December 3, 2019

How CHOGM 2020 Pushed Gov’t To Re-embrace English As Language Of Instruction In Schools

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President Paul Kagame and First Lady Jeanette Kagame in private audience with H.M Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, in December 2006. It was the first such encounter before Rwanda joined the Commonwealth in 2009

There is disbelief in the country after Education Minister Dr Eugene Mutimura issued a statement late Monday directing ALL primary schools in the country to go back to using English as the language of instruction.

The statement followed a meeting the Minister held earlier in the day with proprietors of private primary schools in the country. Originally, the meeting had been organized by private schools to seek clarification from the Minister and essentially let him know they will lose business if forced to teach in Kinyarwanda as the ministry had decreed in July this year.

While the Minister is yet to explain to the country in detail why the government reconsidered the decision, The Chronicles is providing you with a chronology of occurrences in the past two years that give a sense of what could have influenced the decision.

From February 26 to March 1, 2018, the 15th National Leadership Retreat took place as usual at the RDF Combat Training Center, Gabiro, Eastern Province. Except for the opening speeches by President Paul Kagame and the Prime Minister, the session is not covered by the media.

But the resolutions released to the public at the end gave a hint of what had transpired. Resolution 9 from among 13 adopted at the time reads: “Improve the quality of education at all levels and review the teaching methods of languages in primary and secondary schools with emphasis on English proficiency”.

Two weeks later on March 13, the Minister of State in charge of Primary and Secondary Education Dr Isaac Munyakazi and Joanne Lomas the British High Commissioner to Rwanda launched the “Building Learning Foundations” project in Kigali.

To be implemented over a period of three years, the £ 25.3m or Rwf25bllion project, according to speeches for the occasion, was to provide tools to teachers so they can be able to raise kids that enjoy math and English.

At least 2.5 million children at lower primary levels (P1, P2 and P3) in all public schools are planned to benefit, according to a statement on that day from Britain’s development agency DFID.

Then on April 20, 2018, UK Prime Minister, Theresa May at the time, announced at a news conference that Rwanda had been chosen to host the 2020 Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit (CHOGM 2020).

May was communicating decisions of the then concluded CHOGM held in London, which was also attended by President Kagame.

From then on, schools have been under pressure from the education ministry inspectors to show how they are aligning their school schedules to emphasize English.

However, before the new change to make English the language of instruction at lower primary school levels, Kinyarwanda was. According to the Education Sector Strategic Plan developed in 2013 by the Ministry of Education, Kinyarwanda is supposed to be used as the medium of instruction and English and French taught as subjects in all lower primary schools─public as well as private.

This competency-based curriculum came into effect in 2015, making Kinyarwanda the language of learning in pre-primary and lower primary while other languages like English and French are taught as subjects.

Many government schools had already been using the system for years.

Actually, there are reports that an abrupt inspection was conducted in some public schools recently which were found to have ignored the directive to teach in Kinyarwanda from kindergarten to P3. The headteachers in schools that hadn’t complied are said to have been punished.

As government schools were being forced to teach kids in Kinyarwanda, to the dismay of some parents, private schools were left untouched at the beginning.

The parents in private schools had also completely refused their kids to be taught in Kinyarwanda. To them, when their kids as young as five years are able to express themselves in English or French, that makes them proud.

Parents have been made to believe by private schools that the brightness of the child is demonstrated by how proficiently they are in English Or French. Parents are happy to show off their kids speaking English or French at family gatherings.

Rwanda’s Minister of State in charge of Primary and Secondary Education Dr Isaac Munyakazi (Middle) and Joanne Lomas the British High Commissioner to Rwanda (2nd Left) at “Building learning foundations” project launch, March 2018

Then in July, Government announced that beginning in the first term in 2020, all schools in Rwanda will use Kinyarwanda as the language for teaching from kindergarten to P3. Basically, it was reminding all schools which had not implemented the 2015 directive to do so. Government said this was meant to improve pupil’s learning and language proficiency. Science was also emphasized as priority.

Kagame vigorously defended the policy in an unscripted speech on August 8 to Itorero for students who attend school outside Rwanda. After witnessing elaborate military drills teenagers had displayed, Kagame said they need to also be perfect in sciences and Kinyarwanda.

He spent the better part of his address giving lessons in speaking good Kinyarwanda.

Kagame noted that the nature of Kinyarwanda being spoken today was not Kinyarwanda. He gave various examples of how Kinyarwanda was being poorly spoken or used.

“You do not say ‘EGO‘, it is ‘YEGO‘,” he said, referring to “YES”.

“It is ‘UMUNTU‘, not ‘UMUNU‘,” he said amidst applause and referring to the Kinyarwanda word for a person.

Kagame also specifically condemned poor usage of Kinyarwanda on the state broadcaster, Radio Rwanda.

Then fast forward to this Monday December 2, the Education Minister Dr Eugene Mutimura, in attempt perhaps to cool down temperatures in private schools, many of which teach the country’s kids from elite families in foreign languages, announced another policy change even before the earlier one could fully be implemented in all schools.

The new change was first read out in Kinyarwanda to the meeting of private schools. But it seems, a decision was taken later in the evening to write a statement in English to announce the new change moving forward. The statement was released around 9:50pm.

The new policy directs all schools to use the English language as the medium of instruction in lower and upper primary. However, Kinyarwanda and French will also remain core subjects.

From P4, all pupils will start to learn the French language because the national exam will also include French. So French will be among the obligatory examinable subjects at O’Level.

Throughout his speech at the meeting with representatives of private schools, Dr Mutimura was repeatedly applauded as he made the announcement. They were expressing happiness at the government’s u-turn against a policy they feared could undermine their business.

Rwanda first adopted English as a language of instruction in 2008, a year before officially joining the Commonwealth grouping of former British colonies. It had, back in 2006, turned against France.

The CHOGM 2020 Kigali will start on June 22. At least 8,000 delegates from all the bloc’s 54 leaders and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s representative will be in town.

Since the announcement last night, the reversal to English is the talk on all local media platforms: radios, televisions and social media. The narrative is that government doesn’t seem to know what to exactly do in the education sector in any meaningful and sustainable manner.

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