Testing time in Rwanda after change of exam language

The Rwandan authorities want pupils to write their end-of-year exams in the local language, Kinyarwanda, instead of English.

The end of the year is exam time, when about 456,000 primary and high school students are tested before they can take the next steps on their education journey.

But this year, only days before the exams were due to start across the country, the board of education announced that all elementary school students must take the exams in Kinyarwanda. Although education policy stipulates that elementary pupils are to be taught in Kinyarwanda, most schools still teach in English, with Kinyarwanda as an optional subject, because teachers and parents believe English offers the best future prospects.

The change of policy was intended to harmonise teaching and exams as well as to promote children’s use of Kinyarwanda.

So the  Kinyarwanda-only ruling came as a shock to many. Additionally, the education board will now set the exams: previously this was done by the schools.

According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, elementary school pupils worldwide learn quicker and better when they are taught in their mother tongue. And some Rwandans support the idea of exams in Kinyarwanda, arguing that it’s a language that the children understand better. But the majority of parents do not seem convinced.

“It’s unfortunate that the students have to take exams in a language they are not taught in,” says Theophile Bucyana, a teacher at a school in the capital, Kigali. He thinks the decision-makers face a struggle in making the policy change stick..

“Sure, being taught in Kinyarwanda can improve the use of their mother tongue, but most parents associate English with giving their children more possibilities, and they feel proud when their children can express themselves in a foreign language,” he says. “It’s an attitude that will be difficult to change.”

/Jean-Pierre Bucyensenge, Rwanda

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