“Pontian please get me a job,” Hirwa, a second-year student at Kigali Independent University, asked me recently. “Why do you need a job?” I asked curiously. But without giving me a proper explanation, she added: “Just get me any job, it will do…”
Hirwa is not the only one craving for an employment opportunity. It is very rare to interact with any university student or someone in a higher institution of learning without that issue coming up. In fact a number of students are employed in restaurants, bars and shops among others. Why, then, have many students fallen in love with the idea of working even before completing their course?
Sharon Mutesi, a business student at Independent University of Kigali, says she started working in her Senior Three vacation and has never turned back.
“I started working in my mother’s arts and crafts shop after my O’level exams because I was bored at home. Besides, my mother wanted to keep me busy throughout the holiday,” she says.
“When I joined A’level, I started going to the shop only during holidays,” Mutesi adds, saying it is now part of her life.
Christine Keza, a second-year student of Human Resource Management at the University of Kigali, says she started working in order to pay for her education.
“I wonder where I would be if I had not been offered a job by this company,” Keza, a receptionist at the Kisementi-based Airtel head office, says.
She says she has managed to pay tuition and meet all the required school necessary requirements from the salary she earns.
Fred Kalisa, a businessman at Kisementi in Remera, also says he had a job while still a student in Uganda in the early 1990s.
“In A’level in 1992, I took up a job to make ends meet. I worked with a photo studio in Wandegeya, Kampala as a camera man,” he says. “I had two options. To either go back to the village and graze cows or stay around town and work hard for tuition since I could not qualify for government sponsorship at the university.
Kalisa says from taking photos he managed to pay for himself for a diploma in journalism at Young Men’s Christian Association in Kampala, Uganda.
What parents, lecturers think
Lameck Katabarwa, a parent, says a student from a humble background will certainly need a job to cater for their various needs.
“I have no problem with a student working as long as she remains focused. These students need transport, scholastic materials and facilitation for research which their parents may not be able to afford. So if there is an opportunity to get them without stressing the parent, why not work?” she asks.
Peterson Ntaganda, a parent and a student at Essa Nyarugunga, admits that studying while working is very tiresome.
“You need to have a sense of direction and support from your family, friends, employers and teachers,” he says, adding that without his wife’s support, studying would have been impossible for him.
Ntaganda says if one has an option, they should avoid working until after school because it is not easy to have every stakeholder’s support which can affect one’s performance either at school or work.
According to Dr Margaret Jjuuko, a don at University of Rwanda School of journalism and communication, studying while working isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. One is exposed to different people, gets a taste of the ‘real world’ and important of all provides services people need.
“I had some jobs during my time at Rhodes University in South Africa which I think are fairly representative to what happens in society. They were all summer jobs as I didn’t want many distractions I had reading to do after all,” Jjuuko says.
“I had a job of teaching for 6 hours a week and it supplemented on my school requirements and facilitated my studies effectively,” she says.
For Flavour Kabami, a mother of one, every student should start working in first year for experience’s sake.
“I started teaching in my first year at campus. By the time I was done with school, I already had four years experience yet my classmates had none,” she says.
Kabami says when she went to do a job interview after graduation, the panel praised her for being young yet experienced.
“I immediately got the job because I had worked before,” Kabami adds.
Can work affect performance?
Jjuuko says much as students are free to work, they should opt for holiday jobs rather than full-time ones.
“I know one young man who mercilessly messed up his degree course because he let his term-time job take over his life. He’s now doing another degree, but it’s an expensive mistake to make,” she advises.
Linda Mukamusoni, a hardware dealer in Kimironko, says two of her employees are third-year finance students at SFB and have continued to perform well at school.
“I have been working with these girls for about four years and they have not lost focus. They work from 7:30am to 3:30pm and then go to school. Fortunately their academic performance has not been affected any way,” Mukamusoni argues.
Dinah Mutoni, one of the student employees of Mukamusoni, believes one only loses track when they choose to.
“By the time one reaches university, they should be old enough to know what is good or bad for them. It is common sense that if I choose to work then I must burn the midnight candle if I’m to compete with the other non-working students,” she reasons.
To her, working while studying teaches someone to be serious and hardworking.
But Moses Lukundo, a soft ware engineer, disagrees with Mutoni. “When I was a student I got a job as a shop attendant. I was supposed to work from 9:00am to 6:00pm although most of my lectures started at 4:00pm. But I still managed to juggle the two for the first few months,” he says.
Lukundo says life was good at the beginning because his pockets were always smiling and could afford to pay rent, eat well and dress well.
However, according to the software engineer, that joy was short-lived. In the second semester of his first year, some lectures and tutorials were moved from evening to as early as mid-day.
