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Feed A Hungry Mind

by Education East Africa
Feed A Hungry Mind
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Katy’s Writes from Rwanda: December 2019  

The school year has ended, and the teachers are enjoying a well-earned rest. The new school year starts on 6th January 2020. 

 

The good, long rest for the teachers is not so good for the pupils. Their last lessons were in the week of 14th October, and from then the last weeks of term were taken up with examinations and cleaning their schools. In the holidays the pupils have very little or no exposure to English. In the three months before they start lessons again in January they will have forgotten much of what they learned. It will take the teachers time to assess what has been retained and where to start again. Not only that, but with a new school year there will be new English teachers for many pupils. Those teachers will have to be guided in what was taught before, and how to bring the pupils back to the required level.

 

The end-of-year examinations were set by the Rwanda Education Board. Those examinations in lower primary (primary 1 to primary 3) were marked by the teachers. The primary 1 pupils did not do very well as they are used to oral examinations, and the Rwanda Education Board set written examinations. Our primary 2 and 3 pupils did well, as they had had practice in writing in English, and reading and understanding various sentence patterns and structures.

 

However, the examination papers were not the basis for any proper assessment. This is such an important issue, as the results of the examinations can be used by the government to influence policy and strategy. I wrote an analysis of the English papers for Primary 1, 2 and 3. I attach it to this report as it might be of interest. I sent my report to the director general of the Rwanda Education Board with an offer to provide any help or training.

 

The presentation to be made to the ruling party’s Education Commission has not happened, and seems unlikely to happen as the President’s Office is seeking feedback from the Ministry of Education, the Rwanda Education Board and education officials on my comments and my various reports. In view of the lapse of time since the meeting in the Strategy and Planning Unit of the President’s Office, I wrote a long letter to the Director of Cabinet. She is the one who suggested and approved my meeting with the Strategy and Planning Unit. Although she is incredibly busy, I hope that she will have read my letter. This was a bold step, setting out all my concerns for the primary education system, and setting out my views on the reasons for shortcomings with suggestions for their rectification. In my time working in Rwanda I have not come across anyone with my experience of being in government primary school classrooms for twenty-five years in East Africa. I have observed teachers and pupils, I have studied their textbooks, and I have experienced the conditions in which they work. I have worked with hundreds of teachers and together we have improved how they teach, and I have seen pupils start to enjoy their learning and be pleased with themselves for their progress. Change does not require tons of money, but rather it needs to be based on solid expertise, taking account of the local context and set in a sensible timeframe.

 

With that in mind, it is somewhat disheartening that the Minister for Education announced at the beginning of December that all of primary education will become English medium in a ‘determined period to be announced’. That means that all lessons will be taught in English from day one of primary school. At the moment, the first three years are taught through the mother-tongue, Kinyarwanda, with English as a subject, and in year four all lessons are to be taught using English. There is a large volume of research which shows that children learn best, and certainly develop their thinking skills, in their mother-tongue. Rwanda is blessed to have only one mother-tongue across the country. The current system is not working well for various reasons, but one of the reasons is the lack of competence in English of many primary school teachers. This is not surprising as English was only introduced in 2009 after decades of French as the second language. In practice much teaching continues to take place in Kinyarwanda in upper primary (and, indeed, in many secondary school classrooms) as there is not sufficient understanding of English. The solution to this is not, in my opinion, to make English the language of instruction from the very first year of primary school.

 

The link here, https://www.educationeastafrica.org/rwanda/

will take you, if you are interested and have time, to our website, and to some video footage. Ignore the first video of me on Rwandan television (or watch it if you will!) and have a look at the next video which is 7.49 minutes long, which shows how our work is transforming the teaching of English in the lower primary classrooms. Then watch the video below that which is just over 4 minutes long, which shows how English is being taught in a typical government rural primary school with no use of our materials or teaching methods. On that evidence alone, it does seem more than odd that anyone is considering making English the medium of instruction from a pupil’s first day at school.

 

Our programme in Rwanda will continue to fight for the education of these young pupils, and to support and encourage their teachers to continue to work in these difficult conditions.

 

As Christmas and the new year celebrations are upon us, I wish all of you a happy time, and thank you all so much for your extremely kind donations to help our work.

 

I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing all the Rwandan primary school pupils a good start to 2020, and hope that our advocacy on their behalf will be listened to.

 

With very best wishes,

Katy Allen

Director

www.EducationEastAfrica.org  

Education is the Passport to a Self-Sustaining Life

Katy@EducationEastAfrica.org  

 

 


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How times flies! The third and final school term of the year is over half-way through. The term ends on the 8th November, but with end-of-year examinations the teaching will probably cease before the end of October. 

The end-of-year examinations will be set by the Rwanda Education Board for all primary school classes this year, under a new regulation from the government. 

