As a 1990’s primary teacher-trainee in Rwanda I learned English extensively through open courses via the BBC and VOA after my secondary education graduation. During my secondary education, English language was not yet introduced at primary level. English was neither among the national exams we took before graduation. So there was no pressure for secondary schools to head-hunt English language teachers who were desperately scarce at the time. We could only take English for one semester, 2 hour a week, and then have that semester’s grade re-transcribed for another semester. One year after my graduation, three important changes occurred in Rwandan education: English was introduced in the national exams for teacher-trainees (1), the student’s grade in the national exams was established as the benchmark for higher education student’s loan (2) and the then National Examination Centre established an open assessment system widely known in Rwanda as Candidats Libres or Private Candidates system. This system enabled informal students to take same national exams as formal students and those who passed were certified and accredited. These good practices made access to higher education more accessible to students from low income families. Those who wanted to undertake higher education worked hard on their national exams preparation with a vision to get a better grade for getting student’s loan because the provision had become fair and transparent.
My family did not possess a radio during my secondary education. Buying a radio was a top priority on the list of needs that I had to address with my first salary as a teacher. My first radio connected me to the BBC world service and the VOA and their open English language courses. I was aware that I had learned this language poorly during my secondary education. So, I engaged in those open radio courses for my English language improvement. I had to make sure I am free during the radio open course broadcasts and I adopted this self-discipline. Two years later, I took advantage of the National Examination Centre’s open assessment system. I took nine exams in 2000 to get the results that fit in the new system in order to be eligible for student’s loan. English which I had mainly learned from the BBC and VOA was the only exam in which I had a perfect score (I hereby grant the permission to verify my records from Department of Examination and Accreditation; the former National Examination Centre, exclusively for the purpose of open educational practices improvement). So, my informal learning was more beneficial than extensive learning in formal education because my radio learning was based on passion, the goal and interest conceived by myself. In contrast, compliance dominated in the formal education courses. Although English was the only course I scored a full grade, my grade point average was among the best result from teacher-trainees nationally, which enabled me to get student’s loan two years later.
My accomplishment in informal English language learning was confirmed by the National University of Rwanda (NUR) in 2002. When I joined this university, we took an English language test. Many students from the literary section who had three time of English language learning in their secondary education than we had, and who had learned English without interruption failed the test. But I passed the test, with a distinction anyway. That is why I started my courses right away without taking the one year long language preparatory course which was required by students who could not prove that their language abilities were high enough to study in English. My story is shared by many other people in Rwanda. The Department of Examination and Accreditation (the former National Examination Centre) and NUR should probably conduct research on the impact of their open assessment system on Rwandan students.
Our informal learning was assessed, certified and accredited because the National Examination Centre and the NUR had open assessment systems. However, these systems have not been fully explored and systemized for being used at a large scale in Rwanda. They were also fragmented in that the open assessment system was not accompanied with open curriculum and open educational materials. At the time I took national exams as a private candidate, access to the national curriculum was a prerogative for secondary school teachers. Students who took national exams as private candidate often borrowed notes from friends who studied at various courses to compare what was covered in various course subjects but they did not have access to the curriculum to check what should have been covered. Open assessment could have made more difference if it were coupled with open curriculum and open learning resources that covered the curriculum. Such a link between open curriculum, open educational resources, open assessment, open certification and open accreditation are currently being explored and developed elsewhere for opening up tertiary education. The Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) also referred to as Prior Learning Recognition (PLR) that is being explored by the Open Educational Resources university is a good example. A similar system is also considered as a potential business models for Massive Open Online Courses.