Language of instruction and quality of education in Rwanda: A case study of secondary school third form learners in the Gisagara district
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The language of instruction plays a determining role in students’ academic performance. This suggests that students should be taught in a language they are familiar with in order to enhance understanding of the content subjects. In Rwanda, almost all Rwandans communicate and interact in Kinyarwanda, their mother tongue. It is, thus, expected that Rwandan children should be instructed in this home language. However, the status of English as a global language has also found echo in Rwanda, and this foreign language was adopted as medium of instruction from Primary 4 onwards. This thesis, therefore, aims to determine what role English as a medium plays in delivering quality education in Rwanda. To respond to the above question, the researcher investigated three secondary Third Form schools in the rural Gisagara District of the Southern Province. She wanted to explore the teaching and learning strategies deployed in the English language classrooms and the learning materials and infrastructure available at the schools. The focus was on English language classes as these were the spaces in which Rwandan children were explicitly exposed to English and where their proficiency in the language was developed. However, the researcher also needed to find out the effect that English had on the students’ academic performance, the correlation between their results in English and their results in content subjects, and the students’ and teachers’ perceptions of English as language of instruction. It is in this vein that a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches was used and various data collection techniques employed to obtain enriched data. Classroom observations and interviews with students and their English teachers were conducted. A questionnaire was also distributed to the students and their results in English and in content subjects were analysed to supplement the data generated by other methods. This study was guided by sociocultural theories of second language learning according to which language is a mediating tool that helps to adjust relationships between people that live in the same community. Language is, hence, a necessary artifact that is worth acquiring. For language learning to take place, learners need to interact with more knowledgeable people. In the classroom, it is the teacher who has to mediate this learning, assuming that he/she is more knowledgeable than the students. Classroom peer interactions in the target language also provide room wherein brighter students may assist their struggling classmates. Language across the curriculum approach and content-based instruction also inspired this study. These approaches suggest that language should be taught in context and especially through the content related to the students’ fields of study. The research findings indicate that the students were not proficient in English, the language of instruction, which hindered their school achievement. In addition, no correlation could be established between the students’ results in English and their results in content subjects. Indeed, despite the students’ poor performance in English they did better in this language than in the content subjects. Furthermore, not all students who fared well in English succeeded in the content subjects, and some students scored good marks in the content subjects whilst they failed in English. The findings also show that the teaching and learning strategies used in the language classrooms, as well as the learning materials and infrastructure at the schools, did not promote English acquisition. Ironically, despite English being a hindrance to the learning of other subjects, both the students and their teachers affirmed that they preferred that this language remain as medium of instruction. They believed that being competent in English could offer them more life opportunities than any other language.