Mar 8, 2021

Spring update 2021

Claude's Primary 4 pupils
Claude's Primary 4 pupils

Very Warm Greetings,

I hope this letter finds you well and in good spirits.  

I never would have thought that a year down the line we would still be so affected by the pandemic.

Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa with a population of roughly 13.2 million and a land mass about the size of Wales. The government has exercised tight control of the Covid crisis, and to date 265 people are known to have died of the disease. However, as in other countries, the school pupils have missed months and months of their education.

Schools opened across the country on Wednesday 24th February. For those in Primary 1, 2 and 3, they were last in school in March 2020. In the rural areas many had no access to television to watch lessons broadcast by the government, but some, but by no means all, had access to a radio to listen to lessons broadcast on radio.

Our popular radio programmes, ‘English with Teacher Katy’, were aired again during December. The programmes for P2 and P3 were broadcast twice a week on Radio Rwanda. We got very good feedback from the radio station, 

People are very interested in the lessons. The lessons are very well done with super methodology, and we got a call asking if we can run at least a daily programme.

Again, the pupils who are part of our project benefited greatly from the radio progammes. They know my voice and that alone provided some excitement, but more important was the much needed revision. Going over sentence structures that they had already learned and hearing them in familiar contexts, with time given for them to repeat the sentences and answer questions, gave a great boost to their confidence.

On return to school every pupil has a temperature check at the school gate each day. Both teachers and pupils are wearing masks, following government advice. That may hinder learning, as a lot depends in language learning on watching the teacher’s facial expressions and the movement of the mouth. 

The teachers have a huge task after a year of school closure, but using our NOEC books will help them enormously. The beauty of the NOEC books is that learning is based on the build-up of sentence patterns and structures, and so each sentence pattern is constantly revised and re-used as new ones are introduced. The teaching is based on classroom contexts, and also with very clear pictures in the Pupil’s Books which aid understanding. This means that the teachers can easily go back to earlier parts of the book and quickly revise until they are comfortable that most of the pupils are ready to pick up where they left off nearly a year ago.

In the government textbooks, the teaching of English is based on topics such as Greetings, Health, Traditional Tools etc. Each topic is riddled with different sentence patterns, and many of those are never met again once that topic is ‘done’ and the pupils move on to new topics. I have written to government education officials many times about this approach. 

I mentioned in my last report that the return to school this year has seen the introduction of the government’s new policy that all subjects and lessons are to be taught in English from Primary 1. In previous years, from 2011, Primary 1 to Primary 3 had all their lessons taught in the mother-tongue of Kinyarwanda with English taught as a foreign language for seven periods a week, and in Primary 4 the medium of education changed to English. The teaching now using English for all subjects from Primary 1 will be a challenge as many teachers of Primary 1 to Primary 3, especially in rural primary schools, do not have sufficient command of English in order to be able to teach in it.

Dr Timothy Williams  (Adjunct Professor in Global Social Work at Boston College and Researcher for Effective States and Inclusive Development) has overseen the evaluation of our work in Rwanda, and his latest article about the change of language in Rwandan schools for World Politics Review is excellent and most interesting. He has given me permission to share his work. ‘Research suggests that children learn best if they spend the first few years of their schooling grasping foundational and complex concepts using the language that is also spoken in their homes. The opposite also holds true: Forcing pupils and teachers to use an unfamiliar language without adequate preparation or support jeopardizes learning, particulary those in poorer rural areas where exposure to the English language is limited. The government’s most recent decision appears to reject this evidence – the same evidence it had previously embraced – potentially disadvantaging hundreds of thousands of students during the foundational years of their education.’ The whole article is well worth reading and can be found using this link:

https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/read/TGchGlURKSTap6C_OhgYwXMBgkCRNQ_iqcYDErF18Uq_eUoSyQyEPugYJ82OP12MCKD09BFhJRlKAgEtYOE8O4MwT7rFjE7Wkb70KuhqwGcK5_MleIJvWYjeW0nVmwka    

In this new context, the use of our NOEC books could provide real help. Teacher Vestine at Gasabo primary school teaches social science, which she now has to teach in English when she was used to teaching it in the mother tongue of Kinyarwanda. Vestine has always been an enthusiastic participant in our weekly teacher development sessions held in the lunch break which use the NOEC books to improve the teachers’ English. Vestine now uses the NOEC Teacher’s Books to familiarize herself with the language and particularly how to ask questions and how to help her pupils to answer her questions. So, already the NOEC books have proved their worth to Vestine now that she has to use English as the medium of instruction for social science. The books could benefit so many others.

