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Friday, December 14, 2012

Jury out on language-switch trend

Gabon says that it is considering following Rwanda's example by dropping French in favour of English, but evidence of the success of the radical education policy is still lacking
By Jenny Clover

rwanda english language
Facing up ... in Rwanda, it is claimed English speakers can earn up to 30% more than those who do not. Photograph: Helen Vesperini/Getty
Last month a spokesman for the president of Gabon announced that the west African state, which uses French as its official language, was considering following a lead set by Rwanda by switching to English.
Rwanda has claimed that economic gain motivated its 2008 decision to downgrade French, the language it inherited as a Belgian colony. By converting to English-medium teaching in the majority of its schools, its leaders say it is attempting to produce a generation with a grasp on the linguistic key to global trade and business.
Gabon's suggestion that it is about to follow suit was later played down by President Ali Bongo Ondimba, possibly to avoid a diplomatic rift with Gabon's close ally France on the eve of a meeting of francophone countries. But if Gabon is serious about adopting English it is likely to look closely at the progress of Rwanda's policy.
"If the Rwandan experience is conclusive why should we not draw inspiration from such an experience?" Bongo Ondimba's spokesman said.
A recent report commissioned by the British Council, which is partly funded by the UK government and has been providing considerable support to Rwanda's English language education policy, claims that individuals with a good grasp of English can earn salaries that are an average of 25-30% higher than those who don't. Rwanda hopes that its citizens will benefit from its membership of predominantly anglophone trade and political blocs such as the East African Community (EAC) andthe Commonwealth.
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