This week, hundreds of English language teachers, both local and foreign, started a preparatory English programme that will precede training on how local primary and secondary school teachers can appropriately conduct English lessons.
The programme has been publicised in local and regional media outlets even with some media houses misrepresenting facts; instead of reporting that Rwanda was searching for 1000 teachers to train local teachers, many simply said that Rwanda was looking for 1000 teachers from Uganda to fill the gap created by the switch from French to English as a language of instruction.
The fact is that these teachers are going to simply train other teachers and will eventually return to their countries at the end of the programme unless, of course ,they get job offers here, which is normal considering that Rwanda welcomes skilled East African citizens.
The programme that will see more than 45,000 teachers undergoing training will focus mainly on developing communication skills. We should not forget that, at the end of last year, there was another teacher training programme that led a delay in the opening of the school term.
Nonetheless, the training will build the English language teaching capacity as one of the strategies towards improving the standard of education in Rwanda.
Although I commend the government for realising the need to build capacity where it is clearly lacking, I hope that policy makers do not see such a move as a panacea to all the problems facing the teaching of English in the country. This programme aims at empowering the teachers to do a better job. This is technically an approach for the top segment of the pyramid (teachers).
What about those at the bottom of the educational pyramid—the students? What strategies is the government putting in place for them to learn English better and faster? There are many things that the government can do to make English language learning attractive and easier for students besides training teachers.
The government can equip schools with easy -to-read story books and declare that a specific amount of class time be dedicated to reading. Any qualified English language teacher will admit that it is pointless to teach a class that does not read. It is through reading that students meet new words and acquaint themselves with certain English phrases and sentence constructions.
Equipping schools with books to read may be a good idea but we also have to think of when and where these books will be read from. There are quite a number of schools that do not have a library. In such schools it is common to find books that were donated by the Ministry of Education or any other agency still packed in boxes in the corner of the head teacher’s office or the school store.
I am not so sure of the government tax policy on books but it would be so helpful if taxes (assuming they exist) on books were waived and open book markets where old books are sold, are allowed to exist. There is certainly a deficit in English books and this can only be addressed by easing the importation and sale of these books in Rwanda.
Parents too have a role to play in this issue; they can buy reading books for their children. The success of the government efforts to build the capacity of teachers is linked to other efforts aimed at encouraging students to embrace the English language.