By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

The School of Information Studies (iSchool) recently welcomed four new distance students, teachers from Rwanda’s Kigali Institute of Education whose two-week summer residency is the initial step in their professional development in teacher-librarianship, as well as part of a larger initiative to eventually seed an iSchool in Rwanda.

The four were at the iSchool to take IST 612, “Youth Services in Libraries and Information Centers,” in residency format, along with other students enrolled in that course. Upon their return to Rwanda, they will take four more courses over the next two semesters through distance learning. While their current individual goals are to gain a thorough understanding of teacher-librarianship and to complete a Certificate of Subject Expertise in International Teacher-Librarianship Curriculum Development and Delivery, their wider hopes are to provide the footing for teacher-librarianship education in their country.

After completing their certificates, the students will work with Syracuse University faculty and professors from South Africa to develop a Kigali Institute of Education teacher-librarianship curriculum. The certificate education effort is a first step by the iSchool, together in its partnership with the Kigali Institute, and a part of Syracuse University’s arrangement with the Information Training and Outreach Center for Africa, according to Sarah Inoue, Ph.D., the iSchool’s project manager for international development. 

Teacher Training Planned

A second part of the initiative focuses on shorter-term results, Inoue noted. In the near future, the iSchool and SU plan to provide training sessions at seven of the country’s Teacher Training Colleges to train primary school teachers in the basics of librarianship, so they can act as teacher-librarians at their schools. “Rwanda, like most African countries, suffers from a lack of reading culture and a lack of school libraries,” explained Inoue. She noted that the availability of more teacher-librarians in Rwandan schools would enhance reading for pleasure, help teachers organize learning materials to support classroom curriculum, teach students in information literacy, and promote critical thinking (the latter being a stated goal of the Rwandan Ministry of Education). The programs are geared to promote a reading culture, foment a literacy and information-based society, and develop training paths to assure there are many more teacher-librarians working toward those ends in Rwandan communities.

Reactions to Educational Approach

The students, Jean Pierre Mugiraneza, Chantal Kabanda Dusabe, Bakali Ali Kabeba, and Bernard Bahati, had positive impressions of Syracuse University, the Syracuse community, and their iSchool class experiences. They took part in a very different style of instruction than the topical lecture style the Rwandan education system is based on, they reported.

Chantal said that her experience here, where students openly state their views and challenge other students opinions, has provided a very different perspective on teaching. “This approach of just letting students talk more than the teacher does, I like that. It is going to take some time to implement because our students are used to [a different system], “but someone has to start doing it,” she emphasized. “The students will learn more from the discussion and the teacher will have less work to do when the students participate in their own learning. If you don’t give them time to discover things, it isn’t teaching, I don’t think.”

Jean Pierre echoed that sentiment. Here, “You’re requested to participate and be involved. It becomes easier than just to write the notes out of what the teacher is saying. Discussing [lessons] with schoolmates is not difficult, and I prefer this way.”   He recognized that “we are coming from a different culture, but now that I’m getting used to how things are being done, I feel I’ll be able to participate” in conducting classroom discussions in Rwanda, he said.

After touring a number of different types of libraries in the Syracuse area as part of their residency, Bakali remarked that he now has an “endless” list of ideas from observing the American education and library systems. One surprise is how many communities have libraries and that they are “so organized, arranged, and the people there are trained and know what they are doing, and they are ready to help. That’s something that is lacking back home.” He now sees the necessity of a needs survey when he returns to Rwanda. “You can’t just start saying, ‘this is what we learned in Syracuse’; we need to find out what the needs of the schools are, what’s missing; do they have books, what kind of books do they have, how do they use them, do the schools have skilled people,” and devise strategies, he explained.

Bernard was impressed at how libraries provide specific collections of materials based on readers’ interests to promote reading, citing the Tully Public Library’s example. He has  observed “how the American education system works, the discussion approach versus lectures, and different strategies to get folks interested in reading–book talks, readers’ advisories,” Bernard said. His is fully aware of his future charge, too. “After my program is complete, we will be writing a curriculum to train prospective teachers. The four of us will be in partnership with others, we will put a program together and then go through the steps to launch a program to train school librarians at our institute.”