Learning Under Lockdown: Rwanda

From the 13th of March, the Rwandan government has suspended all institutions where people gather in large groups: as with many other nations around the world, this is a core precaution to stop the spread of COVID-19. Rwanda was the first sub-Saharan nation to mandate a full lock-down, with borders closed to anyone except Rwandans returning home. Because of quick action, the nation has managed to limit the spread with no deaths to date. Medical officers report that the existing protective equipment and ventilators are sufficient for the time being, but medical facilities would be stretched to a breaking point if the caseload were to accelerate. President Paul Kagame has warned of the long-term impact that the virus will have on the African economy and suggested $100 billion as the figure required to prevent mass deprivation.

In this blog, Leanne Cameron interviews two Rwandan teachers, Cleophace Nzabagerageza and Laurien Ikuzwe. They comment on changes at their respective institutions and those that have occurred throughout Rwanda since the lockdown.

LC: How are you feeling about everything that is happening? Are you staying busy?

Cleophace: Physically I am feeling well. And in this lockdown period every day I take approximately four hours to read different resources about the subjects that I teach (English, Kinyarwanda, and ICT); I look at books and materials from the internet to try and improve my understanding. But I am worried about when this pandemic will stop so that we can go back to school. Due to the speed and the number of people who are sick from or spreading COVID-19, different counties have taken measures to wipe it out, so I am concerned for people who are suffering. But about my career as a teacher I am worried whether the students will forget things that they have studied which would require me to begin from basics. Nobody knows when the lockdown will end and we will return to normal.


Cleophace delivering a motivational speech at his school pre-COVID

Laurien: This COVID-19 period has been a time of reflection to me about my profession. I’ve been reflecting on my work as a teacher, asking myself; why I do what I do? What kind of a teacher was I? What kind of a teacher I want to be? How does my teaching matter in the lives of my kids and the community?

In this period, I see the power of effectively-shared knowledge. My prior teaching was mainly philosophic and followed these steps: acquisition, understanding, application and becoming. But as we have found ourselves in this trying situation, I went quickly to check on my students (especially those who are my Facebook friends) and asking them how they are coping with the situation. I realized the power of connection and see how my job has impacted my students in many ways. Considering what I see around me, I think it gives me opportunity for understanding social cohesion and what life means in a community. I am learning that life is about understanding one another and seeing that life is relative. Whatever is happening to one might happen to another. Thus, it reminds me to dive into how we should build a common life together.

LC: Tell me about your students. How are they coping with the lockdown?

Cleophace: My school is a private technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institution working under the control of Rwanda Polytechnic with the Workplace Development Authority at the head head. It is a coed school with male and female students from both local and urban areas in attendance; my students are 15 to 19 years old. They are working towards a TVET certificate of completion in the trades of  Motor Vehicle Mechanics and Tailoring. I talk to my students regularly through social media such as WhatsApp and Facebook, but we also talk on the phone and email as well. They tell me how they feel; many are scared and have lost the hope about when the pandemic will stop to let them go back for their studies.

Laurien: I teach student in Grades 10-12 at a government-aided boarding secondary school. Their ages vary from 15 to 22 and they come from all across the country: from cities, suburbs, and countryside. They all are in scientific studies (STEM), and I teach them English for communication. They have all been sent home.

WhatsApp Image 2020-05-07 at 09.57.11

Laurien at work

LC: Can you talk a little about the situation for primary-aged students? 

Cleophace: Our government has initiated a media programme of teaching via television and radio called Building Learning Foundations Radio and Television Programme; it is delivered in partnership with UKAid. The subjects that are delivered in this radio and television program are examinable in national examinations from lower primary to advanced secondary. For primary students, the subjects of Kinyarwanda, English and Maths* are delivered. For lower secondly, students can learn English, Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Kinyarwanda. For upper secondary, most of the schools use their websites where they post lessons and assignments. The Ministry of Education has also strengthened the program of e-learning so the students can find different resources to help them keep the ‘mood’ of education and learning. Universities are also using e-learning platforms to keep students connected.

But access to the internet and even to power is still a big problem for many Rwandans, especially in the countryside. Many students don’t have a personal computer or smartphone to even access the internet this is a problem especially for students who are in universities. Fortunately, the Ministry of Education have assured those students who aren’t able to follow either radio or e-learning programs that they will go on from where they stopped when schools start again. Further, to facilitate even those students who cannot easily find internet, smart phones and computer, the Rwanda Education Board has initiated a toll free line of *134# where they find some questions to test their knowledge. So the use of those programmes is to keep their mind sharp and occupied but not to replace the classroom.

