Four years ago in 2010, just as it is now, a World Cup was happening. From here in the US to across the pond in Belgium to an eight hour flight south of there in Rwanda, people gathered around TV sets and radios, excitedly following passes and kicks and fouls and goals.
I know this not because I was one of the watchers, but because I kept seeing the watchers. Much different from my 2006 World Cup experience, I didn’t see them much in the US. Instead, I saw them in Rwanda.
Along with another researcher and two other designers, plus some other folks in our organization, I visited Rwanda for twelve days in 2010. We were there to find out whether or not our users—Rwandan teacher trainers—could use the thing we were building—a website to help them get English-language resources.
Our team was part of a bigger project, the Rwanda Education Commons. REC aimed to help with a lot of problems, but the website I worked on focused on a big one.
How the program came to be
In 2009, a new language policy took effect in Rwanda. It said that all schools in Rwanda would be taught in English. Whatever subject a teacher was teaching (well, other than languages), it would be taught in English.
Teaching algebra? Do it in English.
Teaching ethics? Do it in English.
Teaching French history? Do it in English.
Before this declaration, the official language of schools was French. In 2010 and today, privileged Rwandans tend to be at least bilingual. Most speak Kinyarwanda, the indigenous language, which is related to Swahili. For their second language, most Rwandans will speak either French or English, and many have varying familiarity with the third. Continue reading