Students and teachers' views on factors that hinder or facilitate science students in mastering English for academic purposes (EAP) in Rwanda higher education
Mironko, Beatrice Karekezi Uwamutara
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This study explores second and third year students' and teachers‟ views on factors that hinder or facilitate the mastery of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) in the Science and Engineering Technology Higher Institutions of learning in Rwanda (KIST) and seeks to establish the extent to which the current programme meets the needs of the students. This is done by highlighting a whole range of teacher and student perspectives on the EAP programme. Two key requirements invite students to write their academic assignments in the form of research proposals and research project reports. In order to help them perform well in their field subjects, KIST introduced a department of English with a General English Programme under the umbrella of the then School of Language Studies (SORAS) in 1997. The department‟s first assigned mission was to teach English to students in all departments in a bid to support and encourage them to cope with their field specific courses which are taught in English. Rwanda‟s National Council for Higher Education (2007), on language teaching and learning, states that the trio, that is Kinyarwanda (the Mother Tongue and national language) and English and French (as foreign languages), should be taught at primary, secondary and higher education levels in order to reconcile the divide between Rwandan returnees (who had lived abroad for many decades) and locals. It is in this context that KIST, one of the institutions of higher learning, adopted the bilingual policy to cater to students‟ needs to learn both French and English as media of academic communication. However, after Rwanda‟s integration into the East African Community and the Commonwealth, English has been officially adopted as the medium of instruction in all schools and higher institutions of education. That is why there was a sudden language shift in 2006 from French to English as a medium of instruction at KIST. French and Kinyarwanda are now merely taught as subjects. The motive behind the move was to cater for Rwanda‟s needs to fully participate in the economic community of East African Community in general and in the global economy in particular. The move drastically affected students‟ ability to read and write English in their respective disciplines. The move also affected lecturers of other speciality areas. To avert the obvious challenges emanating from this sudden shift in language policy, the Institute introduced the English for Specific Purposes (ESP) and English for Academic Purposes (EAP) programmes under the then KIST School of Language Studies (SOLAS) and the KIST Language Centre. However, appropriate instructional materials for such courses have not been easily available. Given this situation, English teachers have had to create their own materials rather than the existing generalised and pre-packaged language teaching materials. As a result, students‟ specific needs for induction into a scientific writing community at tertiary level have rarely been met. It is against this background that the study seeks to investigate factors that are facilitating and the mastery of EAP. The study operates on post-colonial/post-structuralist theoretical perspectives. These were founded on the analytical framework that is guided by thematic and/or conceptual underpinnings of language policy in the post-colonial Africa. Thus, English Language Teaching (ELT), developed into English as a second and additional language that is multi-semiotic and multi-modality in EAP and science genres, focusing mostly on its academic literacy, identity, ideology, power and agency, as well as its investment in language teaching and learning and the scientific community practice. Using a combination of ethnographic principles/practices like participants‟ observations, oneto- one interviews, focus group discussions and documentary review in data collection, the study utilises thematic/conceptual analysis to draw its conclusions. Drawing from the above conceptual perspectives, therefore, as well as from the methodological approach, this thesis emphasises the fact that the inability of students to successfully master EAP is caused by various factors, including the choice of English language learning materials. Contradictory approaches to language learning and to academic literacy practices create further challenges to the Rwandan students‟ advancement in English mastery. These same practices also serve to limit the students‟ ability to learn this language and complicate their access to local and global cultural exposure that is necessary for their socio-economic development of Rwanda. The study also reveals lack of appropriate discursive competence and multi-semiotic repertoires as some of the major factors inhibiting students‟ academic progress. This is partly explained by the nature of the English language learning and teaching materials that is in use which neither provides general nor disciplinary specific academic and learning opportunities in English. Similarly, a range of structural and professional constraints on „agency‟ exists for teachers of English in Rwanda as an additional language to the students, including lack of induction into scientific discourses or the EAP community of language practice. The overall lack of power and agency by teachers also contributes to constraints and constrictions in English language learning practices for these students in Rwanda. The study, however, observes that this situation is not only peculiar to KIST, as it is also common in almost all tertiary institutions in Rwanda. Specific recommendations are made in the study to improve the quality of English language learning and teaching in general and EAP in particular at KIST as an institution of higher learning, through the establishment of a clearer language policy and training opportunities for staff to update and develop required language skills in EAP, especially with regards to writing skills in sciences and engineering. The government of Rwanda, under the umbrella of Rwanda Education Board (REB) and the contribution of English language experts at the Institute, should provide a clearer direction of the language policy and curriculum that addresses Rwandan students‟ specific needs. KIST, as an institution of higher learning, should value and facilitate the teaching and learning of English in general and the teaching of EAP in particular, bearing in mind its assigned mission. The management of the Institute should encourage interaction between EAP and subject area lecturers to discuss and agree upon, text types to be used by EAP lecturers in teaching. KIST management should also provide room for regular interactions with English lecturers to listen to their views and offer them further language training opportunities in order to update and develop the required skills in EAP, especially with regards to writing skills in science and engineering.