LC: Do you think your approach to teaching will change in the future due to this period of lockdown? 

Laurien: When it comes to the approach to teaching English language after COVID-19 period, I absolutely think that I will change somewhat due to the lock down. I will adapt to new approaches because it is the first time in my life (maybe for many people) to experience a global and yet local lockdown, I realised education has a reason to be much more contextualized to the real life situation. There are a lot of things to consider in English language teaching (ELT). For instance, we are likely to be persuaded to integrate technology and to use all available digital devices in ELT because the world is becoming more digitized; many jobs from different domains of life have been saved by working at home during COVID-19 due to the support of the internet. For instance, many schools were forced to shift their schooling activities to e-learning, though it has been tough for many. I believe that everything started like this and there is hope that learning and work will continue to be customized.

Cleophace: With this lockdown period, I have enough time to think and reflect about the content that I will deliver whenever we will go back to school. I am preparing and writing clear and relevant notes for content delivery. This will help me to change my teaching style since notes will be prepared in advance; I will be able to engage students in more hands-on learning. I know I will also need to think about different learning theories and try to individualise my teaching strategies.

LC: Do you think this will influence what English language you teach in the future? More vocabulary about viruses and pandemics, maybe?

Laurien: Yes! Now, I think some language items will be added in my ELT: medical vocabulary, and vocabulary for talking about pandemics and epidemics, as you have mentioned. I will also add more work on technology and other necessary language commands.

Cleophace: When we prepare for classes, we go through the line of curriculum that the Ministry of Education has established. But illustrations, examples and explanation together with cross cutting issues are adapted depending on the situation. This means that my teaching will be led by the moral lessons left by this COVID-19 and some unpopular vocabulary items will be retained, and vocabulary around pandemic, lockdown, confinement, outbreak, curfew, etc. will be integrated in the courses that I deliver.


*English, mathematics, and all other subjects apart from Kinyarwanda are taught in English for the primary level.


Aprendizaje Bajo Cuarantena

Una entrevista entre Julia Paulson de CIRE y Arturo Charria Hernández, Secretario de Educación Municipal de la ciudad de Cúcuta Norte de Santander, Colombia. La entrevista se enfoque en como Arturo y sus colegas están respondiendo a Covid-19. Cúcuta tiene población de mas de 700,000 personas y se ubica en una región que enfrenta retos sociales y educativas desde antes de la crisis de coronavirus. Exploramos también como la emergencia de covid-19 abre preguntas y permite reimaginar la educación y su rol en la transformación social.

The English translation of this blog is available here


Foto: Arturo Charria Hernández

JP: ¿Cúcuta  tuvo retos educativos antes de que llego el coronavirus – podrías pintarnos una foto de la zona y la situación educativa?

ACH: Antes de la llegada del coronavirus teníamos retos de carácter institucional como ausencia de docentes, que son adjudicados desde el Ministerio de Educación Nacional. Esto se da por aumento acelerado de matrícula producto de la migración venezolana y estudiantes desplazados del conflicto armado. Adicionalmente, estas poblaciones se concentran en zonas donde no hay mucha infraestructura educativa (colegios) generando desescolarización.

Otro reto es que, aunque la educación es pública, muchos de los servicios se contratan año a año y no se dejaron contratados. Esto implica que algunos servicios como transporte, conectividad o docentes de apoyo en discapacidad no comienzan al tiempo que el inicio de clases. Esto aumenta la brecha en la calidad educativa y en los derechos de los estudiantes.

JP: Y con la llegada de coronavirus, que ha cambiado?

ACH: Ha reflejado retos muy grandes en relación con las condiciones en que viven los estudiantes, porque no sólo no tienen dispositivos tecnológicos apropiados o conectividad, sino espacios físicos para realizar sus actividades. Muchos estudiantes viven en hogares en donde tener una silla y una mesa para hacer la tarea es un lujo con el que no cuentan.

El coronavirus también evidencia la dificultad que tienen docentes para reinventarse en el uso de nuevas tecnologías y ajustarse a la necesidad que vive el sistema educativo. Esto ha permitido importantes discusiones de fondo que antes no se daban: pertinencia de ciertos contenidos, el currículo, la forma en que se evalúa y, especialmente, el valor de los afectivo en la educación.

JP: Como tomaste la decisión de cerrar los colegios y cuáles son las preocupaciones principales que la decisión abre para ti?

