Many people have asked me, “Why are you teaching English in Rwanda? What makes you think that the Rwandan people need to know English? What qualifications and what right do you have to take what you have learned here to teach students there?”
My response to these questions has always come from an educational angle. While I may not necessarily agree or disagree with the Rwandan government that English language learning is among the top priorities in education (as opposed to entrepreneurship, for instance), I do firmly believe that the key to solving many societal ills is through education. As such, I wholeheartedly support the Rwandan government’s investment and dedication to education, and am excited to play a part in reconstruction efforts at the educational level.
That said – I have quickly realized the many implications of coming from a Westernized perspective to teach students that I do not know in a place I have never been.
CASE IN POINT: In my first project proposal, I highly stressed the importance of encouraging dialogue about past and current historical events in the English curriculum to make it more relevant and meaningful to students, especially in light of the upcoming elections. However, I received an immediate response from the coordinator of Network for Africa requesting for me to remove the “history component” from the proposal because “It is still very sensitive to teach Rwandese history and the history of the genocide … Rwanda is a closely monitored state and I would not want you to put your safety at risk or the reputation of Solace Ministries and Network for Africa.”
I was embarrassed and immediately humbled by my ignorance. Who am I to come in asserting that I know anything about how to teach English in Rwanda?
What I’ve come to realize is this: No matter how much time and energy I put into crafting an English curriculum during the next month, it is very probable that once I get to Rwanda, I will have to throw everything out. Regardless of the methodology or approach that I take to teaching, one fundamental tenet of my philosophy of education will always trump everything else – EDUCATION IS ABOUT THE STUDENTS.
My primary goal as a teacher is to shape instruction to the needs of the students. Everything else comes second.