From February to May 2019, five students from Belgium stayed in Rwanda for an internship with VVOB. They taught biology, physics and physical education in lower and upper secondary in three schools. The internship was in line with VVOB’s five-year programme on Leading Teaching and Learning Together in Rwanda. The knowledge and practices imparted by the interns increased the learners’ passion of science and improved teachers’ skills pertaining to teaching science topics. On the other hand, the Belgian student teachers learnt how to teach big classes as well as teaching with limited resources.
Coping with differences
The student teachers come from Artevelde University College Ghent, Odisee University College, University College Leuven Limburg (UCLL) and the University of Ghent. They conducted the internship programme at G.S Rosa Mystica, an inclusive school, Saint Mary's High School Kiruhura in Southern Province, and G.S Rwamagana Protestant in Eastern Province.
Marie Heleen Pype and Roel De Turk from Artevelde University College taught physics at Rosa Mystica and G.S Rwamagana Protestant respectively. Liese Boone who studies at Odisee College and Marie Marieke De Gayter from UCLL taught biology at Rosa Mystica and G.S Rwamagana, while Rien Schockaert from Ghent University taught physical education at Saint Mary's High School Kiruhura.
At the beginning of the internship, students struggled with the big classes.
“I liked teaching, but I was challenged at the beginning. The size of classes differs from the ones I’m used to. Some classes have more than 50 students, while we are used to classes of less than 30 learners in Belgium,” said Ms Pype.
Liese Boone studies at Odisee College and taught biology at Rosa Mystica school. She faced similar challenges. “Classes were big, up to 60 students! But within two weeks I learnt how to manage them and started knowing my students more. In the end it was really fun and the students enjoyed it!” she said.
Managing big classes
Ms Pype and Ms Boone as well as their colleagues had to find methodologies to manage big classes.
This is what Ms Pype did to make sure every student paid attention in her lessons:
- walk around so that students feel her presence and remain attentive,
- point to students who were not paying attention,
- teach slowly so that every student could understand, even the struggling ones, and
- give many exercises to stimulate and allow every student to participate.
Ms Boone similarly adopted different approaches to attract her students’ attention. “I was able to teach sometimes without using materials! At some point I drew to explain things. For example, I had to teach microscope parts, and since the school has only two microscopes, I had to draw it on a black board and explain to students,” she said. In addition, Ms Boone could explain her subject in easy words, write key words on black board, use teaching aids and perform some experiments such as photosynthesis, to make students understand specific topics.
Learning from Rwandan teachers
At the end of the internship programme, the student teachers from Belgium had some take-home messages.
“I saw how Rwandan teachers are very creative. They can give good and quality lessons without a lot of materials, they have to explain everything with limited means and students understand. It takes much effort and energy and I saw how teachers in Rwanda are committed to teaching,” said Mr De Turk.
“I learnt to challenge myself to teach bigger classes. It was impressive to see how much students can learn with less materials. I learnt to find other ways of teaching with what I have and it worked,” said Ms Boone.
“This internship in Rwanda taught me to be creative in addressing challenges,” said Ms Pype.
Inspiration from Belgian students
Jean Baptiste Muhire is a biology teacher at Rosa Mystica school. He believes the programme was fruitful as far as his professional development is concerned. “Those student teachers were very innovative and could even make some abstract aspects more real. They used a lot of teaching aids, printed many teaching materials and performed experiments to help students understand better. They are also more knowledgeable about using modern technology. I was rarely using the internet to search for educational resources but they showed me some websites where I can find some teaching aids,” said Muhire.
According to Mr Muhire, the Belgian students also helped learners to improve their English. “Our learners improved their English listening and conversational skills as they interact with the interns,” he said.
Ms Immaculée Mukamwiza is a physics teacher at Rosa Mystica school. She also found the programme enriching. “Belgian students are very determined and eager to learn even more from teachers and learners. They took time to search and gather enough teaching aids. This will obviously help me to improve the way I was teaching. They are also very advanced regarding time management. They were always on time and were never late, I was impressed! I will also change the way I manage time,” she said.
Taking away the fear of science
The internship was also a good opportunity to show Rwandan students that science is not difficult.
Mr De Turk said: “Most students think that physics is complicated, but with experiments you can demonstrate its relevance in real life—showing students things they see. For instance, why is water coming out of a shower? I am proud that I was able to motivate and inspire my students to run some experiments and I believe this increased their love of science.”
In addition to stimulating students to love science, Mr De Turk and Ms Pype also developed an experiment box with explanatory sheets for 24 simple low-cost experiments which teachers in the school will continue using. “They are experiments, well explained and easy to understand,” Mr De Turk said.
Eventually, the experiments will also be incorporated in VVOB’s continuous professional development training programme for science teachers. “I am proud that the experiments will continue to be used in science education in Rwanda,” Mr De Turk said.
VVOB has been facilitating continuous professional development courses on Effective School Leadership and Educational Mentorship and Coaching in 17 Districts, in primary and secondary education, in collaboration with Rwanda Education Board and the University of Rwanda College of Education.