It is no longer news to talk about the fact that Rwanda is now using English as the language of instruction. After years of using the Francophone system, the switch to English took on a rather abrupt implementation that left many sceptic of its feasibility.
Few years down the road, Rwanda seems to be holding steady on the path to excellent English instruction. Of course, it was not a smooth ride and there are still a number of hiccups. Initially there was worry about where all the new English speaking teachers were to come from and what would happen to the many who were plying their trade in French.
A two-pronged approach was used with the country opening its doors to teachers from Uganda and Kenya, places where a sort of teacher surplus exist —it is now common to find Ugandans and Kenyans teaching in schools across the country.
However, attracting teachers from across the border had its limits and a good number of schools were left to fend for themselves with French speaking teachers resorting to photocopying English notes and making explanations in a mixture of French, Kinyarwanda and the little English they could master. This was common in upcountry schools that were considered unattractive to the Ugandans or Kenyans.
The government soon realised this challenge and started crash English language training for all teachers who had problems with the language during the holidays. More Ugandans and Kenyans were hired for the programme which was largely made possible by the fact that many of them were able to come and teach during the holidays and return to their jobs in Uganda when schools resumed.
Due to the lucrative package that was being offered to the trainers, it was no surprise that many teachers soon started inquiring about this year’s holiday programme. However it is starting to prove unlikely there will be any training this year.
Instead, there have been reports in both Rwandan and Kenyan newspapers that the government is thinking of recruiting 4,000 more English language teachers mainly from Kenya who will be deployed in government and private schools so as to assist the students and teachers to improve on their fluency in the ‘Queen’s language.’
Nothing has been confirmed yet but, teachers in Kenya must be excited about this employment opportunity. However before Rwanda can recruit teachers from Kenya, I have seen reports in the press that our new East African neighbour, South Sudan intends to switch to English from Arabic as the language of instruction.
Now considering that South Sudan has labour shortages, thanks to years of civil war and the fact that Arabic was the language of instruction, there is likely to be a huge demand for East African English language teachers by the oil rich new nation.
We should also not forget that South Sudan has intentions of joining the East African Community as well. Therefore, the gradual switch from Arabic to English clearly aims at preparing them for the eventuality of being a member of the East African Community.
I can also bet on my little life savings that our neighbour, Burundi will soon be offering attractive packages for English language teachers. Tanzania which has heavily relied on Swahili is also slowly transforming its education system to make it more English-friendly with the so called “English-based schools’ now very popular in Mwalimu Nyerere’s country.
Putting all this in perspective, next year English language teachers are likely to be on high demand in the region. I actually think that the free movement of labour across the EAC bloc should really be more flexible for teachers as some countries clearly have a surplus.
The author is an educationalist based in Kigali