HARTFORD — With a class of nearly 50 students — many of whom live in poverty and travel long distances to attend school — and a classroom without any projectors or computers, Candide Ingabire faces challenges every day she teaches English at a secondary school in Rwanda.
Ingabire is getting help dealing with such challenges at the Rwandan Teachers Education Program at the University of Hartford along with 39 other Rwandan educators.
The month-long pilot program, sponsored by the Rwandan Ministry of Education and the University of Hartford, offers training courses in areas ranging from instructional methods and educational leadership to English language learning and conflict resolution.
It was developed by Joseph Olzacki, a University of Hartford alum and former director of arts education for the Bloomfield public schools, through discussions with the Rwandan Ministry of Education. Olzacki developed connections with the Rwandan government in 2009 when he worked on a separate educational program. He has continued his efforts to aid the community because he sees a lot of potential in it, he said.
"We are trying to address the needs of Rwanda and make a difference so that these educators go back to teach the next generation to expect more," Olzacki said.
His ultimate goal is to help the children of Rwanda, he said, citing his motto: "It's always about the students."
The program comes five years after Rwanda named English one of its national languages in 2009. The country is working to improve English teaching skills in all of its nearly 65,000 teachers, said Nadine Nshimirimana, language teacher trainer at the Ministry of Education in Rwanda
"We are building ourselves to go forward and have more teachers to teach students English," Nshimirimana said.
The program is funded by the Rwandan government, the University of Hartford and a grant from Alan Lazowski, the chairman and CEO of LAZ Parking. Classes are taught by the UHart faculty and educators from the greater Hartford area.
One of the most helpful aspects of the program, according to Simeon Bimenyimana, a teacher from the Rutsiro district of Rwanda, is the opportunity to interact with native English speakers. All the teachers in the program can communicate in English, but being able to practice with native speakers is a unique opportunity, he said.
"I believe after training, we will be equipped with many things that allow us to teach our children because we are acquiring necessary skills to teach the English language," Bimenyimana said.
During their time in the U.S., the Rwandan educators will also visit Mystic Seaport, Sturbridge Village, Ellis Island and other sites in New York and Boston, Olzacki said.
After the pilot program ends in August, Olzacki plans to bring a team of educators to Rwanda in December and again in July to conduct the same type of training there. He hopes the teachers in the program now will help educate their colleagues in the future.
Guillaume Niyonkuru, a teacher from the Rwamagana District of Rwanda, said he is excited to apply what he is learning back home.
"As I am here, I will be the eye of the others left in my country," Niyonkuru said.
Currently, the Rwandan Teachers Education Program has a three-year contract with the Rwandan Ministry of Education, Olzacki said, but both parties hope to extend it for up to 10 years.