Why schools must embrace the power of drama in learning

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Students of GS Remera Protestant School in Kigali act in a play before their colleagues at the school campus last week. Drama builds confidence in learners. / Francis Byaruhanga

Confucius, a renowned Chinese philosopher, explaining the role of drama in education wrote, ‘Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Involve me and I will understand.’ Possibly this is partly the basis most schools include drama on the menu presented to learners, much as most still treat it as ‘just another pass-time activity’. 

Drama includes a wide range of experiences, such as dramatic play, improvisation, theatrical performance, film and television drama, and includes both the processes and presentation of drama. Drama draws on many different contexts, from past and present societies and cultures. 

Experts have severally underpinned the need to promote drama in schools due to the innumerable benefits it has for students, and as celebrated physicist Albert Einstein once said, “The highest level of creativity unfolds through play”.

Arthur Miller, an American playwright and essayist, in his book ‘The Theater Essays of Arthur Miller, on the other hand, writes that drama makes people feel connected to one another and less isolated.

“Through arts we share an emotional connection with others. Our identity becomes easier and more pleasurable to live and our problems are acted out by the socialising force of drama,” he writes.

What is the situation in Rwandan schools?

Nicole Munyaneza, a former student of New Vision High School in Kigali, says there is a gap in teaching drama in most Rwandan schools.

“Drama is largely optional and as such is not emphasised in many schools. It is mainly undertaken by clubs or only when parents are expected to visit the school or during the end of year celebrations purely for entrainment,” she says.

Munyaneza says drama is given little time which isn’t enough for students to tap the unexplored potential it has. This, she says, is the general practice in many schools, adding that few of them attach special importance to drama as a subject.

Drama in Rwanda’s education is emphasized but it is normally pursued by students who go to teacher training colleges or those who do combinations with literature at A-level.

For Isaac Sheema, a music teacher at Kigali School of Talents and Music based in Kigali, a big number of schools have neglected performing arts because they think it’s not important to students who do science courses.

“Some graduates from science schools are unemployed yet if they had been equipped with drama skills in school, they would look to options like singing or acting to earn a living,” he says.

Sheema argues that drama shapes good communication skills, an essential life skill, helping us make friends, get the most out of school, land the dream job, succeed in that dream job.

“That’s why drama is so good for young children: it teaches them not only how to speak clearly, loudly and with confidence, but many other communication skills as well that will be helpful in future,” he says.

Anathalie Nyirandagijimana, a curriculum developer in charge of pedagogical norms at Rwanda Education Board, says the curriculum recognises drama and it is a compulsory subject in language combinations. The biggest challenge drama faces, she says, is the negative attitude of parents and teachers.

“From nursery to A-level, students attend drama lessons but in an effortless manner with some parents and teachers looking at music and drama more as co-curricular activities,” she says.

Nyirandagijimana says music and theater enhance brain development, especially when the students start at an early age.

“Drama is a mode of learning that challenges students to make meaning of their world. A drama education which begins with play may eventually include all the elements of theatre. Drama in the school curriculum can develop students’ artistic and creative skills. It can also provide knowledge and skills that are transferable to a variety of artistic, social and work-related contexts,” she says.

Nyirandagijimana emphasised that parents should take a lead role in encouraging love for drama among students, especially if they notice that their children have artistic qualities.

Gerald Muzungu, a music curriculum specialist at Rwanda Education Board, says schools which have such programmes should not take them for granted but rather put more emphasis on them as corroborative subjects which help students to practice theoretical aspects.

“Students can simply understand and memorize better the philosophical concepts in readings like novels when they act out what they have been taught,” he said.

Benefits of drama

Jean Marie Kayishema, a lecturer of drama at University of Rwanda’s College of Education, says, there is a gap in the cultural industries in Rwanda due the fact that many schools have shunned drama teaching.

“Cinema, music, book authorships, poem reciting, plays, tourism and cultural festivals are all part of the cultural industries which could be tapped into to attract more foreign exchange or promote exportation of our arts. Therefore, to excel in these, schools must promote drama in their curriculum because it brings out the best of our culture,” he says.

He points out that children like to move and to interact with others, and in drama we ask them to do exactly this, which keeps them hooked to what is being taught because ‘it’s fun’.

“Rather than sitting still and listening they are encouraged to move, speak and respond to one another. Students who are challenged by reading and writing often respond more positively to the imaginative and multisensory learning offered by drama. This in turn helps them develop such skills as creativity, enquiry, communication, empathy, self-confidence, cooperation, leadership and negotiation. Most importantly, drama activities are fun – making learning both enjoyable and memorable,” he says.

Jack Murigande, the head of the music department at Nyundo Shool of Art and Music in Rubavu District, says drama is particularly recommended for young pupils.

“Music, dance and drama all require one to make various body movements which enable a child to grow physically and mentally. Through drama pupils learn to interact with others, and their academic skills are sharpened through these activities because they are mind-stimulating,” he says.

Dr Jack Nzabonimpa, the director of Culture at Rwanda Academy of Languages and Culture (RALC), says, drama plays a big role to students in as far as academics and public speaking is concerned.

Citing available research, Nzabonimpa says messages conveyed through live performances are better understood by audiences, more so if they are given the chance to participate in the drama.

Joyce Kirabo, a counsellor based in Kigali, says drama in schools should be promoted since its one way of simplifying empirical metaphors into the real world.

She also argues that while students may fail to understand a read message, with performance they are able to appreciate it as fast as possible.

“Drama helps to refresh the mind, especially from the tight classroom schedules. This helps keep students motivated in all school programmes as they provide different fulfilling and fun-filled experiences,” she says.

What students think

Favor Genevieve Uwikuzo, a student at Nyundo School of Art and Music, says drama does not only help to master traditional folklore and languages, but is also socially transformative as it carries messages against bad habits like alcoholism, unwanted pregnancies and acts of sexual abuse.

He says drama helps them to conserve the legacy of Rwanda and makes them understand the traditional language and culture through reciting poems, among others.

“For instance during our course, we engage more in folklore than any foreign drama. Regardless of one’s religion all students must participate in all traditional aspects like dance, music and appreciation of literature that was used back in the day. This is normally through drama skits,” she said.

Frank Mugisha, a student at the same school is all praises for the unique skills he acquired from the drama school and is optimistic of making it big in future without looking for white-collar job.

“I can play a bass guitar, piano, drums and flutes, on top of acting. With knowledge of all these instruments I’m sure I will have to look for my own money without waiting to be employed by any one,” he says.

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THEIR SAY

Annie Christelle, customer care agent at Kigali School of Music and Talent
Students of drama always have improved verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Drama helps and benefits students through life by improving vocal projection, articulation, tone of speech and expression. Good listening and observation skills are developed when students engage in drama.

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Placcide Habumuremyi , teacher at Apaper Primary School, Kigali
Drama should be a cross-cutting subject at all levels, both in primary and secondary. Drama enables students learn to believe in their ideas and abilities and gain confidence through performing before their colleagues. However, many schools lack the required costumes and musical instruments.

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Jean de Dieu Mizero, student at Ingenzi International school of Music
Drama is very important and can earn one a good income like any other employment. If one manages to master all aspects of drama and musical instruments, they will earn big at the end of the day. Today comedians and musicians who perform at big events are all paid handsomely. I think they would even do better if they had learnt drama in school. On the other hand, more teachers need to be trained to promote drama in schools.

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Keneth Kayitana, student at University of Technology and Business Studies, Kicukiro
It’s at school, especially primary and secondary levels where talents are nurtured, and its therefore the school which should be keen on the training of those students. It’s a fallacy that people who engage in the drama, music or arts are bad apples in society.