If the NOEC books were used as part of teaching training then teachers would gain a very thorough grasp of the language and its sentence structures and patterns, and also be guided in good teaching methodology which can transfer to the teaching of any subject. Of course, the continued use of the NOEC books by teachers who teach English as a subject has already proved to be successful.

After Emmy Nyirigira, the Chair of our trustees in Rwanda (where we operate as Support to Primary Education Rwanda – SPER), met the Minister of State for Primary and Secondary Education, Mr Gaspard Twagirayezu, in November my colleagues Damian and Ivan had a meeting with the Minister in December. In attendance were the Minister’s adviser, and a representative from the Rwanda Education Board (REB). The meeting was summarized by the adviser in an email circulated to all who were present: 

Dear all, 

On behalf of Hon. Minister of State in charge of Primary and Secondary Education, I am pleased to share the following key action points of the meeting for your consideration and action:

  1.  The meeting recommended that REB looks through Katy’s feedback documents and respond on them and consequently conduct a technical debate between REB and SPER on the feedback in a week’s time. To include the ‘New Original English Course (NOEC) books to deliver the teaching of English language in schools and the teaching methodology among others
  2.    It was emphasized that the Ministry of Education is open to discussions to learn from available expertise.
  3.   To arrange visit to schools in which SPER operates to see SPER’s progress

The meeting was concluded by reemphasizing that SPER’s support like any other partners in Education is necessary towards how things can be improved in CBC (compentence based curriculum) as a learning method. 

Regards,’

Since then, there began major restructuring within REB, and the schools remained closed. We are now chasing for progress.

The good news is that the primary schools are now open and education can get back on track, and our teachers and pupils are well supported by the NOEC books and by the regular visits of Damian and Ivan. A recent visit to Claude’s Primary 4 class at Gasabo Primary School is in the photograph below with everyone nearly unrecognizable in their masks!

This has been a difficult year for everyone, but I am grateful beyond words for the donations that have continued to come in to enable our work to keep going. Thank you so very much indeed for your extremely generous support.

With very best wishes,

Katy Allen Mtui

Vestine uses the NOEC to help her to teach
Vestine uses the NOEC to help her to teach
Nov 10, 2020

Autumn Report

Our NOEC books
Our NOEC books

 

Warmest Greetings,

I hope this letter finds you well and in good spirits. 

Like many places in our world, most schools in Rwanda have been closed since spring. Upper Primary (Primary 4 to Primary 6) returned to their classes Monday 2nd November, but for Lower Primary (P1 to P3) the wait continues. They are scheduled to return to the classroom in January. 

Damian and Ivan will be supporting the teachers of P4 in our project schools, as they face the hard task of helping their pupils, after such a long break, remember the English they had learned. 

Our popular radio programmes, ‘English with Teacher Katy’, aired over the summer. Five children of his neighbours congregated at Ivan’s house to listen to the programmes on his radio, and Ivan carried on after each programme to teach them English using our NOEC (New Original English Course) books. There were two children who are in P2, two in P3 and one who is in P4 at various schools. Ivan noted they had little understanding of the meaning of what they had been taught, but that improved dramatically with the radio programmes and use of the NOEC books. The parents thanked Ivan as they too noticed the improvement. 

We are now going to run the radio programmes for P2 and P3 again. This time they will be aired on Radio Rwanda. 

Damian and Ivan have met several education officials at the Rwanda Education Board, and there is a strong indication that there might be curriculum reform, with an awareness that, “something is not right with English language delivery”.

However, this must now be set against the nationwide announcement, in late July, that English will be the medium of instruction from P1 onwards. Up until now, English has been taught as a foreign language from P1 to P3, and all other subjects taught in the mother tongue of Kinyarwanda. From P4 English was the medium of instruction. This was not working well, as pupils were not learning enough English in P1 to P3 to be able to cope with all their lessons in English from P4. On top of that, there were still literacy problems in the mother tongue and a lack of development of thinking skills.  Most primary school teachers have insufficient English, and switching to English as the medium of instruction in P4 was impeding their pupils’ learning and education.

This extraordinary decision to expect teachers and pupils to use English for all lessons from P1 seems is ill-informed. Inevitably, there will be use of the mother tongue, but this will be covert, and pupils will most likely learn neither English nor mastery of their mother tongue.

However, in this unhappy scenario our NOEC books will have an even greater role to play.

The Chair of our trustees in Rwanda, Emmy Nyirigira, met the Minister of State for Primary and Secondary Education, Mr Gaspard Twagirayezu. They have worked together for many years on the President’s Social Commission. The Minister of State agreed to meet Damian and Ivan, and that meeting is anticipated in the next week or so. It seems that he, along with other education officials, is more open than ever for ideas on how to improve the teaching of English.

