August 10, 2020

More U.S. Aid Money Goes to Waste as Kinyarwanda Textbooks are Recalled

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The Education Ministry has had to withdraw another book for early primary school level after it was heavily shamed on social media.

The latest controversy over Kinyarwanda books comes in the wake a new surprising change of government’s language policy. In less than a year, government has announced a change of language of instruction for lower primary (P1-P3), at least two times – leaving a nation in confusion as to what is really government policy.

Printed through the Rwanda Education Board (REB), a ministry’s autonomous agency, the books in question are: “Inyuguti z’Ikinyarwanda” (the Kinyarwanda Alphabet) and “Nige Neza Ururimi Rwacu Ikinyarwanda” (A pupil’s reading book).

For the first book, over the weekend, it emerged via several social media posts that it carried 26 alphabetical letters like it is with English or French, yet Kinyarwanda language has 24 letters. Kinyarrwanda doesn’t have the letters “Q” and “X”.

Shockingly, all the 26 letters are printed on the cover in full Bold, Caps and Color.

The second book, meant to be one of the pupil’s personal reading books to improve usage of the Kinyarwanda language, is instead written in visibly poor Kinyarwanda.

What is written on the cover alone gave hint of what may be inside the book. It is written “Iyi Gitabo Ni Umutungo wa Leta y’u Rwanda Ntigurishwa”. The problem is with “Iyi Gitabo”, which should have been “Iki Gitabo”, and also with “Ntigurishwa” – which should have been “Ntikigurishwa”.

There is no feasible way of even translating the mistake on the cover into English. However, the right translation was to be “This book is property of the Government of Rwanda, Not for Sale”.

While the first book on alphabets is new, the other highlighted book, has been in use for sometime, and had been distributed widely in the country, according to several social media posts about it.

The mistakes with these two books show the teams involved in their production process have very minimal skills in both written and spoken Kinyarwanda. It is highly unlikely for a qualified team to not see such errors.

The books have been source of ridicule throughout the weekend. It is not the first time a children’s book with mistakes has been identified and then recalled by the education ministry, adding another layer of suspicion within the population as to whether they could be deliberate actions to undermine the government’s education policies.

There has been no stability in implementation of education policy. The education ministry has had 15 ministers in the past 26 years to date – far more than any other. Each minister seems to be coming with own ideas, phasing out the predecessor’s.

The biggest troubles have been with the languages of instruction in schools which also came following years of Rwanda’s fight with France. There has been a shift from French to both French and English, then from the two to just English. And recently, emphasis is put on both, along with Kinyarwanda.

For lower primary, P1-P3, government in 2016 adopted – with backing from UNESCO and multitude of NGOs, the sole use of Kinyarwanda as language of instruction.

UNESCO’s argument was that a national language was one of three elements that form a country or a people’s culture. The UN agency also said evidence from key economic powerhouses confirmed that children who have mastered their local languages go on to be good at the sciences and all other languages.

The current policy, announced at end of July, is that when schools reopen, hopefully this September, pupils in P1 to P3 will be taught in English as the language of instruction. Kinyarwanda and French will be taught later as subjects.

Since 2014, the US government development agency USAID has pumped more than $48.7m (Rwf 46.4billion) in reinforcing Kinyarwanda at primary school level through its partnership with government of Rwanda called “Soma Umenye” project.

The whole project is worth tens of millions of dollars, running up to next year 2021. It has been producing reading books, textbooks and teacher training materials. From the two books highlighted above, USAID funded production of that for alphabets and has USAID logo, according to the Kigali office.

Responding to the latest seriously avoidable errors with these new books, the Rwanda Education Board (REB) said the book with more alphabets has been recalled.

However, REB in its social media message, seemed keen to convince the public that the error is only on the cover, and not inside the pages – which is difficult to believe at this stage.

It could be likely both books, not only have problems on the covers, but will need extensive review of all content from independent entity to ascertain what is written in all the pages.

The explanation of the Rwanda Education Board (REB) with regard to first book with more alphabets

The education ministry uses two major printing companies for book production; Printex Ltd (previously Imprimerie de Kigali), and IPN (Imprimerie Papeterie Nouvelle).

CLARIFICATION: This text has been slightly modified from original copy. USAID has clarified to The Chronicles that the textbook “Nige Neza Ururimi Rwacu Ikinyarwanda” (A pupil’s reading book), was not produced with U.S. funding.

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  1. There are many happily retired Rwandans who can review such books and make sure both form and contents are accurate. Use them. Use us: I am one of those who can review all three languages ie Kinyarwanda, English and French.

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