TEACHER'S MIND : One community, one education

WHILE listening to the BBC radio on a cold evening last week, I heard something quite interesting. Former Burundian child refugees were talking about the challenges they were facing after leaving Tanzania and returning to their home country (Burundi). According to one boy’s testimony, studying in Burundi was proving to be a great burden for someone who, a few months back was living and studying in Tanzania. 

WHILE listening to the BBC radio on a cold evening last week, I heard something quite interesting. Former Burundian child refugees were talking about the challenges they were facing after leaving Tanzania and returning to their home country (Burundi).

According to one boy’s testimony, studying in Burundi was proving to be a great burden for someone who, a few months back was living and studying in Tanzania.

The boy elaborated that while in Tanzania he was studying in English and Swahili, and was now having trouble switching to French and Kirundi. He even proposed that the schools should help children like him to slowly catch up or if possible they return to Tanzania and continue their education there.

The question of Burundi sticking to French yet other East African Countries are using English will be a topic for another day. Today, I want to raise the issue of the different education standards in the member countries.

As the community marks ten years since its revival, serious brainstorming is needed to devise ways of gradually working towards a uniform system of education. 

Like the boy from Burundi, several students in the region find things tough when they move from one country to another. I once had in my class, Rwandan students who had just come from Tanzania.

A good number of them struggled with English and yet they spoke the much coveted Swahili sanifu with so much ease.
I also know of universities in the region that subject Rwandan students to preliminary tests before they can be admitted. Other students even spend a whole year trying to polish their English before they can embark on their courses.

What is amazing though is that teachers have done a great job of moving across borders and mixing with their colleagues. There are several Rwandan teachers in Kenya and Uganda teaching especially French.

Here in Rwanda, Ugandans and Kenyans have also flooded the teaching profession largely due to the good labour policies pursued by the government of Rwanda.

The prioritisation of Swahili has compelled some teachers from Tanzania and Kenya to move to Uganda and Rwanda.

What remains though is the streamlining of the systems and this I believe should not be very difficult now that we have teachers from different countries teaching away from their native countries.

It is indeed puzzling to note that the five different countries that make up the EAC are all pursuing different education systems and yet they hope to integrate in the long run. How else will integration be achieved when the education systems are churning out different people?

The old EAC had a uniform system that saw students sitting the same exams and then applying to go to the same universities regardless of their nationalities.

While this may not be achievable in the short run, efforts should be embarked on in this direction at least starting with the primary level. Let the children attend the same number of years and study the same subjects. They should all be taught about East African history and geography so that when they meet the difference is minimal.

Like Martin Luther King Jr, I also have a dream. I dream of the day when all the students in the East African Community will be able to speak fluent Swahili and attend the same schools.

The day when students from Tanzania or Rwanda will be admitted to Makerere or Nairobi University based on their marks without having to pay their tuition in US dollars or acquiring student visas.

For my dream to come true, policy makers need to seriously wake up and think about the future of the community and devise the relevant policies. Why should Kenyans continue having no A level yet other EAC countries do?

Why should Tanzanians study in Swahili during primary when Kenyans and Ugandans are using English? These are questions that should not just be asked by the BBC but by every right thinking East African.

ssenyonga@gmail.com

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