It's true: Rwandan children would learn best in Kinyarwanda, assuming teachers have the necessary training and materials in mother-tongue instruction. But it’s also true that mother-tongue instruction can be overwhelming to implement. Rwanda has tried many times. Even in recent years, as Kinyarwanda was the language of instruction in the first three years of Primary, unimpressive early-grade progress and foundational competencies were significant impediments to learning and school completion. When teachers don’t have the training they need to deliver content knowledge in any language, it hinders their performance and success in the classroom.

There are many reasons why. And mother-tongue isn’t always helpful. A recent study found that gains in learning outcomes may vary depending on the language. For Rwanda to implement a successful mother-tongue learning policy, it would require, for instance, years of massive planning to reform its writing system, standardise spelling and usage, and expand its lexicography to include missing vocabulary — after which many new demands could have arisen.

Let’s face it: there is a difference between language as subject and language as a medium of instruction. Kinyarwanda’s pedagogical suitability remains limited and of lower quality than materials in English, the global lingua-franca. And, just like many other countries, Rwanda is facing the reality of survival amidst globalisation and a need to innovate faster. So, at this point, it is utterly nonsensical and out-of-fashion to simply label the English language as colonial. Essentially, the conversation ought to be primarily about making school (and education for that matter) work — not politics, not culture, or any other sector.

For now, Rwandan students can just learn Kinyarwanda as a subject — and a means to interact with their national culture — in the classroom and, believe it or not, they will do quite fine with their education in the long run as long as pedagogy stays on point. What we all should be worried about is how the Ministry of Education continually communicates its intentions and vision to all stakeholders, the general public, and thought leaders.

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