“I started feigning sickness so that I could catch up with lectures. But of course I couldn’t lie everyday so sometimes I used to dodge lectures. As a result I performed badly in my course works and became inefficient at work to the dismay of my boss,” Lukundo explains.
“I always went to class exhausted and unable to concentrate. One day I almost broke down and decided to resign in order to save my life,” he adds.
How a student can survive without working
Lukundo acknowledges that although every student (rich and poor) wants to work, it is not always because they lack food, clothing or accommodation. Instead it is to cater for a luxurious lifestyle which can be avoided.
“When I lost my job, life became tough for me considering the lifestyle I had accustomed myself to. But I had to adjust so I cut my expenditure by 50% and concentrated more on books than partying,” he says.
Kenneth Ngabire, a parent, says a number of students in government universities and institutions are fed and housed by the government making their reason to work null and void.
“If you are given lunch and supper plus accommodation, why do you need a job? Besides, most students are given pocket money by their parents. I believe a student should live as a student not extravagantly as someone who is retired,” Ngabire says.
Do you support the idea of students working?
Working while studying is good for the students because they can raise some money to cater for their needs. If a student works, they will not stress the parent with endless problems. It also strengthens the relationship between the child and parent because each can bail out the other in tough times. A student with a job will always work hard to compensate for the lost time.
I think only university students should work because at that level they are mature enough to differentiate bad from good. But when one starts working early they also risk dropping out of school since the person’s priority will change to making money.
Working has both advantages and disadvantages. Working while studying is essential especially for those who pay for themselves. The disadvantage is that many students lose concentration and engage in sex-for-money business.
Mixing books with work is tricky but sometimes you have no choice. People who usually start working at an early age easily become entreprenuers. For instance if a student works in a shop, it is very easy for him to set up his.
I think only Senior Six vacists and university students should work. Tuition fees and other requirements are very costly to a non-working student. Besides, some of these students have siblings to take care of.
As long as you know how to balance the two, it is okay to work while studying. For a girls it’s even better because you cannot be lured into sex by men with cheap items since you can afford them yourself. The disadvantage is that you always lack enough time to revise.
Compiled by Solomon Asaba
Tips on balancing work and school
1. Be organised. Keep your school materials organised and in one place so that it would be easy to find them. Mark upcoming deadlines on your calendar and start school projects early to allow sufficient time to complete them in case other things come up in the meantime. If you’re taking several courses at once, don’t spend all of your time on one course while other deadlines begin to loom on the horizon.
2. Create a flexible schedule. Some parts of your schedule are going to be inflexible, such as class times and work days. Fit homework and studying in when you’re either not in class or not at the office. Build a routine that you can stick to, but are able to adjust if other important things come up. As a working student, you have to be ready to adapt to new assignments, unexpected errands, and sudden work crises that need to be addressed immediately. Make enough studying time in your schedule so that if something comes up, you can shift it into another slot during the week.
3. Communicate your schedule to your employers, friends, clients and family. Make sure the people around you know where you’ll be and when. Sign up for an online calendar and send the URL to the people who depend on knowing where you are and when. Not everyone you work with will understand the demands of being a student and, similarly, not all of your classmates will understand the additional responsibilities of working while in school.
4. Manage stress. Stress is an inevitable part of being a student and a worker — combine both together and you can expect to be stressed out. As much as you may try to prevent stress, you’re going to have to learn how to relieve it as well.
Take those much-needed breaks. Give yourself time to collect yourself when you need it the most, so you can re-approach things with a clear head.
Be active. Stretch. Swim. Run. Lift. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle helps relieve stress and you’ll find that the more you get out and exercise, the easier work and school will seem. Exercising is commonly known to reduce stress.
Live. Don’t forget to enjoy life. Don’t get bogged down by nuisances of the demands of your academic and professional life. Take time to experience the world around you and appreciate your relationships in life. See movies, read books, watch sports.
5. Be realistic. There may not be enough time for everything, so get your priorities straight and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t accomplish every single task you’ve set out to do on a given day. Stay positive and be thankful that you have the opportunity to make a living and get an education.
6. Remember why you’re doing it. By taking on work and studies at the same time, you’re accepting a challenge that most people don’t dare to attempt. But, you wouldn’t be doing it if you didn’t have strong reasons and motivation. Whether it’s the desire to pay your way through school and remain debt-free, or because you want to get ahead in your career — keep your goals in mind whenever it starts to feel like too much.
7. Know that it can be done!. It may seem overwhelming at times, but remember that other people have gone through the same thing you are, and they have succeeded! You can too.