How practical is “random placement” for students in secondary schools?

Earlier this month, the Minister of State in charge of Primary and Secondary Education, Isaac Munyakazi, was questioned by the parliamentary standing committee on education, ICT, culture, and youth on issues affecting quality education. And one issue that stood out in particular was the viability of the random placement of students in secondary schools.

The new system went into force this year, randomly selects students and place them into schools, without consideration of their grades as has been traditionally the practice. Yet, with previous years, a student would join either boarding school or 12 year basic education, basing on their grades.

For instance, for primary six examinations, for one to join boarding school, girls and boys were supposed to have at least 20 and 18 points, respectively out of a possible 5. Whereas for ordinary level one was required to have 47 for boys, and 55 for the girls, out of possible 8.

The initiative could promote student-teachers in schools, and tutoring amongst each other. Net photo.

The new school replacement system has apparently been a subject to debate. Its operation for the first year of implementation has been subject for discussion with some wondering if it would carry an undesirable impact on the education sector.

Will it affect students’ performance?

Nyagatare Primary School deputy headmaster, Benon Muhabwa, believes that it’s a threat to performance, because it will negatively impact the spirit of competitiveness amongst students, thus causing low performance, and in the long run, hindering even schools’ performances nation-wide.

“This system is really not helping students who have spent the rest of their academic journey trying to make it to schools of excellence,” Muhabwa shares.

He points out that, private schools teach their students day and night in order for them to attain the best grades, such that students enrol into their dream schools, commonly known as schools of excellence.

Giving an example, he says, “Students who have not gone to city schools dream of going to one. And this is what schools in the rural areas work so hard to achieve.”

However, the new “random placement” criteria initiated by the Rwanda Education Board doesn’t favour this, he notes.

“As a matter of fact, we have seen smart students with negative attitudes concerning this, as they are reluctant to explore their potential as students, hence hindering their performance.”

For Vanessa Gakuba, who graduated from high school last year, this is unfair for a smart student who works so hard to enrol into good schools, only to be placed in a school that is out of their preference.

Adding to that, she says there will be no incentive, towards academic excellence, as students will have no pressure to perform well given the new policy that places them anywhere.

However, Gakuba said that there are positives to the initiatives. Saying that good students will be able to work with their colleagues, inspire and uplight them towards excellence.

She highlights that this new initiative is yet to eliminate the norm of excellent and poor schools.

“Good schools (schools of excellence) must be a common norm all over the nation. This will change the current narrative of some schools being referred to as excellent schools and others are referred to as poor schools. Therefore, I believe that with the implementation of this initiative, in the long run, there will be common standards for schools,” says Gakuba who is currently at university. 

Astinatole Hakizimana, a teacher at Groupe Scolaire Shyogwe in Muhanga District, says that currently, for students to perform well, they need to complement each other.

“Mixing them up must be the best policy; on top of students learning from each other, schools will no longer be reluctant in terms of teaching, because they will all work towards achieving the best out of their students,” says Hakizimana, who has been a teacher for 25 years.

“It’s true that some students are smart, but this will benefit the weak students more through learning from the rest (smart) and learning what they didn’t know,” he adds.

How effective is it projected to be?

Munyakazi had earlier revealed to the committee that the new policy should not come off as a threat to either the students, their teachers or even their parents.

He explained that previously, head teachers would go and select their own students, thus an imbalance, but with the new policy, REB will be the one to allocate them, hence, no imbalances in different schools.

Munyakazi also revealed that some schools had equipment but lacked students, and that in some cases, some schools had overcrowded classrooms but no facilities. Thus, the new criteria will ensure equal sharing of students amongst schools.

On the other hand, in a bid to promote the Competence Based Curriculum (CBC), students need to embrace complementarity as part of the curriculum, Munyakazi said.

“It is very unrealistic to put similar students in a single classroom, rather than mixing all of them. Yet have been encouraging team work, problem-solving, and critical thinking,” he noted.

Thus, for the above to be successful, there should be an average class with students of all backgrounds. Students should complement each other so that a teacher just works as a facilitator, the State Minster added.

How is it going to operate?

Rwanda Education Board will be in charge of allocating students in schools in consideration of three major factors.

Just like before, a student completing either primary school or ordinary level will be given a form, and asked to fill in according to their own preferences. This, the Minister said, will not only give students the right to vote for their schools, but also the zeal to work hard for their dreams.

Secondly, the authorities in charge will have to base on the grades obtained; this will help them understand the capacity of a student and schools in which they can fit.

Availability of the preferred courses and places for distribution is another factor that will be considered. And that this will be used in solving the fact that schools used to share students unequally, which made some schools benefit more. In most cases, boarding schools would be the first to choose their own students.

However, hardworking schools are still credited for their excellence and they can be assured that they are the first to be considered, the Minister highlighted.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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