Arts Integration and English

Until recently, Rwanda operated in two languages: Kinyarwanda and French. But in 2008, the government declared that English would replace French as an official language, a move designed to position the populace to better compete in the global marketplace. Students now have to learn the language in their schools, and--more daunting--teachers have to learn how to teach it.

When I met with a local community school in Kigali about how the Museum of Photographic Arts could help meet some of their challenges, the director expressed a desire for the school’s teachers to be better equipped to integrate the arts into their classroom. And so we designed a teacher training workshop to introduce a few art activities that would help support the kindergarten teachers’ instruction of English. Last week at the workshop, the teachers and I used found photographs in magazines (donated by the US Embassy) to create collages that reinforced their lessons on the spelling of English numerals, alphabet-based vocabulary, and vocabulary related to the human body.

We had a lot of fun connecting words and images in the workshop. This is only a start. Teaching English to the entire student population of Rwanda is a huge task. But it's a natural place for the arts--and particularly photography--to play a supporting role.