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Language Education Policies in Rwanda

Rwanda is a mountainous landlocked country located in East Africa. There are three languages listed for the country: English, French, and Kinyarwanda. Rwanda seized independence from Belgium in 1962 and adopted French as the official language and Kinyarwanda (also referred to as Ikinyarwanda, Rwanda) was declared the national language. Gafaranga & Niyomugabo (2010) posit that Kinyarwanda marks the authentic identity and culture of Rwandans, hence the reason behind the adoption of a single national language. Although Kinyarwanda was ascribed the prestige of national and official language, the language has not acquired advancement in literacy development, rather it only serves as medium of instruction in the early grades (Rassool & Mansoor, 2007).


The country experienced inchoate language education policy (LEP) from independence until 2008. During the colonial period, French remained the dominant language of instruction from grade four to the higher education level. Postcolonial LEP entailed instruction in Kinyarwanda for the first three grades with French singularly presiding from grade four onwards. However, in 1978 the ministry of education shifted to Kinyarwanda as the main media of instruction for the first eight grades. Nevertheless, the initial LEP was reinstated in 1991 following the decreased proficiency and academic ability in French nationwide (UNICEF, 2016; Samuelson, 2013).


The country experienced war and genocide in 1994 and most citizens fled to the neighboring Anglophone countries. Upon the return of a significant number of the refugees, the country adopted a trilingual LEP: Kinyarwanda, French, and English. Kinyarwanda served as the medium of instruction for the early grades while French and English were taught as compulsory subjects in upper primary (grades 4-6). However, the students had to choose one of the languages as the main medium of instruction upon transitioning to secondary school (Samuelson, 2013; Freedman & Samuelson, 2010).


The trilingual LEP lasted for 14 years before Reuben Kagame declared English as the main medium of instruction in 2008. The shift to English was attributed to globalization and economic development. Additionally, the Rwandans had developed a negative attitude toward French following the genocide (Samuelson, 2013). Currently French is taught as a subject in higher education level. Although most Rwandans exhibited positive attitude toward English, Samuelson (2010) argues that the teachers experienced difficulties in adapting to the new medium of instruction resulting from inadequate resources and professional training. For instance, teachers had to enact the new policy after three months of training, a situation which acerbated in the rural schools. Also, the teachers faced job insecurity from English language teachers from the Anglophone East African countries.


Rwanda Slowly Switching To English As Official Language


An ordinary day in Kigali, Rwanda


Gafaranga, J., & Niyomugabo, C. (2010). Living and working in three languages in Rwanda. Network Rwanda, 4, 11.

Samuelson, B. L. (2013). Rwanda switches to English: Conflict, identity, and language-in-education policy. In J. W. Tollefson (Ed.), Language policies in education—Critical issues (2nd ed., pp. 211–232). New York: Routledge.

Rassool, N., & Mansoor, S. (2007). Contemporary issues in language, education and development in Pakistan. In N. Rassool (Ed.), Global issues in language, education, and development: Perspectives from postcolonial countries (pp. 218-241). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Republic of Rwanda. (1998). Study of the education sector in Rwanda (Rev. ed.). Kigali: of Ministry Education.

Samuelson, B. L., & Freedman, S. W. (2010). Language policy, multilingual education, and power in Rwanda. Language Policy: Springerlink.


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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Kyalo, C. (2018). Language Education Policies in Rwanda. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved at: (insert link) 


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