Are you choosing the right subject combination?

In secondary school when students move from ordinary to advanced level, they are required to choose a subject combination, depending on their preference. 

Combinations include; Physics-Chemistry-Mathematics (PCM), Physics-Chemistry-Biology (PCB), Math-Chemistry-Biology (MCB), History-Economics-Geography (HEG), History-Economics-Literature (HEL), among others.

These subjects usually determine what a learner will pursue at the university level, and what career they will take thereafter.

In order to make the right choice of subjects, learners should be in a position to understand their interests well, as that will guide them accordingly.

What to look for when picking a subject combination 

Educators say that students have better chances of making the right choice for a subject combination with the guidance of their teachers and parents.

Mark Ndagijimana, a deputy teacher at GS Ruhango Catholique, Southern Province, says it is important that students, with the help of teachers, select courses that they will enjoy and thrive in. 

He says this is because students will study those subjects for three years, and so passion is key. With this, they are good chances of succeeding.

Mathias Nkeeto, a mathematics teacher at Green Hills Academy, says teachers should look at students’ interests, what they like most.

After identifying this, it’s important as a teacher to advise them accordingly — why and how their interests could be of benefit if nurtured. 

He says it’s imperative that parents help nurture the interests of their children.

“Since parents are the ones who stay with these children, if they get to know what they like most, it will help them create a good environment for talent to grow,” he says. 

He adds that when parents are aware of this, it’s easy to provide the support. 

On the other hand, Ndagijimana points out that focusing on the benefits of the course a student wants to take is crucial, especially in this era where the world is moving towards digitalisation.

He goes on to add that some courses are no longer applicable in the job market, therefore, there is a need to scrutinise if the course will be of help when students are outside the school environment. 

He says that proper guidance will ensure that learners don’t waste time studying courses that are not fit for them, or even considered marketable.

Nkeeto adds that looking into a student’s background also matters a lot when it comes to choosing a subject combination.

For example, he explains, if parents are deprived, a teacher can advise on the right course so that it becomes easier for them to manage the expenses that come with what a student will study in the future.

Nkeeto says teachers should consider the strength of their students as some courses maybe tough for one and not for another.

He goes on to add that it is important to be realistic, this involves considering career paths that are available, and those that aren’t.

“Advising a student on how to go about this is important, including the jobs a certain course will lead to,” he says.

The one thing that shouldn’t be taken for granted, Nkeeto says, is the career path — what does a student want to be in the future? Help them choose subjects based on that.

He also points out the need to evaluate academic ability as learners have to be strong in the subjects they choose. 

Also, students should consider their passion, what are the subjects that they enjoy? Nkeeto explains that if a student does something that they are not passionate about, it will not yield good results. 

“Choosing a combination may also depend on the school because there are schools that don’t offer particular combinations,” he adds.

‘Teachers should get more involved’

Sandrine Ishimwe, a STEM Education advisor at VVOB, an NGO that works with schools with the aim of improving learning outcome through reduction of gender gaps, says teachers should create a culture of dialogue in order to know what their students like and  their future job aspirations.

Ideally, she says, this should be done at the very beginning of A level (S4). 

She goes on to add that teachers should give students accurate information in all routes. This, she says, means science, social science, technology, and entrepreneurship. 

In order to do this, she notes that teachers should know the realities of the labour market and guide their students in that route.

“This can be done by exposing the students to the speakers and role models in different domains, visiting enterprises to witness the relevance of the learned skills,” she says.

Another important aspect, Ishimwe notes, is that teachers should try their best to connect each classroom learning outcome with his/her students’ job aspirations. 

She explains that this is so because students can learn the applicability of the skills learned in their aspired domain. 

Ishimwe further adds that educators should encourage their students to stay updated with the skills required for their job aspirations.

Diana Nawatti, a counsellor and the head teacher at Mother Mary Complex School, Kigali, believes that schools should and must have a counsellor or career guidance department. 

She says this is important because when students are about to choose a combination, they need all the guidance they can get, starting with the teachers who know them.

She adds that these particular teachers are in position to know students’ weaknesses and strengths, therefore, advising them becomes easier, supportive and resourceful. 

Nawatti also mentions a situation where some students might be good in certain subjects but are not willing to go for them.

This is where the teacher comes in to help them realise what the best option for them is, so that they can make a good career from it.

“It’s the responsibility of the teacher to help students realise their strengths,” Nawatti adds. 

Parents, Nawatti says, should be there to motivate and inspire their children, and also support them financially.

Nkeeto says helping learners choose a combination that suits them is not only helpful to the learners, but the country at large as the skills acquired are needed to strengthen the economy.

Nawatti notes that when students do what they are passionate about, they will deliver quality services in their respective fields.

“Choosing the right combination is inspiration for students in lower classes who look to pursue certain fields,” she says.

In fact, she says, if students understand this at an early stage, they will be able to make the right decisions for themselves moving forward — decisions that are not influenced by peers or what their parents want them to do.

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