Amidst current pressures for a quality education, schools must focus on giving the best education that creates a lifelong passion for learning among pupils.
Needless to mention, pressure on schools to perform better has never been higher, with a constant focus on data, exam results and the ever-present threat of failure.
What is needed instead is a culture of excellence that permeates every classroom, department and school. A focus not simply on getting the best grade, but on getting the best education and creating a lifelong passion for learning.
Michael Mulondo, Cambridge International Examinations co-ordinator at Nu-vision High School, says that this shift in focus matters.
“I feel lucky to work in a school where excellence is expected from every student, regardless of their background.
“Our visitors, students, teachers are greeted by a quote from John Dewely: “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow. Just think, excellence then should not be an act but a habit.”
This idea, he adds, is central to creating a culture of excellence at the school and departmental level.
Mulondo also says that schools should first raise their standards.
“The first step is to agree on what excellence actually looks like in your subject. For example, a teacher should be in position to question themselves, what can an excellent year 9 geography student be able to do? And then align this expectations of the quality of work they offer,” he says.
For Renita Uwase, a teacher at Excella School, this culture should start from department meetings, where most teachers meet and discuss students’ work.
“In department meetings, we share examples of excellent work that pupils have created, and record them so we have a bank of work to exemplify standards. This is later shared with pupils, parents and colleagues so everyone knows where we are aiming as a system,” she says.
She points out that these learning checklists and knowledge organisers also help to hand back responsibility to pupils to check that they are on track with the rest.
“They can clearly see what they are expected to know and do, and can seek support for any areas of concern,” she says.
Once high standards have been set, we can start ensuring that all students know how to meet them. The bank of excellent work is one way to do this.
Olivier Minani, IT expert and student, believes that one of the most powerful ways to support a culture of excellence is through live modelling, where the teacher answers a question themselves and explains their thought process in front of the class.
He says, “I remember those days when I consulted my teachers and saw them thinking hard to give me a convincing answer, something I would prefer to just attending a course and leaving the room without a deeper insight on what was taught.”
Besides, Minani thinks that students should embrace the idea of a culture of excellence through a number of working groups looking at various pillars of learning. Adding that the group should mainly focus on the use of academic language in discussions around campus.
“Complex, subject-specific words should be used with their meanings added, this in the long run facilitates students to use this language even during their answers to questions in exams.
Conversely, Solomon Mutagoma, a student at African Leadership University (ALU), says that students should not be over praised, especially when they are on the right track.
“Students like to know when they do well, though at times, it decreases our morale, and we are reluctant to work harder. Therefore, teachers should keep having added expectations which I believe will motivate them more,” Mutagoma says.
“There is now the expectation that work isn’t finished until it is excellent, that proof reading and redrafting should be the norm, and that students will do this before handing in work,” he adds.