Jun 27, 2019

Update from Kigali July 2019

Teachers' Seminar: NOEC Books One Through Five
Teachers' Seminar: NOEC Books One Through Five

Education East Africa Quarterly Report

UPDATE FROM KIGALI

July 2019

The second term is nearly at an end, and the teachers are embarking on revision lessons ready for the end of term examinations.

The examinations at the end of the first term had very good results. However, some of our Primary 3 pupils found the written examination difficult. We have now dedicated our Primary 3 English teachers to teach their pupils a special handwriting course. This consolidates what they have learned in English but through writing. Writing is very badly taught in the first years of school in their Kinyarwanda studies, and pupils cannot form their letters properly, cannot keep their letters a uniform size, do not know the rules about capital and small letters, and leave no spaces between words. In English, as I believe also happens in their Kinyarwanda studies, there is a tendency to copy from the blackboard without thought, and to copy one letter at a time. We are aiming for word-recognition, and, in time, phrase recognition. The Primary 3 teachers are working really hard, and they are emphasising that the pupils must stop and think before they write. This is really working, and some of the pupils are writing beautifully, and spelling words correctly as well!

We now have two new teachers who are covering for maternity leave. There are also interns at some of the schools who are doing their English teaching-practice from teacher-training college. What has been enlightening is how eagerly our teachers have guided the new teachers in the use of our NOEC books, and how quickly the new teachers have started to enjoy using the books and realised how good and beneficial they are. When the teachers follow the NOEC books, the lessons are properly structured and the pupils are involved in activities, and the English given to the pupils is correct; this is because the methodology, explanations and instructions are set out in the Teacher’s Book in Kinyarwanda, and the English to be taught is clearly written for the teachers to follow.

A couple of teachers expressed interest in learning more about the whole course of the NOEC books, and so we decided to hold a seminar. This was held on Saturday 22nd June in one of the schools where we work. All our English teachers and some of the interns attended, along with head-teachers and directors of studies. Damian ran the seminar as it was conducted in Kinyarwanda. The teachers were first reminded of the stages of the lessons, and the progression of language learning. Josephine from Kibara primary school gave a demonstration lesson which showed her brilliant use of action to explain and remind pupils of the meaning of what they are learning. Francoise from Gikomero primary school and Claude from Gasabo primary school talked about their experience of using Book Two of the NOEC, and in teaching the writing course. The latter half of the seminar took the teachers quickly through the memorable characters and stories that appear in NOEC books Three to Five, and the many sentence structures and patterns which are learned by the end of the course. The teachers completed evaluation sheets, and they all expressed how much they had enjoyed the seminar and benefited from it.

Outside the schools, I have been as active as possible with our advocacy for change. With my colleagues, I managed to meet the chairman and secretary of the Education Commission which is part of the main Commission of the ruling party which is chaired by the President. I impressed upon them the need for change, and particularly the shortcomings in the primary school curriculum. I was promised the opportunity to make a presentation to the Education Commission, and wait for this to be arranged.

I also had a meeting with two people from the Strategy and Planning Unit of the President’s Office. This was a long meeting which enabled me to make all my points, and to refer to the papers which I have written about the government textbooks and the curriculum. I was assured that now my papers would be read, and that I would I receive feedback. Since the meeting, I have been asked to supply more documents, and this has given me encouragement that my points are now being taken seriously.

I am hopeful that people with influence are now listening to me. I have twenty-five years of experience in primary school classrooms in East Africa. I have seen what is not working, and, more importantly, why it is not working. Once you know the reason why things are going wrong, it is relatively easy to put them right. Officials in Rwanda have been shocked by the World Bank’s Human Capital Index for 2018, in which Rwanda received a very low score. Part of that scoring is based on education analysis. The Ministry of Education is tasked with improving the quality of primary education, but for some reason the curriculum does not seem to be being analysed as part of the problem. I am passionate that Rwanda’s children should receive a good primary education, which would then set them on their way in life. I very much hope that the two meetings I had will be the start of something exciting, big and dynamic.

We are the small charity with big ideas, but it is because we are small that we have never lost sight of the teacher in the classroom. We work hand-in-hand with our teachers, knowing their daily challenges. One of their biggest complaints is that nobody ever asks them for their thoughts and ideas, and they are demoralised by changes foist upon them which rarely improve their work. I have always said that I want to create the education sandwich; when you can bring the bottom (unfortunately, the teachers are always perceived to be the ‘bottom’) and the top (the education officials) together with a very good filling of a curriculum that is properly thought-out and takes full account of how children learn. I will keep on advocating, as I do not see anyone else in Rwanda with the specific, long experience that I have in primary school classrooms and particularly in teaching English.

