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,
Education is the Passport to a Self-Sustaining Life