ACH: La tranquilidad que debían tener estudiantes, padres de familia y comunidad educativa en general. No teníamos condiciones apropiadas para garantizar la salubridad y eso implica ser prudentes. Era una decisión que debía tomarse a nivel nacional, pero no había línea directa, la tomamos un día antes que el gobierno nacional y creo que eso ayudó a acelerar la decisión desde el ejecutivo.

JP: En Cúcuta , la educación sigue en cuales formas bajo cuarentena? Que están haciendo tu y colegas en la SED, maestros y maestras y familias para crear oportunidades de aprendizaje?

ACH: En  Cúcuta  sigue de manera flexible y en casa. Algunos usan plataformas de las páginas de los colegios, otros usan redes sociales (WhatsApp y Facebook) para el intercambio de información y acompañamiento en tiempo real. También se envía material impreso como guías de autoaprendizaje para quienes tienen dificultades de conectividad. Hemos sacado unas directrices muy claras desde la Secretaría de Educación Municipal de Cúcuta en donde establecemos que lo importante en este momento es el ser y no solo el conocer. Estas orientaciones reflexionan sobre el principio pedagógico de la evaluación en estos tiempos difíciles. Y también orientamos sobre el papel de los padres de familia en este momento que deben estar presente, sin reemplazar totalmente a los docentes. Sabemos que en estos momentos la educación no puede ser una carga emocional para las familias, porque eso puede generar violencia intrafamiliar, depresión, estrés e incluso deserción escolar.

JP: Tus pensamientos sobre la educación y tus prioridades para la educación han cambiado en los recientes semanas y días? Como y porque?

ACH: Definitivamente. Nos ha hecho más humanos. Hemos entendido como nunca la importancia de trabajar lo emocional y lo afectivo, de cuidarnos. Pero también acelerar discusiones de fondo del sistema educativo. ¿De qué sirven tantos temas que ven los estudiantes en sus clases? Las discusiones sobre lo curricular y la evaluación ganan espacios que antes no tenían. Es una oportunidad para dar grandes transformaciones sobre el sentido ético de la educación y sobre lo que significa la escuela en la relación con la vida de una sociedad.

JP: Como te sientes como educador? Encuentras esperanza en algunas lugares o fuentes? Como enfrentas sentimientos de desesperanza?

ACH: Encuentro mucha esperanza. Hay profesores y directivos docentes haciendo cosas maravillosas. Todos nos estamos reinventando para reencontrarnos con los esencial. Cuando se asoma la desesperanza, siempre recuerdo las palabras que me dijo mi esposa un día que fue muy duro: “Esto también pasará”.

Lector, si eres educador o alumn/a y quieres compartir tus experiencias del aprendizaje bajo cuarentena en este blog, por favor contacte julia.paulson@bristol.ac.uk. 


Learning Under Lockdown: Colombia

This blog post features an interview between CIRE’s Julia Paulson and Arturo Charria Hernández, Municipal Education Secretary in the city of Cúcuta, Colombia. The interview focuses on how Arturo and his colleagues are approaching the educational response to Covid-19 in Cúcuta. The city of over 700,000 people is located in a region which was experiencing considerable social and educational challenges prior to the pandemic. Arturo also discusses if and how the emergency response to the pandemic is raising questions and opening spaces to reimagine education.

La versión del blog en español está aquí.


Arturo Charria Hernández


JP: Cúcuta was facing educational challenges prior to the arrival of coronavirus – can you paint us picture of the region and its educational situation?

ACH: Before the arrival of coronavirus, we had institutional problems like a lack of teachers, all of whom are assigned to us by the National Ministry of Education. Our lack of teachers is due to a steep increase in enrolments since we have migrants students arriving in the department from Venezuela, as well as Colombian students arriving due to displacement related to armed conflict. Additionally, these students tend to be concentrated in zones lacking educational infrastructure (schools), which leads to higher numbers of children out of school.

Another challenge is that, although education is public, many of our services are contracted annually and contracts are often delayed. This means that some services like school transport, internet connectivity, o learning support assistants for students with additional needs do not start on time and classes begin without them. This increases inequities in the quality of education and affects the rights of children to receive an education.

JP: What has changed thanks to coronavirus?

ACH: Coronavirus reflects the very challenging conditions that our students live with. It isn’t only that they don’t have access to appropriate technologies or the internet, it is also that they don’t have adequate physical space to carry on with their learning. Many students live in homes where having a table and chair on which to do their schoolwork is a luxury that they don’t have.