A big ‘thank you’ again and again for understanding and sharing our vision. Our work is not easy, and the wheels of power turn slowly. Results take time, and it is only the long-term programme that can achieve anything of note. I really thank all our donors who understand what it takes to make change, and who support us and stay with us.

With all good wishes for an enjoyable summer,

Katy Allen-Mtui - Director
Education is the Passport to a Self-Sustaining Life
www.EducationEastAfrica.org

Links:

Apr 1, 2019

Update from Kigali April 2019

Teacher Josephine with her Primary 1 pupils
Teacher Josephine with her Primary 1 pupils

Education East Africa Quarterly Report

UPDATE FROM KIGALI

2nd April 2019

As I write, the schools are involved in end-of-term examinations, and the teachers are eagerly awaiting their two-week holiday.

This first term of the new school year has, to be honest, been somewhat exhausting. Some good teachers were transferred, and one left teaching altogether. With our progression into Primary 3 we were always going to have new teachers on the programme, but we did not expect to find, at one school, a new teacher for Primary 1, who had never taught English before and will leave next month to have a baby. Another of our schools had half of their Primary 3 pupils without an English teacher at all until an untrained, temporary teacher was engaged just three weeks ago. However, it is problems such as these that a strong programme should be able to overcome, and at the end of the term I think we are overcoming them and the pupils are on-track with their learning.

We have trained the teachers who are new to our programme in the use of our materials, and particularly how to know what the pupils, now in Primary 2 and 3, have already learned, and how to run a short revision course. We have trained teachers who are teaching Primary 3 how to engage their pupils and stretch them, now that their age and, hence, cognitive ability enables them to cope better with the demands of learning English.

One disappointment was that a much awaited appointment to see the Minister for Education was cancelled at the last minute. I now hope to see him in May, as April is very much taken up with the memorial for the genocide anniversary, and then Easter. I have wanted an opportunity to see the Minister again, after I delivered the report to him which he requested of me. That was back in September and I have had no feedback from it. It seems that a shortage of government specialists in primary education and how children learn may be causing a blockage on how to deal with the points I raised, and the detailed suggestions for improvement which I made.

The disappointments are always counteracted. One uplifting instance reported to me, was when the head teacher at Kibara primary school had to ask the Primary 3 English teacher, Jean d’Amour, to help on an urgent task which meant he could not teach his Primary 3 class. The class monitor and one other went to the head teacher and asked if they could use the Wall Charts which accompany our books. The head teacher took a few Wall Charts and put them on the wall. The class monitor then worked with all the other pupils to ask and answer questions in English and to conduct their own English lesson. That was music to my ears; the pupils love the success they are experiencing in learning English and they love the methods used which give them real life situations to speak English. It is the one subject with materials which match their cognitive ability and push them to develop and think.

Josephine who teaches Primary 1 and Primary 2 at that same primary school has been the star of this term. Her classes have over 80 pupils registered, and she regularly teaches anywhere between 75 and 85 pupils in one class. The schools have morning and afternoon school, the ‘double shift’, in order to cope with the large numbers of children. That means that every day between 7.20am and 5pm Josephine teaches about 320 pupils, and she knows the names of all of them! Her lessons are lively, and she maintains a smile all day long. Josephine did not train to teach English, as teacher-training in Rwanda is split into specialities even at primary school level, but started teaching English when she was posted to Kibara last year and joined our programme. She loves using our books and she has benefited from the instructions and explanations in the teacher’s books being in Kinyarwanda. The methodology is explained and Josephine has adopted it completely, and her own English has progressed from non-existent to really quite good. The books tell the teachers what to say in English, and that means that they can teach good English lessons without having much confidence in the language themselves. Josephine’s skills now enable her to keep all her pupils (yes, that is all 80 of her seven and eight year olds) enthralled, on-task, and participating in her lessons. We have been so impressed that we hired a camera man to come to take a video of her lessons, and that of the Primary 3 class at Gasabo primary school. These videos are now evidence, that we can show to government officials, of how successful our project is. The pupils on our programme know more English than those in the classes above them. Josephine herself says that Primary 6 pupils come to consult her Primary 2 pupils and Jean d’Amour’s Primary 3 pupils on problems with English.

Somewhat exhausted but also more than somewhat pleased is how I wind up this first term.

