P1 pupils enjoy testing the names of items learned
From Kigali March 2020
January saw the beginning of another school year. The pupils who started using our NOEC materials at the beginning of their Primary 1 class, are now in Primary 4.
There was sudden change last month when the President appointed new members of his cabinet, and the outcome is a new Minister for Education and the first female in the role, as well as a new Minister of State for Primary and Secondary Education.
Before I turn to this year’s news, I should report on the end-of-year examinations which were set by the Rwanda Education Board, which I explained in my last report. The examinations for Primary 1 to Primary 3 were marked by the schools, and the results were collated and sent to the District office, which then collated the results of all its schools and sent them to the Rwanda Education Board. So, a set of marks serves little purpose for analysis or real assessment which is unfortunate, and another opportunity has been missed. In our schools, from the results which were available, the majority of pupils in all three year groups passed their English examinations. Some had very good results with many pupils gaining over 60% and even over 75%. However, there was no proper marking scheme, and the examination papers, as analysed in my report, were not adequate for any proper assessment, and so these results do not have much meaning. However, the teachers thought that the papers were quite difficult, and I think they were surprised how well their pupils did.
In Rwanda, Primary 4 is the stage at which English medium starts. All lessons are to be taught through the medium of English from Primary 4 onwards. In government primary schools, and especially rural ones, this is not feasible in practice; the teachers’ English is not developed enough to teach in English and the pupils’ English after three years of following the government curriculum and books is woefully inadequate.
With our first cohort of pupils in Primary 4, the challenge is on.
Teachers are afflicted by the absenteeism of their pupils. This is a big problem in schools, and many pupils have a very sporadic attendance, some missing whole weeks of school at a time. Teachers have large classes, and the task of supporting serial absentees is beyond them. Changing attitudes of parents (many of whom are in poverty and are themselves illiterate or poorly educated) is a slow process. A teacher can have only 75% of the class who attend regularly. This affects the monitoring and evaluation of our work, but nevertheless we continue with our assessments.
Our Primary 4 pupils are not fluent in English after only studying for three years for just over 5 hours a week for about 34 weeks each year. But they do now have a grasp of many different sentence structures and patterns, and are learning many more of them. This is the basis of the NOEC course. It introduces sentence patterns and structures which form the backbone of the English language. For instance, the structure, ‘the ….. of the ….’. The pupils start by learning, ‘That is the door of the classroom.’ Once they know the structure, then they are prepared for sentences in other contexts such as, ‘…the purpose of the experiment’, or ‘..the perimeter of the rectangle’, etc. With the many structures that the pupils in Primary 4 know, they are coping well in their other subjects.
Teachers who teach Primary 4 and above are used to teaching in Kinyarwanda, or using a lot of Kinyarwanda in order for their pupils to understand and learn anything. We are getting feedback that the teachers notice a great difference with our Primary 4 classes. Their ability to write in English is far greater than the teachers normally see, and the pupils’ understanding and readiness to speak in English is also better than previous Primary 4 classes.
We have several new teachers this term, and a brand new school! Muhazi primary school has been built as part of the government’s plan to reduce class sizes. Muhazi is relieving pressure of pupil numbers from Kayanga and Gikomero primary schools. As those two schools are part of our programme it made sense to work with Muhazi school, on top of which the head teacher from Kayanga is now the head teacher of Muhazi and she has long supported our work.
What has been most encouraging is how the new teachers are being trained in the use of the NOEC materials by the other teachers. This cooperation and support is how the programme is eventually planned to expand. New teachers in Primary 1 are not so difficult to train, as they just start using NOEC Book One and soon get to grips with the in-built methodology. We have two new teachers in Primary 4, and they have to learn what the pupils should already know, and what has been covered in the last three years. Their reactions to the use of the NOEC have been interesting. One of the teachers has taught English to Primary 4 for several years and so is new to the NOEC materials but not to teaching. He has struggled to leave behind his old ways of relentless choral drilling, and far too much teaching-talking-time, and no provision for challenging his pupils to think and to learn by participation. The other teacher is new to teaching, and, of course, new to the NOEC materials too. He has adopted the NOEC methods, and the use of the Teacher’s Book, with ease, and is seeing the benefit of following the book and thereby implementing much pupil participation.
The material in the NOEC book for Primary 4 is not easy. It is far more detailed, and expects that the pupils’ cognitive ability will have increased with their age. The teachers are taking the lessons slowly so that the content is understood and learned. The stage of learning in other subjects and lack of the development of thinking skills in other subjects is becoming a hindrance in their English studies. A small example is the telling of time in English, which demands an understanding of the concept of ‘quarter’ and ‘half’ for ‘quarter past/half past’ etc. If that has not been fully grasped by pupils in their mathematics through their own mother-tongue, then that English lesson becomes all the more difficult. We accept that progress will be slow. However, the book for Primary 4 pupils has some of the lovely NOEC stories which are funny, memorable and wholly set in the African context. This is motivating the pupils in their learning, and they flip ahead in the book avidly to look at the pictures in future stories to see what lies ahead!
We were surprised by the appointment of a new Minister for Education and a new Minister of State for Primary and Secondary Education. The new Minister for Education is someone who Damian knows, and we hope to meet her as soon as her schedule will allow.
The new Minister of State for Primary and Secondary Education is the man who was organizing my presentation to the ruling party’s Education Commission, which did not proceed. So, we know him well, and he is already familiar with my reports and analyses of the primary school curriculum and the textbooks. We look forward to seeing him again as soon as he is available to see us.
The Director of Cabinet has been made Minister in charge of Cabinet Affairs, and so I have written to her expressing my hope that the information she had from me about the primary education system will be relevant in her new role.
This will be a very interesting year, and with the new Ministers in place it is an opportunity for our advocacy to reach a new audience, and, we hope, for some much needed change. We are hopeful of getting the new Ministers to the field to see our work in action, to be able to compare what we are achieving in the teaching and learning of English with other classes that do not have the NOEC materials, and to get the new Ministers to engage with the teachers to hear their views.
We still need your support, and we are most grateful for all your generous donations. Thank you to every one of you who so kindly gives towards our work, and who knows how these young Rwandan children will benefit from learning English.
With huge thanks and all good wishes,
Education is the Passport to a Self-Sustaining Life
One of our new P4 teachers enjoying using the NOEC