Coronavirus also highlights the difficulties that teachers have in suddenly needing to reinvent themselves by using new technologies and adapting to the new needs that the education system presents. This has opened space for important new discussions about issues that weren’t being discussed before, including around educational content, the curriculum, the ways in which learning is evaluated, and, especially, around the value of emotion and care in education.

JP: How did you make the decision to close schools in Cúcuta  and what concerns did the decision open for you?

ACH: We made the decision based on the wellbeing that students, parents and carers, and the educational community in general should have. We didn’t have the appropriate conditions to guarantee people’s health and this implies being prudent. Closing schools was a decision that should have been taken at a national level, but there wasn’t a direct line. We took the decision a day before the national government and I think that this helped to accelerate the decision from the executive.

JP: In what ways does education continue under lockdown in Cúcuta ? What are you and your colleagues in the Education Secretariat, teachers and families doing to ensure that learning continues?

ACH: Education is continuing in a flexible way in homes. Some are using the platforms of school’s websites, others use social media (Facebook and Whatsapp) to share information and support students in real time. We’re also sending printed material guides for independent learning to support those who have difficulties with internet connectivity.

We’ve sent very clear guidance from the Municipal Education Secretariat in which we highlight what is important at this time: that the student as a person rather than the sum of their knowledge. This guidance reflects on the pedagogical principals of evaluation in these difficult times. We also provide guidance on the role of parents, who should be present without totally replacing teachers. We know that at this time, education can’t be an emotional weight for families because this could generate intrafamily violence, depression, stress and even school dropout.

JP: Have your thoughts about the purposes of and priorities for education changed in recent weeks and months? How and why?

ACH: Definitely. These weeks have made us more human. We’ve understood more than ever the importance of working on the emotional and affective, of caring for ourselves. But, we’ve also accelerated fundamental discussions about the educational systems. What is the purpose of so many themes that students cover in their classes? The discussions about the curriculum and assessment are gaining traction that they didn’t have before. This is an opportunity for major transformations around the ethical purposes of education and about what schools signify in the relation to the wider life of a society.

JP: How do you feel as an educator? Where are you finding hope and what do you do when you encounter despair?

ACH: I find a lot of hope. There are teachers and principals who are doing marvelous things. We are all reinventing ourselves to rediscover what is essential. When I do meet despair, I always remember what my wife told on a day that was very hard: ‘this too shall pass’.

Reader, if you are an educator or student and would like to share your experiences learning under lockdown on a CIRE blog, please contact: Julia.paulson@bristol.ac.uk.

Quality of education in Pakistan may further deteriorate through online learning

By Tania Saeed

This piece originally appeared on Naya Daur.  


The response of higher educational institutions in their urgency to transition into the virtual world of teaching during this pandemic on the basis of ensuring that “learning” is not disrupted with the closure of colleges and universities till May 31 exposes the irrelevance of student and teacher experiences in the learning process. The emphasis is essentially on delivery; we need to deliver education to our students, fulfil the requirements of the academic year or semester so that the student does not lose out, thereby fulfilling our duties as providers of education. What is completely lost in this scenario is the reality of a pandemic and its impact on the student and the teacher– not just the physical, emotional, or psychological trauma that comes from members of a family, or neighbours falling sick, but of livelihoods being disrupted as businesses close down, and workers across the country lose their jobs, theirs and their families only means of survival. Students may be taking care of family members, living in precarious conditions, suffering from hunger or living in abusive homes, or even worried about loved ones working in hospitals and clinics. It is in this context that we want to ensure that “learning” as delivered through our educational institutions is not disrupted, where students learn online, and teachers (who may be surviving in similar circumstances) transition into the virtual world for which they have limited training, all the while living through this pandemic.

In the past two weeks a lot has been written on both the need and the limitation of online/virtual/remote teaching in Pakistan. The uncertainty of this pandemic with no end in sight has resulted in educational institutions exploring alternative methods of education, where online teaching seems to be the most viable option. Universities, mostly private that are well resourced are already exploring innovative ways of delivering education during this pandemic. Public sector universities are equally encouraging online classes to ensure the semester continues despite this disruption. The limitation that has rightly been highlighted is one of infrastructure: this ranges from internet access, as evident in the recent protests by students in Wana, to basic issue of electricity and power cuts; lack of trained teachers who themselves may struggle with access to the internet, and the danger of quality (already a problem in the education sector in Pakistan) further deteriorating through online education. The examples shared under the campaign #BoycottOnlineClasses on social media by students and teachers shows the extent of the problem, where the rush in ensuring education is not disrupted seems to be at the expense of students and teachers, rather than for them. The fact that the government has given the option of closing universities till May 31 should be seen as an opportunity to develop a Plan B through collaboration with students and teachers, rather than forcing online education that further compromises quality.