Our plans for next term include hosting a workshop for government officials. It was in November 2017 that we held our first workshop for government officials, and many of those are now no longer in office. We would also like to plan to scale-up to include many more schools and to get the funds to do so.

A very big ‘thank you’ to all of you who give towards our work and care about the futures of the primary school children in our schools. Knowing English will be their passport to a better life, not just for the language itself but also for the thinking skills and confidence which our approach is giving them.

With heartfelt thanks,

Katy Allen-Mtui - Director
Education is the Passport to a Self-Sustaining Life
www.EducationEastAfrica.org

Links:

Jan 2, 2019

Update from Kigali January 2019

Handwriting Seminar October 2018
Handwriting Seminar October 2018

Education East Africa Quarterly Report

UPDATE FROM KIGALI
January 2019

Happy New Year to everyone.

The last three months have been quiet. The school holidays started earlier than expected, and school examinations and national examinations were held before the end of term. The last teaching week was at the end of October.

Before the end of term, on Saturday 13th October we held a seminar on Handwriting. This was a great success with 58 teachers in attendance (as well as two babies who came on the backs of their mothers) from our project schools who teach pre-primary/nursery, and who teach Kinyarwanda and English to Primary 1, 2 and 3. In addition, there were Directors of Studies from the schools, and one of the head teachers.

The teachers imitated the patterns which young children should draw to prepare them for handwriting, and then the teachers were given time to practise forming the letters of the alphabet and to see that those letters should be introduced in ‘families’ according to the hand movement used in their formation. We talked about the need to introduce small (lower case) letters before introducing capital letters. This gave rise to a healthy discussion as the Rwanda curriculum introduces small and capital letters together. We then looked at the relation between reading and writing, and what that means for teaching each skill. Finally, we looked at the teaching of writing in English. It was a very lively half-day, and the teachers were most appreciative of such a relevant and useful seminar.

Good news before the end of term was that we were able to get another car. This was essential as we cannot do our work without transport. A lot is expected of our car, travelling an hour each way on mainly rough roads to get to the schools. The old car is waiting for a decision to be made about its fate; whether to spend money on getting it road-worthy for a better sale price, or to try to sell it in its current condition!

The new school year starts on the 14th January. The long holiday is a problem for us, as the pupils forget so much of their English! They only speak and practise English in their lessons, as no English is spoken in the normal course of their lives. The start of the new school year will not only mean the pupils getting used to new English teachers, but also having to revise most of last year’s work.

A new school year brings changes in teachers, and decisions have to be made with each school about which teachers will teach which pupils. Some teachers like to follow their pupils to the next level, while others like to repeat their work with the materials they have already used. One head teacher wrote to me just the other day, ‘I am in preparation of starting the academic year 2019 purchasing school materials, sharing subjects to be taught, searching for teachers to replace those who went…’.

This year we will be working with Primary 3 pupils, as well as those in Primary 1 and 2. It is in the first three years of primary school that pupils learn English as a foreign language. Once in Primary 4, all lessons are supposed to be taught through the medium of English. Our work this year will be crucial in our ‘action research’ to show that our approach to teaching English can and does prepare pupils properly for what is expected of them in Primary 4.

The new school year is an opportunity to work with renewed energy with education officials on the need for change. The Minister for Education has yet to comment on the substantial report I submitted to him at his request as a ‘rationale for change’. The President continues to place emphasis on the importance of education in the development of the country. My experience and the papers and reports that I have written, coupled with the very successful use of our materials, now need to be given attention at the highest level, and I will be aiming for that this year. At the ‘grassroots’ level we already have a proven track-record, and the same Head teacher as above added in his note, ‘I thank you so much because you are among the important people who have helped me with advice and help to enable me to fulfil my responsibilities in education, and I learned from you so much, and I wish to continue this year 2019’.

For him, and all the teachers who work so hard to help their pupils, I will continue to work and help as best I can, and hope that 2019 will see not just more good results in English teaching and learning, but also developments towards much-needed change.

Thank you to all our donors who give so generously and who care about the educational potential of the primary school pupils. It cannot be said too often, that one of the greatest gifts any child can be given is that of a good education.

Let’s hope that 2019 will be a happy and successful year for us all.

Very many thanks indeed.

Katy Allen-Mtui - Director
Education is the Passport to a Self-Sustaining Life
www.EducationEastAfrica.org

Teacher Jean d'Amour w/ P2 class at Kibara primary
Teacher Jean d'Amour w/ P2 class at Kibara primary

Links:

 
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