On top of all that, on 2nd November a public notice came from the Prime Minister’s office that the Director General, Deputy Director General, and Head of Teacher Development at the Rwanda Education Board had all been suspended from duties “for their failure to properly manage and coordinate the ongoing teacher recruitment process”. It transpires that newly qualified teachers have waited months and are still not placed in schools —- and yet there are many vacancies to be filled. A newly centralized system is not working, and schools have reopened without sufficient staff.

It does seem that a crisis looms. Again, this could be a very good opportunity for our NOEC books. The NOEC books are not only tried and tested over the years, but they fit the present context. They enable the teachers to learn or improve their English on-the-job, as they teach their pupils. The English to use and teach to the pupils is specifically written so that good English is heard and learned by the pupils. The methodology to adopt is given to the teachers at every stage (written in their mother tongue of Kinyarwanda). The pupils enjoy the pictures and stories which are all set in an East African context and are fun and memorable, at times following the same characters through several escapades.

There are five books of the NOEC, and if those were used in the primary teacher-training then new teachers would have a grasp of English sentence patterns and structures to a good intermediate level, and would have learned good teaching techniques which they could transfer to other subjects.

Learn more about our NOEC books by following this link:  https://www.educationrwanda.org/books/

At this critical time, it is frustrating being stuck in England and not being able to be in the thick of it, as I have been for over twenty-six years. 

I’ll end on a very upbeat, warming and happy note. Out of the blue I received an email from Hans Moshi, who has given me permission to use his name and quote his words. It turns out that he was taught English by our ‘gap year’ volunteers when he was at Mshiri primary school in Tanzania from 2001 to 2008. He is now studying in America, preparing for graduate school. He wrote, I was reflecting on my life lately and looking at things that have carried me to this point in my life and that is where you came in.  I remembered your work with the TRC (Teacher Resource Centre) trying to improve the teaching situation for teachers. It didnt make sense back then but in hindsight I am in awe over the things you were doing. I was there when the TRC building was completed and students could use computers. I remember us having computer classes once a week. There was always not enough time when we were there……

“I am really grateful for the work you did. I was inspired by all the volunteer guests we received each year. That exposure has been paramount to my success. I never thought about it until very late in my college career, when I was looking for my inspiration in life. I want to be able to do what you are doing someday. I just wanted to reach out to tell you even if it seems like you do not get back as much as you put in, someone somewhere out here was extremely inspired by your work. You have inspired me to do the same by helping the less fortunate and as I am approaching the end of my education career I am thinking of ways I can help and give back too, thanks to you.

“Having lived in the US for 5 years I can imagine what its like uprooting ones life and moving to a whole different country with a different culture. I salute the courage, tenacity and drive to help and forever will be grateful for the inspiration. I promise to carry the light forward.

This in itself is thanks enough for 26 years’ work. If Hans put it down in words, then there must be others who feel the same. Even if it is only Hans, then it has been worth the effort, and it is still worth fighting on.

Hans’s letter is as much for you as it is for me. None of this would be possible without donations to enable our work to happen. Thank you so much for your continuing support.

With very best wishes,

Katy 

Hans
Hans
Jul 14, 2020

July Update

Making the programmes
Making the programmes

No sooner had I sent my last report than the Rwandan government announced the immediate closure of schools on 16thMarch.

Then a few weeks later came the decision that the schools would not reopen until September.

This is actually part of the government’s plan to change the school year from a calendar year to a September/July school year, and so the corona virus has provided the way to make the change.

That means that in September, Primary 1 will have two cohorts; those who started in January this year, and who will continue with Primary 1 again in September, and those who were expecting to start school in January 2021 but who will now start in September 2020.

All other pupils will start again in September 2020 in the grade they were in in January 2020.

We were very concerned about our pupils who in January 2020 were in Primary 2, Primary 3 and Primary 4. Whilst they will continue in those grades in September, they will have forgotten so much of what they knew. They come from families where no English is spoken in the home and there is very little, or no, English heard around them in their villages. 

We then had the idea that the only feasible way to help the pupils, and indeed the teachers too, was to use the radio. We hoped that most families have a radio and can afford the batteries to make it work!  We were reassured by the teachers in the schools that this would be the case. 

Damian and Ivan negotiated with Radio One, Rwanda, for a prime time slot at 11am every Tuesday and Thursday morning. Radio One is a nationwide, popular music station, and so this is an interesting diversion for them, and one they were very excited to take on.

We decided to call our radio programmes ‘English With Teacher Katy’. 

So, I then set about scripting the sixteen programmes which would run for 8 weeks. First, I decided to have one programme for Primary 2 and Primary 3 combined, and a separate programme for Primary 4. For each programme we were given a 15-minute slot which is, we think, enough for children to concentrate. 

