Academic research; why it’s significant to students’ learning

Education experts comprising of senior officials from private and public universities from six EAC partner states; Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, are meeting in Kigali to discuss the scarcity of researchers in regional varsities.

The workshop seeks to devise ways of improving quality supervision of postgraduate studies. However, among the topics being discussed is the limited number of qualified senior lecturers and researchers in regional tertiary institutions to meet the demands of expanding postgraduate and mentorship programmes.

Scholars observed that such gaps have had a negative impact on the universities’ capacity to sufficiently educate the next generation of lecturers and researchers.

The question is, how important is academic research to students’ learning, and how should students be taken through the skills that will see them become good researchers?

The New Times spoke to various stakeholders in the education sector about this concern and the way forward.

Why academic research in learning is vital

Paul Oga, Dean of Students at Green Hills Academy, believes that research in academics has always been done, but there are now too many ‘kinds of learners’. He points out that sometimes what is needed is distinguished instruction that suits each individual learner.

“We live in a global village now and we have different learners and so research is necessary as far as education is concerned, in order to see how different students learn,” he says.

He notes that researchers have established three levels of inquiry; directed inquiry, guided inquiry and independent inquiry. These, according to him, help update the methodology used in science curriculums, like science fusion, which they use at their school.

Oga gives an example where Robert Karplus, an American Science pioneer,and his colleagues developed a three-step instructional model that became known as ‘the learning circle’.

The model was expanded into what is today referred to as the ‘5E model for effective sciencelessons’.

Oga says if research in learning will be able to be developed and implemented, it will provide a favourable environment for all graduates outside the school setting.

He notes that academic research improves students’ learning in general, exposing them to research processes that give them a different perspective, as opposed to simply presenting theory from textbooks, or even research from academic journals.

“Involving learners in different projects in the industry’s research exposes students to real world environments and expectations. Research enforces lifelong learners, learning that involves making mistakes while pursuing their discovery,” Oga says.

Enock Nkulanga,the national director, African Children’s Mission, believes that great learners make the best teachers.

He notes that students who learn from lifelong learners are more likely to discover their own innate thirst for knowledge.

“My point of view is that the advantages of research extend beyond just having an impressive degree. Through detailed research, students are able to develop critical thinking as well as effective analytical, research, and communication skills,” he says.

He adds that these are globally sought-after and incredibly beneficial. The research is essential to economic and social development, especially in a globalised society.

Another benefit of research, Nkulanga says, is the potential of high-quality project ideas throughout the students’ learning course.

“Students should be able to work along side constructors/professors for research work. Learning alongside as partners, while students are given the unique chance to become researchers themselves, boosts chances of employment immediately after graduation,” he observes.

How best can students be guided on doing research?

Steven Burora, an entrepreneur and a mentor whose own research led him and a friend to a business idea, is of the view that instructors should let students learn through trial and error, just like earlier scientists did.

Burora says that instructors should direct and guide learners,and that students should be in a position to build experience to do independent inquiry and research.

“Showing them first and then letting them try is the best approach. After that, they will be able to do it and see their own work as well. Instructors, on the other hand, should not just tell, but show students so that that they are also able to do it,” he says.

On the contrary, Burora thinks that there is a need to work on the curriculum, especially for research, in order to challenge learners.

“Instructors, starting from high school level to higher learning institutions, should be in a position to inspire their students to do the work passionately, and once they become interested, solving societal problems becomes easier,” he adds.

At Kigali Leading Technical Secondary School, the founder and principal, Alphonse Habimana, says that it’s important for the research to be encouraged early in education so that students grow to appreciate how it’s carried out and its importance.

Also, he says, the Government should create more research centres to encourage more people to engage in research.

The impact of scarcity of researchers to students

Habimana, however, says that there is a need to train our instructors and encourage students and lecturers to take interest in research.

He further explains that programmes should include research as part of the study, just like in public schools; entrepreneurship is a must, and so research should be made compulsory as well.

“This is because students don’t know how to carry out research and do not know what it entails. Failure to do so, the institutions will end up producing half-baked graduates, who are incompetent, especially in this global market,” he says.

He says that all this could lead to graduates being retained by hiring companies at an extra cost. That’s why technical and vocational schools and colleges do better because they are based on research, he adds.

Oga points out that those helping students in research should be in a position to solve problems. ‘‘If they have this ability, they are in a better position to identify, define the scope of problems and analyse them carefully.

After the evaluation, he says, they should then be able to provide the most useful solutions in the context of the problem. Without all this, it will be pointless to guide learners on how to do research.

Efforts from the Ministry

The new curriculum serves as the official guide to competency-based teaching and learning. It is designed to ensure that there is consistency in the delivery of the curriculum across all levels of general education in Rwandan schools.

Claudien Nzitabakuze, the head of Teacher Education Management and Professionalisation Department at Rwanda Education Board (REB), says the Rwandan education philosophy is to ensure that young people at every level of education achieve their full potential in terms of relevant knowledge, skills and appropriate attitudes that prepare them for integration in society and  exploitation of employment opportunities.

He adds that learners can get the opportunity to apply what they have learned in real life situations and make a difference in their own life with the help of the teacher/instructor, whose role is central to the success of the curriculum delivery.

This, he says, includes instilling the learner with a research-based approach.

Their thoughts

Christian Ikuzwe, Proprietor — Academic Bridge, information management software for schools

People in business tend to lose money or suffer losses because of lack of research on what they are doing before investing. If schools can invest in research, this and many other problems can be solved.

Veronica Muhimpundu, Student
Academic research is beneficial to students after they are done with school because it helps secure employment, scholarships, project funding, and business collaboration, among others. Universities should encourage students to do more research, especially on the courses they are taking.

John Bosco Gatsinzi, Entrepreneur
People should be trained to create solutions, not the other way around. In the end, it will help boost innovation; in many cases, graduates end up struggling to solve problems and some have narrow minds due to lack of enough knowledge on how to carry out research.

Lovett Mutoni, Tutor
Schools should do more as far as encouraging research in their institutions is concerned to help learners build their projects. This can also be explored outside school. Research is necessary, especially if one is looking for greener pastures.


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