By: Justine Fellows (Director of Academic and Administrative Systems)
So now some reflections – I’m finding many pieces of education in Rwanda challenging, and many pieces incredibly promising. The languages are a big barrier, with a mix of Kinyarwanda, French and now English. The country made a decision to switch to English in 2003, but only transitioned in the schools three years ago. The decision seems like a good one for economic and cultural reasons – moving into the East coast alliance of countries and away from the Belgium influence that set the foundation for tragedy here. Until the country has had enough time, language is in transition, and this is fascinating to watch. The classroom jumps from language to language, and while everyone tries to stick with English, it is still very difficult for both teacher and student.
Once this is behind them, I foresee the lessons and curriculum flowing much better.
Another issue is certainly resources, which seems predictable, but not at all in the way that I expected. My feeling before arriving was bring the resources and it will solve all the problems, but that was naive. Proper training on pedagogy and use of resources is essential. For example, books in Rwanda have a very different meaning in a country that is historically an oral society. They just don’t surround themselves with them the way that we do.
Books are also expensive, so handing one over to a child to possible smudge or write in is frowned upon. This is slowly changing, and we saw promising signs with a small library at the local school and a few children carrying “Where’s Waldo” books home. With the many studies that have been done on the importance of a home filled with books, I’m hopeful that this becomes a priority for the country – a small library in every home would be a miracle. For now, the classroom is not with textbook or literature, but with a teacher and a notebook. The teacher lectures, the students take notes and repeat back. If the teacher is wrong, the student would never know. Teachers are working with summaries of books to teach from (think Cliff Notes) not the actual book.
The positive is that this is what International Education Exchange and many other NGOs are working on. IEE has 18 Rwandan trainers who are working with schools to make change from classroom management and seating arrangement to collaborative teaching and use of resources. They are doing a beautiful job and creating obtainable goals because they understand the culture and system.