The uncertainty of the pandemic has necessitated the need to consider alternative ways of education delivery, but these cannot be decided through a top-down bureaucratic mechanism when the most integral players in this system are the students and the teachers. Delivery of education is irrelevant if it does not ensure quality learning. In such a context, student unions, and teacher unions could have been a useful source of collaboration. However, organizations such as the Progressive Students Collective, and the Professors and Lecturers Association for different provinces can provide important points of correspondence. The closure of educational institutions can be an opportunity for universities to evaluate the needs of their students, using empirical data from admission records, and consulting student and teacher organizations to explore the kind of obstacles that exist on the ground amongst their diverse student body and teachers, and the ways in which these obstacles can be overcome. All of this requires communication and collaboration with teachers and students.

Furthermore, examples of students mobilizing and driving relief efforts in their communities have been widespread; this could provide an important point of introspection for educational institutions, where such acts of solidarity can become an important part of the learning curriculum that goes beyond a textbook and a classroom. Innovation during times of crisis in education is not just about technology in the way it is being approached right now, but also introspection related to knowledge, the relevance of the learning experience for the everyday realities of students and teachers. As we think of alternatives, we need to re-evaluate what we consider learning, especially during a pandemic where that textbook knowledge seems to be increasingly irrelevant.

There is the added importance of recognizing gendered educational inequalities that exist within the household. The triple burden on women will be exacerbated for female teachers and students, where their access to teaching and learning will further be compromised as they take on the added responsibility of household and care work, while expecting to teach and attend classes at home. Further problematic is the assumption that home life will be conducive to learning, overlooking the kind of physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse that may exist inside homes, where for many students and teachers campuses were safer options than their homes.

Rushing into an online mode of teaching will most certainly exacerbate educational inequalities as they exist in Pakistan today. While it is important to recognize the uncertainty related to COVID-19 and the need for a Plan B in education if educational institutions remain closed, that Plan B can only be successful if the existing reality of students and teachers is taken into account. There is a need to recognize the physical, emotional and psychological toll of the existing pandemic on teachers and students. Disruption to “learning” during a pandemic is only natural, but to force some form of artificial continuity in the name of “learning” is nothing more than a façade if it does not take into account the students and teachers that are central to the education process. If the rush towards online teaching is causing more stress and frustration for teachers and students during a pandemic, educational institutions, both public and private, must take the time given to them by the government that closed down universities till May 31 to better plan in collaboration with their teachers and students, instead of becoming a source of undue stress in the midst of a pandemic.

Tania Saeed is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at LUMS, a member of the Progressive Academics Collective (PAC), Lahore, and the co-author of Youth and the National Narrative. Education, Terrorism and the Security State in Pakistan (Bloomsbury, 2020). You may find her on Twitter @taniasaeed.



Isolated – but together: Discussing the doctoral experience during COVID-19

By Leanne Cameron

Doctoral studies are, by definition, a solitary activity: the research is your own. Even for doctoral student researchers in education who look at classrooms, school systems, and teacher groups, the often chaotic whirl of data collection is followed by a period of solitary analysis and write-up. In the past month, though, that isolation has become nationally mandated in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, and doctoral researchers must abandon even collective workspaces to self-isolate within their homes. A Nature study (Woolston, 2019) of 6,300 PGTs across the world found that a third have sought help for anxiety or depression, and the two most-cited worries are uncertainties about job prospects and work-life balance. COVID-19 adds another layer of uncertainty, and for now, work and (an isolated) life co-exist under the same roof.

Fourteen doctoral researchers from across the School of Education programmes in Bristol and Hong Kong met for a Zoom discussion organised by CIRE this past Friday. The conversation focused on the intersection of challenges – the virus, recent faculty strikes, and ongoing political tensions – that have shaped their academic work during this school year. We compared virus lockdown procedures: the two Hong Kong researchers present reported that more strict guidelines had just been issued, but until that point, restaurants and cafes had limited parties to four at a table and police checkpoints were in effect. Bristol researchers conveyed our situation in which everything except supermarkets and pharmacies were shut down, with one outdoor exercise period allowed per day. Or, as Zibah so poetically put it, “exercise or extra fries!”

