Education experts have raised concern over the lagging mastery of Kinyarwanda by primary school children due to the push for English as the medium of instruction.
The concerns were raised at a meeting between government officials and education experts about introducing new English set books for primary school.
“The books currently in use are not helping the uptake of English by learners and teachers. There is a need to harmonise policies on English teaching,” said Damian Ntaganzwa, the head of Support Primary Education Rwanda.
On the other hand, while educational policies compel schools to teach in Kinyarwanda until primary 4 when learners are taught in English, experts argue that it leads to confusion in learning.
“When it comes to language skills such as speaking, writing, reading and listening, a child should start to learn the second language through usage of references in their native language. Failure to do this affects their learning of a second language,” said Mr Ntaganzwa.
The meeting between government officials and education experts also emphasised the need for teachers to moderate learners’ uptake of a foreign language and help children learn the most important aspects of languages they already understand, even when these languages have borrowed words and terminologies from foreign languages.
Cope with new language
“Basic knowledge of a language through different subjects will help students cope with learning a new language,” said Katy Allen, the founder of Education for East Africa.
She said research had proven that when teaching something important like history of a learner’s own country, it should be in their mother tongue.
According to Ms Allen, Rwanda still faces many challenges such as the tiring task of double-shift teaching for primary school teachers and the language transition from French to English. This has been difficult for teachers who do not have adequate time to improve their English language skills.
“The new set books, titled New Original English Course, are expected to help primary school teachers apply efficient methodologies while teaching English as a subject. They will also help learners easily connect with languages they already understand, in this case Kinyarwanda,” she said.
At the exhibition of the new set books, Papias Musafiri, Rwanda’s Minister of Education, commended the introduction of the new material and urged the Rwanda Education Board (REB) to scrutinise them for future use.
“I encourage REB to review the books before we decide on how to proceed,” he said.
Should the books be approved, experts say there is still a need to harmonise teachers’ and learners’ set books.
“Before the creation of REB, there were four set of books for teaching English from different publishers. But even after the creation of the board, language proficiency gaps persist,” said Mr Ntaganzwa, who was once a director for teacher development and management at REB.
Mr Ntaganzwa added that a review of the books to determine their relevance was carried out by Support Primary Education Rwanda in partnership with other projects and found out that while the content was relevant, it was disorganised and this would later make it hard for teachers to apply.