The content is based on our NOEC books. (More about our NOEC books here: https://www.educationeastafrica.org/books/). But the success of teaching English as a foreign language from the NOEC relies heavily on the pupils seeing things, and seeing things being done, in order for them to understand the meaning. I always say that they have to see the meaning

So, my task for the radio was to ensure that the pupils could ‘hear’ the meaning, and I had to think of objects that make clear, identifiable sounds. For instance, I have used a box, a tin, a ball, a book, and a piece of paper. These are items whose sound when touched, bounced or fanned, as the case may be, convey what they are. 

I then needed another person, another voice, to take the part of the pupil. I called on my Tanzanian friend Joe. I asked him to come with a pair of proper shoes and not trainers. He had no idea what I really meant and so came with a full suit and tie, and his proper shoes! 

My sitting room has a wooden floor, and we rolled up the rug, put a chair in the middle and that was Joe’s base. With his shoes he could then be clearly heard moving in response to commands, ‘Come here’, or ‘Go the door’ etc.  Needless to say, Joe never wore his suit, and performed throughout in his track suit with his smart leather shoes underneath! Joe is not a well-known name in Rwanda, but Joseph is. So, in all the scripts he was Joseph.

The script for each programme was about 5 pages. Joe’s parts were in bold type and mine in non-bold type. I sat at the table, with the iPad ready to record on Apple Voice Recorder. We had the various props arranged on the table in the order in which we needed to use them. My script was flat on the table in front of me. I realized that Joe would be moving around with his script, and so we stuck each page on a piece of cardboard so that not only would it stay firm but also wouldn’t make a noise as he went from page to page. There were times when it was easier for me to deal with the props whilst Joe read the script. At other times Joe had to manipulate the props with the script, such as, “I’m opening the window”, “I’m brushing my teeth” or “I’m playing football”.

I never worked out how to edit anything we’d recorded. I could pause during recording and start up again, but if we made a mistake we’d just have to start all over again. Apple’s Voice Recorder shows you the minutes and seconds as you record. That made the end of every script very stressful, as I’d have to judge whether we’d finish the script in time or whether I’d need to cut out a bit. I’d have to assess that we would have time at the end for a quick summary of what we’d done and to say ‘goodbye’.

When we recorded our second programme, Joe, seeing the same objects on the table again, asked with some incredulity, “Oh, are we opening the box again?”. Little could he have known just how often he would open the box, shut the box, put the box on the table, put the box on the chair, put the bottles in the box, or put the tin on the box. After we’d recorded all the programmes he took the box out to the rubbish shed with a spring in his step!

The end of each recording was a noted achievement. We’d then paste the next script pages on top of the others on Joe’s cardboard pieces. There was a low point, when we’d recorded three programmes, opening each with, “Good afternoon” as our slot on the radio was first to have been 2pm, and then came the news that the better slot of 11am had been secured. 

This required us to record the first three programmes all over again. Lesson learned. After this experience, we began every recording with a cheery, “Hello”.

Whilst the programmes are broadcast nationally, I designed them for the pupils who are in our project schools. The aim overall is for the pupils to hear some English again and to revise what they had already learned. It is hoped that they speak English by following and talking with some of Joe’s part of the script. If they learn something new, then that is an added bonus. We anticipate, of course, that all other pupils who listen to the radio will benefit from the programmes.

The programmes also provide the added bonus for teachers to hear English with native pronunciation and intonation. It might also be the first time in a while that the teachers have been on the receiving end, and they will feel again what it’s like to learn by listening, and how much repetition is needed in a foreign language.

We have enjoyed good feedback. One of the Sector Education Officers, Dismas, told Damian, ‘Barakurikira rwose!’ – ‘The pupils are really, really following!’. Another Sector Education Officer, Fidel, has said that there should be more than two programmes a week.

Claude, one of our teachers at Gasabo primary school, got a telephone call from the mother of one of his pupils, telling him that Anita was so excited by being able to follow the first lesson she listened to, that she was going to all her friends telling them to listen! The head teacher of another of our project schools reported that pupils in his upper classes were listening to all the programmes because they  could follow them and were joining in.

Our new radio programmes, ‘English With Teacher Katy’, will be broadcast at least until the middle of August. We have posted a trio of our radio programmes on our website to share with you. This link will take you to our media page where you will easily spot our radio offerings:

https://www.educationrwanda.org/media/

Thank you to all of you for your continued support of our work and your interest in it.

These are still difficult times, and education around the world is being affected, but we have found a way to continue to help our pupils and teachers which is the best we can do in the circumstances.

All of your generous support is hugely appreciated.

With very best wishes

Katy

 

The flyer to advertise the programmes
The flyer to advertise the programmes
Listen on our website
Listen on our website
 
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