Adopting English: The time is ripe

The cabinet resolution requiring all schools in Rwanda to adopt English as the medium of education or as some would put it the language of instruction, has come at a timely juncture. 

The cabinet resolution requiring all schools in Rwanda to adopt English as the medium of education or as some would put it the language of instruction, has come at a timely juncture. 

When one takes a look at the trends taking shape in Rwanda, one realises that though English was never historically the second language of most Rwandans, it has steadily gained a place in the social and official interactions of most people in the country.

In the past, most Rwandans and Banyarwanda who spoke English had grown up in the Diaspora, in many cases as refugees. These could have been students or economic migrants in Europe.

But in recent years, most especially after the return of many Banyarwanda to their home country, English has been steadily gaining foothold in the country.

Thus though both English and French were encouraged in schools in Rwanda, it has now become more apparent that the need to pursue English as a language of instruction in schools is a pressing issue.

With Rwanda joining the East African Community (EAC), a regional bloc that ultimately aims at political federation, English is absolutely necessary.

We all realise that many young people have already been crossing borders to go and study in EAC countries and all the EAC countries save for Burundi and Rwanda have had English as the official language of instruction in school since western education was introduced, although Tanzanian students seem to speak more Swahili than English.

Apparently some people think that compared to the rest of the countries in the region, Rwandans seem to be at and advantage when it comes to the issue of languages.

Foremost everyone speaks Kinyarwanda. Then there is a sizeable number that speaks Kishwahili and then English and French are all increasingly being used by many people.

Thus they seem to argue, as one diplomat told this reporter, that having English used alongside French is a very big advantage. Well that may be an advantage, but I tend to believe that given international trends, many people speak more English than French and this will, as the president said while visiting EPAK primary school in Kimihurura put Rwandans at an advantage.

Thus the rationale of introducing and working hard to ensure the success of this project is rooted in doing something that is absolutely necessary.

Though some would want to read something more to this, it remains a fact that English has gained a foothold in many places where French may have had a historical place in the linguistic make up.

More over, Rwanda will soon if all goes according to plan be joining the English Commonwealth. This points to the direction that must be followed.

In the first place, it implies that many Rwandans given this choice will probably be going to English speaking countries for masters or doctorate level education.

So what can be a better way for preparing ourselves for such challenges? It is also well known that English speaking countries like the UK and USA have some of the best universities going by recent rankings.

And to get to these universities one has to prove competence in English. It is important to have some of our own making it to the best schools that train relevant skills that can get the best out of our brightest students.

Whereas adopting and speaking a good foreign language is no guarantee for rapid national transformation, it can play a vital role as stated above. It makes the acquisition of those necessary skills a bit easier.

If English was never your language of instruction, you are always required to sit language proficiency tests which can be cumbersome and at times lead to a situation where by otherwise intelligent people miss out on opportunities to advance themselves at the best/ world class institutions of higher learning.

Rather than see this as a burden or inconvenience, we ought to take it as an opportunity to experience change. Not just change for the sake of it, but change for the better. And with the passage of time this policy will be vindicated by its results.