Tag Archives: language barrier

Are we environmental instructors or English teachers?

Rwanda, now a member of the Commonwealth, has recently abruptly changed its second official language from French to English. One can easily understand that this transition does not work as smoothly in real life as it does on paper, but in the cities one can happily observe the progress. Accordingly the current ACNR education project on climate change was developed in English, but we are prepared to switch to French if students’ understanding requires it. Particularly complicated issues can be explained in Kinyarwanda and usually this strategy works without problems.

Just occasionally we arrive at schools, like the Centre Scholaire de Gaseke in the very remote North of Rwanda, where the French-English transition problem seems to be an embarrassment of riches. Secondary students speak no English at all, very broken French and have difficulties even reading Kinyarwanda.

Coming there to teach climate change we find ourselves in a dilemma: If we carried out the workshop in Kinyarwanda, we would work against the government’s aim to create a bilingual nation. If teachers use the local language only to make their subjects clear, the rural communities will remain disadvantaged.

P1040610On the other hand, if we used English or French to explain the causes and consequences of climate change, our teaching would pass students without reaching their conscience and understanding. The Climate Change Education Program would have no impact where climate change affects people most: in the poorest, agriculturally dominated regions of Rwanda.

This is probably the time to let go of the beautiful picture of a multilingual Rwanda and face the reality: 80% of Rwandans speak Kinyarwanda only. At ACNR we are environmental instructors, not English teachers. Our goal is to get the environmental message across, this is our task and responsibility which we have to work for in all available possibilities. Don’t you think so?