Recently, Nature Rwanda, a local conservation organisation with students from ES Rwahi Rulindo District, organised a tour to Busaga Natural Forest, Southern Province, to broaden the learners’ educational experience.
The students who attended the tour said it was a thrilling experience, and wished to have more of such. A number of them cited that the courses they pursue are connected to nature and that the tours should be made a consistent part of learning in schools.
Regis Kwizera, a senior five student at ESI Rwahi who is passionate about construction, said that constructors deal with nature during structure activities, and so they have a role to play in deforestation.
He said that the tour made him realise the need to be an eco-friendly engineer, and so he seeks alternative models that do not bring any harm to nature and the environment in general; something he hadn’t thought about before.
Education experts believe that schools need to organise such trips because they are designed to be a learning experience for students.
Why should schools embrace academic trips?
Sam Ogwang, an English and literature teacher at Mother Mary Complex School in Kibagabaga, says school tours are an integral part of the curriculum, built around learning objectives.
He adds that when students are familiarised with tours, it will not only help them gain more knowledge, but also upgrade their skills in a practical manner.
“By allowing students to engage with the real world outside of the classroom, the key ideas that learners have encountered in theory are reinforced and are easier to memorise; this is the principle behind the saying ‘I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand,” he says.
Prudence Ndabasanze, the executive director of Nature Rwanda, says academic tours are crucial for education in Rwanda, as they help students step out of their comfort zone and give them the opportunity to think outside the box, while increasing their critical thinking towards the challenges we face in our communities.
Ndabasanze says academic tours expose challenges to students and give them the opportunity to innovate, collaborate but mostly, think differently.
For example, he says, for conservationists, their passion towards nature increases, and it also creates awareness on the challenges and opportunities out there.
“Schools have to embrace these good practices not only to allow students to deepen what they learn in class, but to also help them discover their passion and career choices at an early stage,” he says.
He adds that this also helps with collaboration among schools and other development partners, mostly key stakeholders in the education sector.
Which kind of trips are suitable for students?
Jesse Mbanda, a teacher at Kigali Harvest School, says that schools organise many types of trips, with different objectives.
He says that students sometimes visit museums where they encounter works of art they have only seen in books or on television.
Mbanda says learners can also visit locations to learn about aspects of geography or history. They can visit a zoo or national park to see wild animals and appreciate the wonders of the natural world.
“Students’ experience during these trips is often enhanced by the input of trained guides or multimedia presentations which can provide an interesting stimulus compared to the normal classroom setting,” Mbanda adds.
Ogwang says these interventions expose students to different methods of learning, and introduce them to rare learning styles (for example, kinaesthetic — learning through feeling such as a sense of body position, muscle movement and weight as felt through nerve endings) which most likely doesn’t happen in the classroom.
Since learners are young, Ogwang says academic trips have important developmental value.
He says that they provide powerful individual experiences which help define a person’s place and purpose in the world, and establish lifelong values and priorities.
Ogwang also says that they can help learners make new friends, and open their eyes to new ideas, cultures and ways of life.
Organising longer trips once in a while for learners is vital, says Jacky Irabagiza, a matron at Martyrs School in Remera.
She says that longer trips can give students the self-confidence to be away from home, and a chance to develop a level of independence.
Experiencing another place and culture is also an opportunity to appreciate what we already have and compare our lives to, she says.
Irabagiza notes that as learners move into different cultures, they widen their perspective on an international level and trigger ideas that would not normally stem from their familiar home and school environment.
At a social level, she says, academic trips allow for life-long memories to be made with friends, to have adventures together in new environments, and to work as a team with other classmates outside their normal group.
“There are opportunities to build new friendships and social networks which may be important in the future for these young people,” she says.
Margret Uwamahoro, a teacher at Little Angels in Kicukiro, says organising challenging tours or trips is also important and schools should look into it.
This, Uwamahoro says, might be an obvious physical challenge, like a long trek or canoeing across a lake; or a psychological and emotional one — like tackling the canopy walk in Nyungwe Forest; or simply the challenge of being away from familiar surroundings and out of one’s comfort zone.
Whatever the challenge, she says, these are often key experiences in young people’s lives, contributing to increased maturity, self-awareness and independence, and helping develop the confidence necessary to step out positively into the world around them.
How often should this happen?
According to Nature Rwanda, both class and outdoor activities should be balanced to give students a favourable and conducive learning environment.
The academic tours also promote culture and the more they are organised, the more skills and knowledge shared among students and practitioners in different sectors.
Ndabasanze says that to achieve this, parents have to boost the initiative and contribute financially to make it happen, for the better education of their children.
He says they (parents) should hold the school and learners accountable for effective learning.
However, Ndabasanze says that financial constraints is the main challenge faced by schools in organising academic tours.
He adds that schools, parents and development partners have to collaborate in organising academic tours for the development of the country.
“All stakeholders in the education sector have to work together to ensure the best education for students as they are the future decision makers and leaders of the country,” Ndabasanze says.