Why is character development important for students?

Many institutions subscribe to the notion that true leadership is rooted in values.

Experts have said time and again that a school can, and should, give its students more than just good academic results.

Institutions should enable their students to get to know themselves better, and help them figure out, whether by trial and error or struggle and reflection and success, their innate skills and motivations.

Character building involves encouraging a sense of teamwork. Net photo.

Schools, experts say, should build students’ resilience, fuel their curiosity and let them aspire high. In short, schools should prepare for life, rather than any particular university or career choice.

Last week, a few mentors in Kigali were trained on leadership skills to understand the role they have in the life of the young people under their supervision.

The coaches were mainly from Dream Team Football Academy, an organisation created in 2010 that focuses on the development of sports, mainly football, and various life skills in young people, aged four to 18.

The training was under four principals that included character development and entrepreneurship skills, inspired by Stephen Covey’s book ‘Seven habits of highly effective people’.

Participants were trained by mentors in various fields who also shared their experiences and how they carry out their role as leaders in their perspectives areas.

What is character development?

Character development is based on positive psychology, this means it builds on students’ strengths rather than weaknesses, and it draws on experiences from schools and educators. Rather than being a traditional class, character development underlies all academic and extracurricular pursuits.

It does not promote any particular moral system. It is neither based on or advocates for any particular religion. Instead, it focuses on a set of universally accepted virtues and values.

Also, character development does not try to instruct or brainwash.

Its mission is to help the youth build their foundation of values and character strengths that last a lifetime.

So, which values do we want to strengthen?

Who are the role models?

Experts say it’s important for educators to help students grow in all areas, including character.

This, they believe, will help learners achieve their dreams because everything that they need to know as far as education is concerned revolves around it.

Jacques Kayisire, founder and programme manager of Dream Team Football Academy, says they don’t just focus on football skills development, they also address life skills such as character building, discipline, and respect, among others.

He believes it’s important for a learner, or any other young person, to be able to think for themselves, be confident in their decisions and have a developing sense of who they are, and that this can all be achieved with the help of their tutors.

Steven Burora, an entrepreneur and mentor during the programme, says it’s important for leaders, including teachers, to be proactive and responsible regarding what they are doing.

He says it’s important to be responsible in whatever they do, so that they build themselves to fit in any environment.

As educators, he says, there should be interaction, which means working as a team to improve productivity.

He says that collaboration not only makes work easier, it also makes the environment more conducive for learning in general.

For instance, he mentions that when educators work together, their interests and strengths help realise many goals.

“This type of team work results in a greater sense of trust and accountability, allowing teachers to feel confident about putting their most dynamic skills towards school improvement,” he says.

He adds that the way they treat each other as teachers is important, as it is with the way they treat students.

He, however, notes that great teachers have high expectations of students in terms of their standards of learning and their behaviour.

“It’s through this that they help their students meet those expectations,” he says.

Why character matters

Joseph Niyitanga, in charge of discipline at a school in Kayonza District, Eastern Province, says it’s important for educators to note that while grooming a child to be an all-round person, they should put emphasis on building their character.

He says many teachers have the skill to educate learners, but few are able to build character.

He believes that character can take a person where talent might not.

He says that, for example, apart from excelling in academics, if a child is talented in, for example, sports, their talent won’t be of great use if they have no charm.

He says this can be seen in professional footballers, or other sports, being fired or dismissed because of misconduct.

Niyitanga says it’s much better when such aids are built through events outside of school, or extracurricular activities.

This, he says, will help students meet and interact with new people with whom they share interests which will also improve their social skills. Expanding their network is beneficial for finding career opportunities after school.

Niyitanga says that when learners are encouraged positively on how to behave, they gain a sense of value; that includes caring about other people, being honest, responsible, among other things, making for great and upstanding people in the future. 

Although students spend most of their time at school, this shouldn’t be solely the teachers’ role; parents should do the same at home and help build character and instil moral values in their children.

He says that teachers and parents should, however, first set a good example for the learners to follow before trying to instil good character.

“They (students) learn from their leaders or the people who guide them, and they pass on the values as they advance in life,” he says.

He adds that teachers’ priorities, principles and examples of good behaviour, can help encourage young people to take the high road in their lives, regardless of the challenges they may come across.

The importance

Jean Pier Habimana, a mentor and entrepreneur, says as learners take into practice the skills that promote character development, they acquire the strength to persevere in life.

He says this includes boosting their self-esteem, among others. These traits, he says, can help sustain young people not only in school, but at home and in their communities.

“Because these children are the leaders of tomorrow, I believe they should be helped on how to be responsible for what they do, and also how to face the challenges coming their way,” he says.

Kayisire believes that as a leader, one should be in the position to always have a big influence in the life of the young, and that it’s very important for them to understand how to handle big responsibilities.

Character development is the missing piece in the puzzle. It carves out the time for reflection, discussions, experiences that lead to self-discovery, understanding and strengthening of young leaders’ values.


Jerome Kwizera, Sports trainer

Just like it is with academics, young people should be guided on what to do in all aspects, especially when it comes to building their careers. There should be career mentors to help them choose and understand the right path for them.

Ange Gasasira, Student

Parents should be the ones to set a good example and strive to mould their children into great people, for now and the future. Teachers and the community should just provide assistance.

Vincent Manzi, ICT expert

It’s important for schools to adopt new learning systems, especially in this digital era. There are many things students can discover through digital learning, which is at times limited because some schools don’t have access to the equipment. 

Prudence Uwimana, High school graduate

I think it’s important for mentors, especially teachers and parents to follow-up on students’ academic life. It helps guide the students on how to improve in certain areas and at the same time, identify what they are good at.