Rwanda: English Language Issue in Country

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Nov 11 14:02:49 UTC 2008

English Language Issue in Country - an Educational,

The New Times (Kigali)

10 November 2008
Posted to the web 10 November 2008

Modern schools have generally arisen out locally and perceived the
need to prepare individuals for a fruitful life within a defined
community. National and cultural needs, therefore, are often mixed
with the individual's need to operate within a social, political, and
economic realm. The demand for modern or globalised education
standards arose generally out of a desire to link with a larger world
and to access the seemingly superior opportunities it promised.
As the community resources become increasingly linked to the movements
of global resources and as opportunities become similarly tied,
educational demand also changes. Rwandans have to look at
globalisation as a social process in which the constraints of
geography on social and cultural arrangements recede and in which
people become increasingly aware they are receding.

>>From this perspective, national governments are proclaiming education
as the key to success in the global economy and by doing so, the goals
of schooling become directly related to the world's economic needs. In
view of this, education and the economy are seen as having an
interdependent relationship. Therefore, on one hand, competition in
the global economy is dependent on the quality of education while on
the other hand; the goals of education are dependent on the economy.
On this issue, the rhetoric of education-business relations has
usually taken the form of arguing that if the economy exhibits certain
features and therefore has certain needs, then it follows that the
schools must react in a certain way.

Precisely, the conflicting views on English language policy in Rwandan
School curriculum are all about this. Education's response to
globalisation might have some beneficial and adverse implications
regardless of the degree of liberalisation. Globalisation raises the
problem of the international recognition of qualifications, and hence
the quality of educational services provision, no longer just at
national but at international level.

The significance of globalisation to the questions of national and
economic development can be summarised in terms of changes to three
rules: firstly, the rules of eligibility-shift away from the closed
economies of the post-war period towards an open economy; secondly,
the rules of engagement in which markets can operate freely have
dulled the monopoly held by trade unions to promote increased wages
without commensurate productivity gains; thirdly, changes in the rules
of wealth creation have seen that the technology of production itself
is undergoing substantial and far-reaching change.

Globalisation comes along with an emphasis on developing human
resource to the extent that human resource becomes a major player in
the advancement of business and economic growth improving
competitiveness and the quality of services and goods. This is what I
may call 'value added'.
In view of the above argument, the current decision by the Government
of Rwanda to use English language as a medium of instruction in
Schools is intended to meet this desired global standard.

Globalisation immediately evokes the image of privileged people: our
people also need to live in any part of the world without hindrance,
enjoy high-tech life of developed English speaking nations too and
chance for personal advancement. This is what I would term as 'the
need to be trans-national intellectuals seeking out and adopting a
reflexive meta-cultural stance to divergent cultural experiences'.
Mastering English is a way of avoiding international isolation that
can easily keep many Rwandans in perpetual poverty: As long as we can
learn French as a course, it is enough; we do not have necessarily to
learn in it.

If we train our children in French and they do not master English,
their employability skills are limited. The use of English today is
utility oriented since it translates to money, jobs, international
friends, and further studies abroad and travelling widely. What we
need is an education that can help us to match with an international
standard. If we want to be where other people are, we have to prepare
for it seriously for our children not to be the black sheep of the
international community. The main objective of English as a medium of
instruction is to liberate Rwandans to pursue a long-term process of
trans-local connectivity that is both economic and educational.

Geographically Rwanda stands a better chance to benefit from using
English language. It is an economic point of view, a communication
point of view, and a location point of view. English language is
useful to our country to open up possibilities for Rwandans to try
their luck within the East African Community and beyond. Capacity to
switch on to English language to fit in the society is seen as the way
forward. Global fellowship and competition today can only be realised
by learning English language thereby confronting the international

To concretise my point, let us have a look at former USSR. After its
fall, if you do not know English, you are a social, economic and
development renegate. English is dominating not only its former
colonies but also other developed countries because of business,
information technology and media.
In a market system, which seems to be the direction in which Rwanda is
struggling to move, it is neither possible nor fair for the government
to prescribe French to business and industry. It is instead necessary
for the government of Rwanda to encourage business and industry to
contribute to the development of an international culture.

English Language today has a vital role in economic activity on at
least three levels, namely the transfer of information/knowledge,
interpersonal relations, and as an economic resource. The modern world
of business is to a large extent dependent on the management of
information. Without meaningful access to information and ability to
convey information effectively, which of course, today involves the
capacity to understand and use English language effectively, the
economic development cannot really take place. Related to this aspect
is the role of interpersonal communication, which is basic to
training, productivity and competitiveness as well as management.

The author is the Vice-Rector Academic, Mutara Polytechnic

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