There was a point of immediate agreement: the lockdown is not some form of vacation or writing retreat. The “uncertainty” already associated with the doctoral journey is further compounded by near-daily changes to national guidelines and virus infection rates; international doctoral researchers specially spoke of keeping an eye on the UK situation along with the unfolding situation in their home nations. Shimmi reported her worries about her home country, Maldives, which has managed to contain the virus but is beginning to suffer from the worldwide shutdown: the nation receives almost all food products from outside of the islands. India and other key trade partners have shut down shipping and transit in their own efforts to fight the spread. Further, with Ramadan coming in the next month, she wonders if the desire to participate in religious rites and gatherings will counteract isolation protocols. Together, the mental strain of uncertainty and worry for family members serve to impede the sort of “deep think” required for doctoral-level work.

Like workers across the world, researchers who are also parents must juggle their work with their childcare duties. Sian made it halfway through a self-introduction when her sweet, precocious toddler climbed into her lap and announced that she 1) has chickenpox, 2) just got a new kitchen, and 3) was attending (until this week) a new preschool: “Half a sentence and I get interrupted.” The other women with children in the group agreed; for Jill, being at home with her children and trying to keep them focused on their schoolwork means that “it’s difficult to even think about my thesis at the moment.” Cecile agreed that, even with the shift to online-based classes and meetings, “I can’t really do anything with kids in the house.” This was a common theme especially for parent-researchers who are the sole adult in flat.

A Bristol-based researcher, Martin, got home from fieldwork just in time. He had been working in Ethiopia, collecting data for his work on refugees and policy when the WHO issued the pandemic declaration and nations began to lockdown. A day after he booked flights to return home early, he got a flurry of emails from his funder telling him to return to the UK. “It was lucky because the night that I flew out, [Ethiopian Airlines] cancelled flights to thirty countries.” He was able to set up interviews with stakeholders and policymakers who could communicate online; for refugee participants, this was less of a possibility and thus the data collected will probably alter his outcomes. Other researchers worried about extensions for funding and thesis submission, and it is our hope that the university puts student well-being first and allows more time and funding for researchers trying to work through this difficult period.

With all of this uncertainty, there were bright spots. A discussion like this managed to connect Bristol and Hong Kong researchers, allowing for interaction that often feels impossible or complicated due to packed workday schedules and time differences. We agreed to continue weekly meetings during the crisis, to both discuss our frustrations and have conversation about anything besides COVID-19 and the thesis. But most importantly, the fourteen of us were able to remind each other to be gracious to ourselves and those around us and allow ourselves time to care for day-to-day needs rather than produce an opus of a thesis – for now.


Woolston, C. (2019). PhDs: The torturous truth. Nature575, 403-406. doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-03459-7




Implementing language supportive pedagogy in teacher education: An ongoing CIRE research project

by Dr Angeline Barrett

The Language Supportive and Teaching and Textbooks (LSTT) in Tanzania is a collaboration between the University of Bristol, University of Dodoma and St. John’s University, Tanzania.  Now in its second phase, the main focus of the project is introducing language supportive pedagogies into secondary teacher education.  At Bristol, the project is led by Angeline Barrett, director of CIRE. Dave Bainton is a Research Fellow on the project.

Language in education in Tanzania

Like many postcolonial countries, Tanzania has a policy of using both an African language and English as medium of instruction in public education. Six years of primary education is delivered through the medium of Kiswahili. Kiswahili originated from coastal areas of East Africa and is not the lingua franca in metropolitan centres in Tanzania. Secondary education is only available in the medium of English. Students making the transition to secondary education, particularly those living in remote, rural or disadvantaged communities, have had very little exposure to English. The majority do not have the level of proficiency assumed by the syllabus (Barrett, Mtana, Osaki, & Rubagumya, 2014). Yet, when we analysed textbooks available on the market in 2013, we found many use long sentences and obscure vocabulary. Textbooks that have come onto the market since then are easier to read, in part due attention LSTT has drawn to the issue.

LSTT phase 1: developing language supportive materials

Between 2013 and 2016, we collaborated with the Tanzania Institute of Education to develop three prototype textbooks for first year of secondary education. The books incorporated features commonly found in modern foreign language textbooks into science, mathematics and English textbooks. These included English-to-Kiswahili; keeping sentences short and simple; images that support interpretation of the text; structured support for reading, writing and speaking in English; and attention to socio-cultural relevance for socioeconomically disadvantaged learners.