At the end of the second term, in July, we were able to set examinations for the pupils in our project schools. Primary 1 and Primary 2 had oral examinations, and Primary 3 had both an oral and written examination. The results were good with a majority in each school gaining more than 50% of the available marks. The most encouraging result was the written examination for Primary 3. The work the teachers had done to improve the handwriting of the pupils, and their ability to write in English, really paid off. 

Some of our pupils also sat the English examination which was set by the District. I have, so far, not been able to get the results of those examinations. However, I have been given copies of the examination papers. They were so lacking in proper assessment, that I have written a paper analysing them in order to show that those papers would not yield meaningful results. For instance, on both the Primary 1 and Primary 2 paper, the pupils were asked to, ‘Write these words in capital letters: ball, chair ……’. This can be done without knowing or understanding any English! Another question asked pupils to put words in alphabetical order, which, again, is something that can be done without any understanding of the meaning of the words. 

Each part of each question was awarded one mark, and so that allowed no scope for marking spelling, nearly correct answers etc., and gave no scope for giving more marks for more challenging questions. Not only this but there were many mistakes on each paper; there were glaring errors with punctuation and typing, and also the use of incorrect English. 

I have written and submitted my official report about this because the government often blames the teachers for the poor quality of education, and yet there must be good examples set from those responsible for the testing in the first place. 

Our work has recently been lauded, but not actually intentionally! The situation is a little complex: there is a nationwide programme in all government primary schools being run by the British Council in Rwanda, and funded by the UK Department for International Development. Their programme (funded to the tune of £25 million) started in the schools in January 2018. This programme runs under the name of ‘Building Learning Foundations’ (BLF). Their aim is to improve the English of the pupils in Primary 1 to Primary 3 so that when pupils have all their lessons through the medium of English in Primary 4, they can perform well. This is, of course, what our programme is doing. 

We had discussions with all the key people at the beginning of the BLF programme, and were assured that our programme would not be affected. The English teachers with which we work have been on some training courses run by BLF, but BLF staff are rarely seen in the five primary schools in which we work. However, BLF have ‘discovered’ that English lessons are taking place in which the pupils have an impressive understanding and command of English, and that happens to be in one of our project schools! 

In the middle of September, top officials from BLF went to Kibara Primary School to watch our teacher, Josephine, teach her Primary 2 English class, and were incredibly impressed by what they saw. My colleagues Damian and Ivan were also there, as the head-teacher had informed us of the BLF visit. He felt very concerned that BLF might take credit for our work. 

It was made clear to BLF, and indeed our teacher, Josephine, herself made it clear, that the success in the pupils’ English is because of our programme and our teaching materials. I will be meeting BLF officials to discuss this further.

Next week, government officials are also visiting Kibara Primary School as part of the Ministry of Education’s ‘Quality Education Enhancement Awareness Campaign’. The head teacher will invite them to observe one of Josephine’s English classes, and so I expect that we will receive some positive feedback. 

All of this should help our advocacy for change to the primary school curriculum, and particularly as it affects the learning of English as a foreign language.

As far as our advocacy is concerned, we are yet to have any formal feedback from the Strategy and Planning Unit of the President’s Office, following our meeting there in June. We have heard, though, that they have been making some serious enquiries in the Ministry of Education.

The plans for me to give a presentation to the ruling party’s Education Commission are progressing, and I hope that this will take place this autumn. Things move more slowly than I would like, but after twenty-five years’ working on this continent I’m surprised that I have not adapted better to this!

It is only when people unconnected with our charity, see our work and praise it that I fully appreciate what a difference we are making. 

It is easy to be in the middle of work and the detail of assessment and monitoring, and to forget to appreciate it in the big picture. I see our pupils every day in the classrooms responding to English instructions, and speaking English with full meaning and understanding, and I start to take it for granted. This is not the practice in most of the primary schools here. Many pupils from Primary 1 all the way to Primary 6 know very few sentence structures and struggle to communicate in English. 

Our work is giving our young pupils an excellent start, with confidence in many structures and patterns of English sentences, which is a foundation on which they can easily build. I am more and more aware of what a valuable asset this is for them and how they already stand head and shoulders above the young pupils in other schools.

It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, that our work would not happen without your generosity and enthusiasm. On behalf of our teachers and pupils, thank you again and again. Together, we are changing lives in Rwanda. 

With all good wishes,

Katy Allen

Director

www.EducationEastAfrica.org   

Education is the Passport to a Self-Sustaining Life

Katy@EducationEastAfrica.org   

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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

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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

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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

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Education East Africa

Location: DEAL, Kent - United Kingdom
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Twitter: @KiliProject1
Project Leader:
Katy Allen
Director
DEAL, Kent United Kingdom

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