For some time now, I have been trying to follow up on something and now I think is the best time to share it with you.
At Alliance High School a section of students who until last year were studying in the Francophone system have been facing challenges while studying in the Anglophone system. To counter their language shortcomings, they decided to form an English club.
The initiative to set up the club was solely that of the students and it is actually commendable that they pulled it off without any help from their teachers. I got to know of the club quite accidentally during a small chat with one of the students in the evening.
I was informed of the club’s activities and the nice folks that were behind the initiative. I was so impressed by their efforts that I immediately sought the club’s chairperson, Alex Biziyaremwe in S.2 to get a first hand explanation of the club’s objectives.
The chat with this lad proved to be very interesting. To say that I was impressed with his zeal would be an understatement.
The club was very popular among the students with new members joining each day. A few students who are good at English volunteer three times a week to assist their not so fortunate friends to grasp the language.
The numbers kept growing and growing until recently. Upon visiting the club recently however on their request to give words of encouragement, I was disappointed to discover that the club I was hearing of for weeks had become a shell of its former self.
The numbers had shrunk with many of the members deciding that it was actually a waste of their time and voted with their feet. Now instead of encouraging the willing members, I was also expected to advise the club leaders on how to attract back the club’s deserters.
Just before I entered the room, I struggled to look for the best ‘Obama-ish’ words that would inspire these young minds not to let go of their goals.
Once inside, I adamantly decided to address the members in my not so good Kinyarwanda instead of the English they so much wish to learn.
I commended the members for their desire to seek English language skills outside class. I also thanked the volunteer students who are sacrificing their time and energy to assist their colleagues.
The message I had for the members was that they should stay focused and work hard to achieve their goal. I took time to remind them of the advantages of mastering the English language and how the club would help them to achieve their objectives.
I then turned to the club leaders and challenged them to think about the reasons why students joined the club and why some had decided to leave.
I urged them to change strategies and use participatory methods revolving around simple English conversations and debates. I pointed out to them that the progress of the current members will be vital in drawing new members to the club.
In my closing remarks I reminded them that I had come to Rwanda unable to speak even a singe phrase in Kinyarwanda but through practice I had acquired enough Kinyarwanda to hold a comprehensible conversation. And that much as I still do make a few mistakes while speaking, I am always willing to learn from my mistakes.
All in all I wanted them to see and know that if I had managed to learn Kinyarwanda from scratch without entering a class, then, they too could improve their English if they have a will to do so.
President Barack Obama said yes we can and I know they too can. I wish similar initiatives could sprout up in other schools as well.