Evaluation of the textbooks in 16 schools found that teachers adopted one language supportive strategy quite readily – group discussion. Working in small groups, students discuss new ideas in their ‘thinking language’. This was usually Kiswahili, Kiswahili mixed with ‘broken English’ or Kiswahili mixed with a local language. The purpose of the discussion is to produce a formal scientific statement in English, which they write down and/or present to the class. This transformed the classroom climate. Within six to eight weeks, students who were initially reluctant to talk in class or to researchers in any language, gained the confidence to discuss their ideas and presenting in front of the class in English. Before and after assessments showed improved ability to write about science in English and an expanded academic vocabulary in English (Barrett & Bainton, 2016).

LSTT book pagePage from LSTT textbook

These findings sit alongside those of a sister project in Rwanda, led by Prof. Leon Tikly, which developed prototype language supportive textbooks for learners transitioning into English medium education following three years of education in Kinyarwanda. The Language Supportive Textbooks and Pedagogy (LAST) project found that children in schools using the textbooks scored on average 16% more in tests than their peers in control schools (Milligan, Clegg, & Tikly, 2016).

There are still challenges, however. Science teachers struggled to understand the language learning objectives or indeed the language demand of their subjects. Language teachers, however, understood the books’ objectives immediately and were often willing to support their colleagues. Science and mathematics teachers struggled to maintain pace when using interactive strategies, and so could not deliver content within the available time.

LSTT phase 2: integrating language supportive pedagogy into teacher education

The university-based textbook authors and researchers in Phase 1 were all teacher educators. It made sense, therefore, in Phase 2, to try putting language supportive pedagogy (LSP) into practice within teacher education programmes. So far, language supportive practices have been introduced into subject methodology (pedagogy) courses in the two Tanzania partner universities and in three teachers’ colleges. We are implementing this using an adapted version of lesson study. It involves collegial professional learning, collaboration between language and science specialists and peer observation.

At the end of October, I travelled to Tanzania to see how the teacher education component of the project was progressing and visited two of the teachers’ colleges – Butimba and Mpwapwa. The two colleges had started integrating both the theory and practice of language supportive pedagogy into their teaching. As with the schools in phase 1, the use of the discussion was the element of LSP taken up most readily, with benefits for student engagement, confidence to speak in English and an affirmative classroom climate. Tutors were devising and sharing creative ways to create space for discussion without sacrificing pace. This included strategies such as ‘think, pair, share’ and allocating different discussion questions to different groups. These are being implemented in large classes (60 – 240 students).  Language specialists were present in the classroom and gave explicit feedback on sentence structure and pronunciation; in the classrooms, a supportive climate was established within which mistakes were tolerated. This led to improved accuracy in use of English and, crucially, students gaining practice in English. At the University of Dodoma, tutors had also supported student teachers to implement language supportive pedagogies during their period of teaching practice in schools.


Angeline with tutors at Butimba Teachers College

The project is having a positive impact on teacher education already. Around 3000 student teachers are being introduced to the theory and practice of language supportive pedagogy and observations from teaching practice suggest that with quite modest support, they are then able to implement this within their own teaching. New collegial partnerships have been forged between science and language specialists within and across teacher education institutions. Through these, teacher educators are inspired and supported to innovate, try out and critically review new strategies. However, as we start a second cycle of lesson study collaboration in the two universities, we can also identify areas where we could improve practice further. Some points that I observed during the travels are:Use of group discussion needs to be supported with concise conclusions from tutors that clearly articulate key learning points;

  • Discussions are often oriented towards extracting theoretical information from a text. There is scope to make more use of collaborative learning for contextualised problem-solving;
  • More detailed and explicit content on secondary school students’ language proficiencies needs to be developed;
  • Student teachers need to be equipped with strategies for supporting secondary school students to read and write as well speak in English; and
  • There is potential within the project to develop and share teaching and learning resources that enable each of the above.

Implications for policy

Tanzania is currently at a crossroads, with the option of switching to Kiswahili medium education all the way through or remaining with the current policy. The purpose of the LSTT is to find ways to improve implementation of the policy as it is now being interpreted and implemented and not to explore other policy options. In phase one, we found a way forward for improving English medium of education. But it is one that is demanding of teacher expertise and depends on learning materials being placed in the hands of learners. Implementation requires careful planning and investment, including significant revision of the syllabus. Nothing in our research supports switching language of instruction midway through young people’s schooling career.


Barrett, A. M., & Bainton, D. (2016). Re-interpreting relevant learning: an evaluative framework for secondary education in a global language. Comparative Education, 52(3), 392-407. doi:10.1080/03050068.2016.1185271

Barrett, A. M., Mtana, N., Osaki, K., & Rubagumya, C. (2014). Language Supportive Teaching and Textbooks: Baseline Study Report. Bristol: LSTT.

