“ICYONGEREZA”. This has become a common message on the streets of Kigali. Clearly written in a shouting font size and placed in strategic places for anyone with a sense of sight to see.
Learning English in Rwanda has taken a new dimension since the announcement that all schools will very soon be required to use only English as the language of instruction and have French taught only as subject.
Students are now enrolling for crash programmes in English. Adults are also trying to acquire the ability to use English since it is now a clear government policy to prioritise the language.
The mushrooming English language schools, some with interesting names like, “A Rapid English School,” claim to offer short courses in both American and British English and even issue certificates for successful completion of their courses. My concern though is that most of them operate in a very unprofessional manner.
In 2005, I had the opportunity of teaching at a language school located at Centre Christus in Remera. As a teacher of English language with a background in Adult Education, it pains me to see how some of these schools are going about the business of teaching English as a second language.
Many vital issues are overlooked by the proprietors of these schools. The fact that most of these schools are aimed at and thus attract working class adults implies that attention ought to be put on the principles of adult education.
Adult learners are very different from those who attend the formal school structures of primary, secondary and tertiary institutions.
Adult learners come to a learning situation with a purpose and thus, they expect respect since they already know why they are in class.
The traditional pedagogy methods used by teachers in the formal school setting may not apply to these adult learners. Another important issue to pay close attention to is the need for the teacher to be more of a facilitator than a traditional teacher.
To the learners you are not a fountain of knowledge but someone who is going to enable or facilitate a learning process. The facilitator also needs to employ more participatory methods of teaching and learning.
The learners need to be involved in their own learning. Do not therefore make them feel like they are blank slates onto which you are going to scribble new knowledge and skills. Build on what they have and let them discover more on their own.
For instance a language school should encourage learners to read a lot and note down new words that can be discussed in class. The classroom setting should engender learning by making the learners feel comfortable.
It is better to have the learners sitting in a circular manner facing each other and having the teacher sitting among them than using the traditional school seating setup. Of course this may depend largely on the student numbers.
But for effectiveness, it would be ideal to have relatively small classes. It is also important to invest in good chairs and desks not the small school desks that will certainly be very uncomfortable for adult learners.
Emphasis should be put on the functional aspect of the language since these people do not come to learn English so as to pass examinations but for purposes of communicating as they go about their daily duties.
Teach them what they can use immediately and encourage them to practice as often as possible if success is to be achieved. It may be important to test the learners before they begin in order to ascertain their competence levels.
However this is not necessary once they complete the course. The Ministry of Education ought to have regular inspections of these schools to see that certain standards are met if this policy is to be successful.