Does project based learning help students?

Project based learning (PBL) balances content, work, and personal connection to create powerful learning experiences, in terms of academic achievement and students’ personal growth.

At some schools, apart from theoretical work, educators are engaging students in hands-on skills as part of PBL.

At Green Hills Academy and Riviera High School, for instance, they embrace such learning and engage their students in making projects, doing research and, presenting their findings in class.

According to the schools, the projects depend on the subjects and all of them are derived from project-based learning; which is also important when it comes to higher levels of learning.

At Riviera, they have ‘B take’, an international programme where students are awarded with a diploma in business technology after the course.

Innovative projects in education should be embraced. File.

This is mainly for students who are not keen on theoretical learning, rather, they want to enhance their skills in project management.

Through the programme, Ronald Wandira, the head of humanities at the school, says students are able to acquire practical and investment skills at the same time, so that in the future they can have their own businesses.

“We basically specialise in business technology, we take them for tours in different major companies to see how projects are run, started and how they expand,” he says.

The impact

Mathias Nkeeto, a mathematics teacher at Green Hills Academy, says project-based learning is a much better approach than the traditional school setting.

He says learners think of what they are doing in a deeper sense, and do not wait for the teacher to spoon-feed them—they know and understand the essence of learning on their own.

Jane Nakaayi, the head of the department of languages at Riviera High School, says when it comes to project based learning, students use their computer skills to build up a PowerPoint project that they present in a class.

This, she says, helps a learner understand the topic better, which is different from when a teacher engages them.

As a result, she says students develop deep content knowledge as well as critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills when doing an authentic, meaningful project.

“It as well helps unleash contagious, creative energy among students and teachers. It also helps develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills in the students,” she says.

Nkeeto says this is also an inquiry-based method of learning that helps when it comes to solving the problems given as projects, which is a style of active learning.

He says it also aids students in applying what they know to solve real problems with intentions to produce better results in whatever they do.

Vital skills

Wandira points out that when teachers use project based learning, it helps students face real-world situations.

“Students learn while doing what they know and develop new learning around hobbies, passions, and careers. It greatly impacts the development of interpersonal skills of the students,” he says.

Students also develop their skills and knowledge differently from when they do class work.

On the other hand, Nakaayi believes that with this kind of learning, learners are more involved, and it means that they can get into groups or do the project individually.

Whatever the case, Nakaayi believes they all come with more advantages than class-based learning.

For an individual project, she says the teacher makes sure that every person in their class is doing something tangible while in a group, so it means they are learning from each other.

“The weaker ones get an opportunity to learn from their counterparts who are strong and the strong ones also get a chance to teach others,” she says.

She says all this is helpful, especially when it comes to peer learning. It’s also important in a way that it helps kill the monotony of learning in class.

Nakaayi notes that as a teacher, if you want your students to come up with something, it’s ideal to look at their innovation and then help build their skills.

In most cases, she explains that teaching involves talking and writing on the board as students take notes. With this kind of learning, learners are not able to remember everything, but if they suggest what they want to learn and how it’s supposed to be done, it’s usually more memorable for them.

“For project based learning, most of the time students are supposed to explain their findings in the class, this is one way of building their confidence, public speaking, and listening skills,” she adds.

Aminadhad Niyonshuti, an English teacher at Apaper Complex School in Kicukiro, is of the view that if project based learning is encouraged, the teacher ceases to be the centre of everything.

He says that most of the time, learners have interesting content, so given the chance to come out and share what they know, could be of major benefit to their learning.

Way forward

The role of the teacher in this kind of learning is to supervise and guide learners, according to Wandira. The role of the teacher is to ‘open the window’ for learners to view various perspectives and not decide what they should learn. 

He says this helps them to be creative, however, the teacher has to guide, supervise and evaluate.

Actually, he says for every topic that a teacher gives, there is a project that involves learners as a group or as individuals.

Nakaayi says that one method she likes to use in her teachings is giving her students choices of how they would like or want to be taught on different topics, and it normally works, especially when it comes to understanding the content.

“If you go by how they want to be taught, then it’s easy for them to learn what you as a teacher wants them to learn,” she says.

The problem, Nakaayi says, is that educators these days want to teach kids without understanding how they perceive learning.

First, engage them and use resources available to help them because it becomes easy to share this with their peers.

In this era, Wandira says the job market today requires skilled-based competence, and not just theory.

“It makes use of the learner’s ‘redundant’ brain where they are able to come up with a meaningful project for sustainable development within their community or country at large,” he says.

It also makes them self-driven and they are able to learn with passion rather than force from teacher because what they learn is selected by themselves as a project, Wandira says.

Their views

Manzi Ian, Student, Riviera high school
It’s important for parents and teachers to understand that as students, we are not all gifted in certain areas. Understanding this helps learners get all the support needed from all parties. The skills we gain from non-class work help us to be more innovative, which is what we need to thrive outside the school environment.

Aminadhad Niyonshuti, Teacher
Following up on learners’ passion and hobbies while at a young stage is the way to go. This is so because it’s here that a child can be influenced positively and shaped into what they want to be in the future. Besides, teachers should strive to support students rather than force them to do what they think is right or required.

Elie Munezero, Youth centre coordinator, Gikondo
Parents have a role to play when it comes to making children better persons of tomorrow. They should engage them in constructive conversations, especially concerning their passion and interests. From here, it becomes easy for them to be supported by other people in different areas.

Juliet Gwiza, Parent
I think students should learn how to speak out on matters they think are helpful and their guardians aren’t aware of. This also helps teachers and parents find ways to help them.