Developing Academic Literacies in Times of Change : Scaffolding Literacies Acquisition with the Curriculum and ICT in Rwandan Tertiary Education

Abstract: Inspired by the Bologna Process and other globalising influences from modern higher education, and driven by policy reform for national development after the ravages of the 1994 conflict and genocide, Rwanda’s tertiary education has embarked on a number of policy reform for national development after the ravages of the 1994 conflict and genocide, Rwanda’s tertiary education has embarked on a number of policy reforms that have ushered in expectations, requirements and demands that call for both reinvigorated and new academic literacies in undergraduate study since 2007. With its aim of producing a highly skilled human resource as a panacea for Rwanda’s social and economic development deficits, the tertiary education curriculum is more than never before focused on outcomes that are linked to further education and the labour market. However, one of the problems to contend with is academic and professional under- preparedness of students entering and exiting undergraduate study, respectively. Theoretically these developments involve distancing oneself from a previous pedagogy whereby the teacher imparts knowledge to the student but instead places greater responsibility on the student to search for knowledge either individually or in a group, as well as critically examine and be able to argue a point of view in writing and through other modes of communication. Therefore, this study has been informed especially by the New Literacy Studies and the Academic Literacies Approach to understanding the development of tertiary academic literacies. The study has also been inspired by the concept of educational scaffolding. It is against this backdrop that my study set out to investigate the academic literacies requested in undergraduate study, and to explore approaches adopted by tertiary learning institutions in the country to embed academic literacies acquisition into the mainstream curriculum over the last decade. Furthermore, the study sought to explore how technology is integrated at different levels to support the acquisition of academic literacies, including technological and information literacies. In order to achieve the aforementioned, the study embarked on a qualitative blend of cross-sectional and longitudinal research designs. Principal data were gathered from official documents obtained from the government and tertiary learning institutions. Drawing on the synergies of qualitative content analysis and intertextual analysis, the documentary data were analysed and then qualitatively interpreted. The data were supplemented by a couple of questionnaire mini-surveys which were also subjected to qualitative analysis. The findings indicate that a new and expanded definition of literacy in the 21st century implies  students’ development of a set of interrelated and transferable academic competences which are elaborated in the thesis. Curriculum discourses show that there is a shift of curricular and pedagogical  emphasis from general linguistic competence as a vehicle for developing academic literacies to a more integrated embedment of a number of literacies including English for Specific Purposes (ESP), study skills, as well as information, communication and technological literacies. Regarding the use of ICT as a scaffolding tool for learning, findings show that the use of technologies has the potential to support students’ processes of academic literacies development from a highly dependent level to a more autonomous level, given that the ICT integration policies and strategies could fully materialise.