Why students need practical skills

Recently, Aspire Debate Rwanda (ADR) held a workshop under a programme known as ‘Footprint’ for directors of career guidance and employability services at University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology (CST).

The workshop aimed at finding ways to help students develop specific skills that employers value when hiring.

‘Footprint’ is a university-based programme developed by ADR to support and nurture critical thinking amongst university and high school students, and the community at large.

Aspire Debate Rwanda, a non-government organisation, was founded in 2014 and it aims at promoting public speaking, empowering the youth with leadership and communication skills, and nurturing their critical thinking.

A mentor speaks to youth during a workshop. Lydia Atieno

According to ADR, the programme is a practical training and value added knowledge platform to help students attain greater academic excellence, and meet the needs of both local and global markets.

The integration of Rwanda into East African Community (EAC), COMESA, Commonwealth, and African union (AU) has mobilised the population of Rwandan students to learn English.

According to David Ntambiye, the executive director of ADR, the framework calls for a need to stimulate English language proficiency, public speaking, presentation and communication skills.

Improving the language competency of students, and increasing and developing interventions in major business activities locally and internationally, Ntambiye says, remains the ultimate goal and at the same time, a challenge for many students. That’s where ‘Footprint’ comes in—to help fill the gap.

“We live to educate others on the skills of employability, public speaking, leadership, communication and community development. The skills of public speaking, negotiation, community development and leadership are key to success for students in any field,” he says.

‘Footprint’ encompasses three main skill sets, such as public speaking, business writing skills and community outreach engagement activities.

What is lacking?

Fredrick Atinga, an entrepreneur working with Arch Grid Consultant, a construction firm in Kigali, says when conducting interviews, a big number of hopefuls can barely introduce themselves.

He says looking at their résumés, there is still a lot to be done to equip them with skills on how to go about many things, like job interviews.

He says most of them know what they want, but expressing themselves, or the way they make presentations, is still something to worry about.

Atinga says there is also a problem when it comes to structuring vital information when applying for jobs.

According to Ntambiye, of the 428 students trained, 426 are employed with different companies. 

However, he says, 428 in four years ADR has been operating is still a small number considering that there are around six million youths in the country.


According to ADR, the aim is to provide students with the experimental skills and knowledge necessary to express themselves clearly, with confidence and power, in a variety of speaking situations. 

Ntambiye explains that bridging the gap of communication and public speaking is needed, especially when seeking for employment.

Secondly, the programme aims at helping students, especially those in higher institutions of learning, attain ‘soft skills’ such as curriculum vitae writing, internal memo, application and correspondent letters, claim letters, minutes writing, among others.

Having these trained people (university students) on volunteer basis, he says, can also help transfer skills to secondary students, which will be done through an outreach programme.

“At the end of the day before high school students leave, they should be in a position to know how to write application letters, how to do well in interviews, among other things,” he says.

He notes that by the time one leaves high school, they have the best education, which will push them towards further investment and growth.


For one to be confident, they must be familiar with what they are talking about.

ADR is looking to bridge the gap of research, because for one to perform exceptionally, they must be able to do research on what they are going to present.

For instance, Ntambiye says, before rushing for an interview, one should be able to know what the company does; because one of the most common questions asked is what difference they will be able to bring to the company.

The difference, he says, must match the scope, mission and vision of the company. And that when you don’t have this background awareness, it becomes a challenge for one to get an opportunity, or even for companies to hire such individuals.

Importance of such skills

According to Emmanuel Kagaba, the director of career guidance and employability services at UR-CST, it is the responsibility of career heads in their respective colleges to help add value to the students’ skills development, through collaborations.

 “It’s essential to help students excel in performance in class, and meet the competitive labour market needs; this can only happen when they have  exceptional skills,” he says.

He mentions that at the institution, students have been able to benefit from skills such as speaking and debate training, communication skills, presentation techniques, and critical thinking, among others.

For instance, there has been remarkable impact, especially in bridging the gap that is essential in the labour market.

He says such skills should be extended to other colleagues, campuses and other learning institutions to help impact students positively.

Dr Ignace Gatare, the principal at UR-CST, says it’s important for different stakeholders in education sectors to focus on the challenges, gains, and solutions, and how to move forward for the better future of the students as well as the nation.

He adds that to empower students, one of the skills needed is communication skills development.

“Communication skills are needed in any field, including knowing our mother tongue well. Communication techniques are needed in all languages,” he says.

Way forward

Experts believe that education is not for students only—parents, educators and the Government all have a role to play when it comes to education.

For instance, Gatare says, parents should make sure their children attend workshops. University management and other educators need to ensure students practice what they have been taught.

Diana Nawatti, the head teacher at Mother Mary Complex School in Kigali, says examinations should not all be in theory, there should be the practical part which helps students understand better.

She says there are still many challenges when it comes to nurturing all-round students.

Ntambiye says mindset is also a major setback. He explains that this poor mindset is eventually what brings young people down.

“Some of them want to live a good life yet they haven’t worked for it,” he observes.

However, Nawatti says there is need to have career orientation and parents should be involved, as well as teachers.

“Students should always go for what they want or are passionate about,” she says.

Ntambiye says encouraging students to perform without being ‘pushed’ will reap the best benefits. They will progress fast in life.

Their views

Thierry Kamugisha, Project integration senior director at One Arc Fund

Aspire Debate Rwanda has given the youth a platform to develop our confidence, communication skills and ability to critically think and react to other ideas/information. They are skills I’m currently applying in my scope of work.kids are hooked to processed food and juices.

Annet Kakwezi, Instructor at Akilah Institute for women

Educators should engage learners in software programmes, critical thinking and leadership projects that enable them practice what they have learnt in an experimental way. These are some of the vital skills needed in the workplace and everyone should have them.

Amani Twagirayezu, Managing director at Triumvirate food Ltd

I believe in knowledge transfer, and for anyone to succed, they need to learn from those who have made it in their careers. Therefore, success requires application of knowledge. What is hindering the youth’s prosperity is that they aren’t eager to learn from others.foods that are nutritious.

Martine Ingabire Dushime, Quantity surveyor at Mass Design

I have been exposed to new facades, which have given me relevancy in all fields. Personally, I have been introduced to public services and volunteering, which is important when it comes to creating a future generation of responsible country serving citizens.