Teachers' Seminar: NOEC Books One Through Five
Education East Africa Quarterly Report
UPDATE FROM KIGALI
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