Last week, schools across the country opened their doors to many learners ranging from nursery, primary and secondary. Although most of the students are continuing, many others are new, specifically in Senior One and Senior Five. And just like everyone who has been through similar circumstances can testify, it is never easy to get used to a new environment.
“Whenever I joined a new school, I always found it hard to make friends and fit in. This always made my life difficult,” says Jules Musabyimana, a Senior Five student at Kigali Christian School in Kibagabaga, who has already been to four different schools.
According to John Gakwere, another student in a Kigali school, the biggest challenge for Senior One students is the litany of new subjects they are introduced to.
“In primary, pupils are used to four or five subjects but when they join secondary, they shoot up to more than 10. Adjusting to so many subjects in not a simple thing,” Gakwere says.
The other challenge new students face is bullying. Although the rate is low in Rwanda, there are still cases of verbal insults and demeaning statements directed at fresh students in schools. According to Molly Uwase, a Senior Two student, those insults hurt somebody’s confidence since most of them are meant to portray someone as an idiot.
“When I joined Senior One, the older students made it their business to throw all sorts of annoying words at me but I endured. It is not easy to study when people provoke you but we had no choice,” she says.
For other students though, what bothers them is the shift from a day to a boarding school.
Rachael Mutabazi, a student at Ecole Technique Muhazi, says: “After completing primary, I was taken to a boarding school. That being my first time in a boarding school, I really suffered.”
“We used to eat only beans and posho everyday yet I was used to a variety of food items at home. Also, supper was served at 6pm which was too early for me,” she adds.
Other learners also complain about the distance between their homes and schools.
“My new school is two hours from home yet I have to walk to and from school daily,” a student from Muhanga, who preferred anonymity, said.
The list of challenges faced by new students is endless but fortunately no mountain is insurmountable if one follows the advice of teachers and parents.
Teachers speak out
According to Joan Nakiryowa, a primary school teacher, the best way to adapt to a new school is by reporting to school early.
“Most schools dedicate the first week to orientation. During this period, teachers help new students understand the school environment. They introduce them to the teaching staff, take them around school and generally allow them time to interact and get used to the timetable,” she says.
“Unfortunately, some students report to school in the third or fourth week when orientation is over,” Nakiryowa adds.
Regarding bullying, Shamim Nirere, a school mentor in Muhanga district, advises victims to always report culprits to teachers and authorities.
“No child has a right to abuse another student be it verbally or physically,” Nirere says.
According to Nakiryowa, fresh students tend to miss their parents so much that they either start crying or hating school. Reason? Because, according to Nakiryowa, some parents over pamper their children and leave all house chores and issues of personal hygiene such as washing clothes, to the maid, these children normally find it hard to adjust to a different lifestyle.
“When students find it hard to leave the side of their parents, they always find it hard to mix with others,” Nakiryowa says, adding that parents can still love their children without spoiling them.
Mariza Muna, an English teacher, says the key to a good time in school is friends.
“You need to have friends or people to talk to and get to know the dos and don’ts of your new school. Failure to have such people by your side will make you very uncomfortable,” she says.
Parents, counsellors advise
Lillian Peace, a parent residing in Kimisagara, Kigali, says joining sports and clubs can help a new student feel at home within a short time.
“When students play football or netball, it helps them forget about their loneliness. They also make friends with whom they share interests,” Peace says.
Joyce Kirabo, a counsellor, believes all the other factors are not as crucial as making friends in a school.
“Get friends as soon as you get into that school because it boosts your confidence,” Kirabo advises new students.
For Joanita Mukabahizi, a parent, teachers play a major role in helping children to settle down quickly.
“For instance nursery school going children need extra-care from the teachers in order to cope with an environment that is away from their parents,” Mukabahizi says.
Your advice to new students
It is always hard getting used to a new school especially if your parents have not prepared you psychologically. If you have not been advised well, you are likely to feel nervous and uncomfortable in class hence not concentrating. The solution is in being friendly.
In any new environment, the best way to adapt is by befriending continuing students. They will give you the best guidance since they know the tradition of the school and know where to find what. Just approach them and start a conversation with any of them.
I faced many challenges when I joined primary school. First, I had to adjust to many new subjects in a short time. Secondly, I had to deal with new faces and conditions. In fact I didn’t spend long in that school.
Joining a new school will always come with its challenges. You need to adjust so fast to the environment and way of life. For instance your parents will not be with you every time so you need to get used to that quickly.
Emmanuel Kayina, Senior One, Remera Protestant
I joined secondary school recently and have not experienced any major hardships so far. The students are friendly and helpful which makes life much easier. In case any challenges come up, I will discuss them wth my parents.
Gloria Bajeni S.3, Kagarama Secondary
It was not easy for me to cope up with life in my new school I made new friends and everything changed for the better. It helped me overcome the hurdles. I believe sometimes it is because of fear.