Milligan, E. M. A., Clegg, J., & Tikly, L. (2016). Exploring the potential for language supportive learning in English Medium Instruction: A Rwandan case study. Comparative Education, 52(3).


We are grateful to the Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education (PSIPSE), which has and continues to fund this research.

Angeline M. Barrett is the Principal Investigator of the LSTT project and Director of CIRE. She has 17 years’ experience of research into improving the quality of primary and secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa.

CIRE Event: ‘Children’s literature and its role in learning about conflict and peace’

By Dr Bernardita Munoz Chereau 

On Tuesday the 12 of September, 2017, the one-day workshop facilitated by Dr Bernardita Munoz Chereau and Dr Julia Paulson, entitled ‘Children’s literature and its role in learning about conflict and peace’ took place at the School of Education, University of Bristol.

Funding from the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law International Development Group enabled us to invite leading speakers and provide refreshments for participants, which allowed the exploration of ideas and discussions into the ways in which children’s literature might be used to foster teaching and learning about conflict and peace.


In the current context — where the record levels of people are forced to flee their homes, the refugee crisis and the threat recent polarisation and terror attacks pose — the challenge of how to learn about conflict and peace in the school system, has reach a critical momentum. The workshop took an interdisciplinary approach to reflect on the role that children’s literature can play when tacking these issues in the educational setting.

The Workshop was introduced by Julia Paulson, Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director of CIRE, SoE, who provided the context of research and practice around education, conflict and peace. Julia argued that although causes and legacies of political conflict permeate the educational experiences of young people living in post-conflict countries, conflict is not always recognized, nor its teaching supported by formal curriculum. She also recognized that in the conflict and peace education field, there is a lack of research focusing on children’s literature, and the need for taking an interdisciplinary approach.

Then Lorna Smith, Senior lecturer, SoE, organized a debate regarding whether 15 children’s and young adults books (such as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies and Macbeth), according to the audience and contrasted with the in Key stage 3 and Key Stage 4 English Curriculum, should or should not be read by children in schools.


Lorna Smith, Senior lecturer, SoE, leading a small group within the workshop

We moved next to the representation of conflict in Children’s literature. Dr Blanka Grzegorczyk, Teaching Associate, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, drawing on a forthcoming book to be published in 2018 by Routledge, focused on the ways in which contemporary British Young Adult’s books (such as The Boy from Aleepo, Welcome to Nowhere and The Jungle) are representing Terror and Counter-Terror in Contemporary British Children’s Literature.


Dr Blanka Grzegorczyk, Teaching Associate, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

The following presentation delivered by Dr Bernardita Munoz Chereau, Post Doctoral Fellow, SoE focused on 6 contemporary children books that represent the Chilean dictatorship for a Chilean and international audience. Drawing on a 2017 paper published in Children’s books in Education journal titled “Representations of Dictatorship on Contemporary Chilean Children’s Literature” and recently submitted work, Bernardita argued that the authors’ positionality in terms of nationality, voice and context of production of the books were critical to take into account when understanding differences in which children characters are depict within the narratives and the way in which the dictatorship is represented for a young audience.

In the afternoon perspectives and possibilities were explored by putting together two presentations that dealt with the role of fiction as a tool for enhancing research epistemologies and memory work. Dr Goya Wilson Vasquez, Research Associate, Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American Studies Department, School of Modern Languages, draw on her 2017 award winning doctoral thesis LASA/Oxfam America 2017 Martin Diskin Dissertation ‘Troubling (the) Testimonio: The borderlands of collective memory work—Writing a narrative inquiry with the HIJXS de Perú Group’ Awarded by the Latin American Studies Association.


Dr Goya Wilson, Research Associate, Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American Studies Department, UoB

Finally, Dr Bernardita Munoz Chereau closed the workshop by sharing with the audience her experience of life in a dictatorship and the process of writing the award-winning IBBY-Chile Colibrí honourable mention 2017 Noelia’s Diary – her latest children book recently published in Chile, which deals with her experience of growing under Pinochet’s dictatorship, as well as the ways in which academic inquiry helped her overcoming censorship.


Dr Bernardita Munoz-Chereau, Senior Research Associate, SoE

The fund obtained was vital for nurturing and enhancing the visibility of a new niche of interdisciplinary research that is emerging at the SoE around children’s literature and its role when learning about conflict and peace, as well as to build new collaborative networks across academics from different centers, departments, faculties and UK universities (UoB, Cambridge and IoE-UCL) in the fields of Peace Education, English Curriculum, Qualitative Methodologies and Literature.