“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” –Nelson Mandela
I came to Rwanda at the end of January to work at Maranyundo Girls School for one year and assist them specifically as a native English speaker. I knew was I was going to a very high quality girls’ boarding school for 7th-9th graders in one of the poorest districts in Rwanda.
Specifically I assumed I would be chiefly assisting with English. Children begin their study of English in early primary school and all instruction is conducted in English within a few years. The Primary School National Exam is administered in English, meaning every student at Maranyundo knows enough English to excel at this exam and gain admittance into the school. But unexpectedly there is a huge range in English ability! Some girls went to premium primary schools in the capital and are almost fluent. Impovershed children unable to pay tuition are sponsored by the Maranyundo Initiative and likely to come from impoverished communities with less qualified teachers. Sometimes they have trouble following basic commands. The span in a single class creates an interesting challenge.
Shows how important education is to Rwandans
The first thing I noticed about Rwandan education is the seriousness of the issues they address. I remember taking the SAT and my writing prompt being something about celebrities. Here, the graded composition motion was “Education is a fundamental catalyst for economic development.” The entire school meets for debate every two weeks and the most recent topic was “Has foreign aid done more harm or good in Rwanda?” Their country is facing important problems and every student knows it and discusses it.
I think the US Education System could take some notes in that regard, but I still sometimes break that mold. The girls are obsessed with typical teenage pop music and during my lesson on English articles (a, an, the) I teased them with example sentences about how Justin Bieber is THE worst singer. Justin Bieber is A worse singer than Bob Marley. They were shocked.
So far, at teachers’ requests I have covered lessons in English, Computer, Math and even substituted when the Geography teacher was unable to come. The most challenging by far was the computer class. The electricity went out no fewer than three times while we practiced touch typing. But the students just groaned good naturedly and we modified the lesson.
Even with the challenges, I love it. During my Geography session, I think they sensed my lack of plan and capitalized by asking a ton of questions. And I relished their questions and curiosity. Despite their terrible reputation, middle schoolers are at such a great age; they are still so excited to learn and are old enough to explore deep concepts.
Their questions included (the lesson was supposed to be an introduction into astronomy):
How many stars are in the galaxy?
How many galaxies are in the universe?
Are there aliens?
Why is there only life on Earth?
Could we live on the sun?
Does Pluto still exist?
Why do we sometimes see only half the moon?
Why is there no snow in Rwanda?
Why is Antarctica always cold?
Why do people around the world have different skin colors?
Why do some people have different colored eyes?
Why do people in the US lay in the sun?
Why are there big snakes in America?
Why is America always at war?
I love working with students because that eagerness is infectious!