonjour’, a basic greeting in French, the language we used to speak!”
At GS Kivugiza in Nyaruguru district, French was given a significant place in a combination of English French Kinyarwanda (EFK).
Isaac Nizeyimana, the school director points out that “it is always a conflict between teachers and students. Students used to ignore studying the language because it was not examinable and yet teachers still had to teach it.”
Nzeyimana said students are now going to understand the reason why French is included in the school curriculum.
Church speaks out
The Roman Catholic Church is an important stakeholder in education. Smaragde Mbonyintege, the Bishop of Kabgayi and president of the Episcopal Council in Rwanda, says consulting education stakeholders should always precede any government decision in this sector.
“We should always be consulted before the government brings in a new policy,” he said adding that they were not part of the change that made French a non-examinable course.
“French is a language spoken by many Rwandans,” he said.
He revealed that the church kept French as a language of instruction in its private schools, like minor seminaries, but complied with the government policy in the government-subsidised schools.
To remain consistent, they keep a balance so that their students remain competitive in English as well French when they face national exams.
“It’s up to the country to set up a policy on language of teaching, but they should always think twice before introducing a language in their teaching system,” said Laurent Nkusi, a professor in Linguistics. He also added that, “A country should not also confuse students with many languages.”
Come 2016, French will return as an examinable subject alongside English and Kinyarwanda as languages in Primary school and O level and Senior 6 National Examinations for students of both combination of arts and humanity sciences.
Benefits of bilingualism
The ability to converse in two languages is known as bilingualism. People who are adept at speaking two languages enjoy certain advantages over their monolingual counterparts.
A bilingual individual’s brain has two active language systems which work simultaneously without hindering the performance of other. Thus, ensuring that the brain is always exercising both its linguistically oriented cognitive functions.
Bilinguals are also able to conjure multiple phrases or words for each idea and object. While coming up with the words, bilinguals will think in both languages and thereafter choose the most appropriate options. Monolinguals on the other hand utilize their limited reservoir of words.
General reasoning and ability to conceptualize among bilinguals improves drastically when advanced linguistic skills such as code-switching, accent neutralization, and syntax appropriation are acquired. This ability to grasp and improve, makes it easier for bilinguals to learn newer languages and evolve into multilingual speakers.
Cognitive flexibility also improves through divergent and convergent thinking, wherein the speaker builds on a single idea and derives a suitable conclusion after scrutinizing various arguments. This ability has been attributed to parallel data processing.
Bilingual speakers develop metalinguistic awareness and can differentiate between the implied and literal meaning of words and phrases. Such people can think beyond labels, symbols, and language structure because their minds are not restrained to think in a single language.
While conversing with others, a bilingual will automatically switch to the language which is understood by the listener so as to ease the flow of communication. Whereas, monolinguals would be forced to converse in the only language they know.
Being bilingual has a positive effect on intellectual growth as well. It helps enhance and enrich a person’s mental development and awareness, because the rate of language assimilation, retentivity, and grasping of phonetics is higher among bilinguals as compared to monolinguals.
According to the renowned Canadian psychologist Ellen Bialystok, bilingual children are better at solving verbal and nonverbal problems that contain misleading and confusing aspects.
Bialystok’s research also revealed that bilingual children were better at detecting grammatical errors and extracting words from continuous verbal sentences.
Bilinguals are able to emote better. Their temperament is generally adaptive and they can be more genial, as compared to single language speakers. With increased familiarity of dialects, they find greater confidence and sense of self-esteem.
Bilingualism offers greater exposure to different cultures and builds bridges between them. Knowledge of different languages entails a treasure of traditional and contemporary sayings, idioms, history, folk stories, music, movies, literature, and poetry of different countries and cultures. An extensive cultural experience also creates greater tolerance, open-mindedness, and appreciation.
Bilinguals are preferred over monolinguals for jobs that require them to travel extensively or communicate with a wider group of people. Individuals who are proficient in a foreign language can work as translators, diplomats, teachers, doctors, etc. Employing bilinguals also helps in exploring new avenues and pooling in new clients from around the word. Bilingual and multilingual employees can also help in training new members when the need arises.