Red Deer College instructors travel to Rwanda to help improve education

They’ve thrown out their textbook. It’s completely inappropriate for the situation, says Red Deer College instructor Cherie Plamping.

Jayne Carleile (left) works with teachers in Rwanda

Jayne Carleile (left) works with teachers in Rwanda

They’ve thrown out their textbook. It’s completely inappropriate for the situation, says Red Deer College instructor Cherie Plamping.

She and fellow instructor Jayne Carleile have been working in the village of Kivumu, Rwanda, since late December, offering a 90-hour pilot course that instructs Rwandan teachers how to teach English and how to teach in English.

It has been far steeper learning curve than anyone could have imagined, Plamping said from Rwanda this week, just before tucking in for the night at the friary that is providing accommodation and meals for the two instructors. They’re due home early next week.

The course was set up by Mississauga, Ont.-based Dianne Tyers, founder and operator of Advanced Consulting for Education.

Tyers developed the program to address a dramatic change in Rwanda’s education system, brought about since the government switched its official language from French to English. Along with the switch came a decree that all school subjects from the primary grades up be taught in English.

Teachers are being asked to offer instruction in a language that they barely understand themselves with almost no resources available to help them, said Plamping. Next year, all teachers in Rwanda will have to pass an English test to continue working, she said.

Plamping took along the textbook that she uses for the program in teaching English as a second language at RDC. She and Carleile quickly realized that there was no way teachers and students in Kivumu could relate to the two-storey houses and all of the other New World conveniences discussed in its pages.

“As we got closer to Kivumu, we started seeing goats tied to ropes that were attached to trees and people of all ages, even three-year-olds, carrying containers of water,” she says in one of the stories she has written about their trip.

“Because of the intense poverty of the villages, children, as soon as they can walk, have to contribute to the work that the family needs to do in order to survive. They don’t have electricity, running water or bathrooms inside their houses.”

While Tyers is covering their travel expenses, both women have volunteered their time to offer the program at the Father Vjeko Centre in Kivumu.

For Plamping, who is on her first trip to Africa, it’s an opportunity to follow the footsteps of her mother’s sister, Mary Poole, who was a missionary in Zambia for 25 years.

Carleile had been to Africa before and members of her family are planning another trip in the summer.

While they were sent to teach, the journey to Rwanda has been a learning experience for both instructors, said Plamping.

She and Carleile will come home with a changed perspective on how ESL should be taught and some of the factors to consider when preparing teachers who are heading overseas as language instructors, she said.

Plamping said she had always felt that it was important for her to understand the kind of environments her students will enter when they leave Red Deer College for postings overseas.

Her concern now is that some of the Rwandan teachers who started the program will not be able to complete it.

“We still have another week of teaching, but I don’t know how many teachers will be coming back for the final week,” she writes in her story.

“They have requested permission to keep attending the course but they have not received a final answer yet.”