5/5/10

Teaching in Rwanda: Beyond the Classroom

Meghan Vandermale, WorldTeach Rwanda volunteer, writes below about her teaching endeavors outside of the classroom: both with her Rwandan co-teachers and others in her community.

 The view at Meghan's site: the blue roof in the foreground is her school

In the Staff Room

Since many of the students have to take all of their classes in English, that means that the teachers have to teach in English. But they are starting at the same point that the students are with the added disadvantage of being older and having less of a capacity for learning new languages. This is why the country had a month of mass intensive English training at the beginning of the year, putting off the start of the school year. I can't imagine writing lessons in a foreign language and then having to teach it in that same language, but somehow the teachers here do it. It helps that the standard teaching method here is "chalk-and-talk" (write on the board and explain what you just wrote while the students copy down what's on the board into their notebooks.) But even so, many of the teachers spend twice as long on their lessons so that they can give them in English. Some of them sit down with a dictionary or at the staff computer to look up the words that they need.

To help with this, Katy and I try to give informal lessons whenever possible. On Wednesday afternoons we hang out in the staff room for an hour or two and sometimes give a lesson on administrative or classroom vocabulary. Other times we look over lesson plans for other teachers to make sure that they are using the correct terms in English. Sister Martha, the headmistress, teaches a religion class and I read her notes into a recorder so that she can play it back and work on her pronunciation. Most teachers do fairly well with writing down what they need, but their speaking skills are much poorer. We are constantly being asked by the teachers to teach them how to speak better. For me, not having much training in teaching speaking skills, I've found that the best aid for this is to just talk with them. With some of the teachers it is difficult to strike up a conversation other than the standard greetings and questions, but a few I've been able to talk with a little more. Yesterday I talked with Dominique, another math teacher, about geography and weather for about an hour and a half. He also studied geography at University and I was curious about what causes the rainy seasons here so he explained it to me. Afterward I realized that that was a perfect lesson in English speaking for him.

Inside Meghan's home

Around Town

Many of the people that we see in the community also are earnestly looking to learn English. It's hard to help most people who ask for it (on a typical outing to buy groceries and sit and drink a cup of tea, I'll get asked by one or two strangers to teach them English.) But there are a few people that I have regular contact with and I teach them a few words each time I see them. The tailor in Mukinga is working on his tailoring vocabulary, Alexandre, my moto driver is working on his moto driving vocab. And the woman who owns my favorite convenience store is learning greetings.

The reason for the English learning craze is Vision 2020, a set of goals written after the genocide for the country to meet before the year 2020. The project is meant to strengthen the economy and boost Rwanda's competitiveness in the global market. Technological advancement and bilingualism (English and Kinyarwanda) being the most important goals of the project. These goals are visible everywhere you look here. Billboards give friendly reminders, advertisements are made on the radio and it's hard to go anywhere without running into a business named Vision 2020. In Musanze, the nearest town to me, there is a Vision 2020 Tailor, a Vision 2020 foodstuff store, and a Vision 2020 buffet (the best in town). If I ever get my haircut here, chances are it will be at a Vision 2020 Saloon. (Don't know how the extra "o" got added, but whoever did it first started a trend because there are no salons, only saloons. And haircutting is no small market here, Saloons are to Rwanda as Starbucks are to Seattle.) It's pretty astounding actually how the country is communally putting forth such a great effort, or at the very least, wants to put forth a great effort to meet these goals. It makes us, as volunteers, feel useful. Which is always a good feeling.

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