Jackylne Muhimpundu was always a hardworking student. Burning the midnight candle in the quest for academic success was her routine of revising, especially during the examination period. Even in her last semester at the university, Muhimpundu read hard.
But, her desired top grades notwithstanding, there was one thing that she would never do - sit exams on a Sabbath; and not because she was sick or hadn’t paid full tuition, but because she dedicated her Saturday to God alone.
If tests or exams happened to fall one Saturday, while her fellow students went into the examination hall, she remained locked up in her hostel reading the Bible, before finally heading to church where she spent the rest of the day.
“God would not forgive me if I chose to do any work on a Saturday,” Muhimpundu says, “and besides life is not only about books. My belief is superior to all the other things.”
As fate would have it, one of her final papers landed on a Saturday. The decision was not a hard one for her: she chose to skip it, and earned herself a retake; but did not have any regrets. It was a worthwhile sacrifice for her Faith. Last year she winded up her course after completing this retake to guarantee her possible employment with a second class upper in Finance and Banking.
Muhimpundu’s good degree is testimony to her hard work, but the challenge that she faced remains a real struggle for students as they find ways to juggle between the demands of their Faith, and those of the institutions of learning.
Students express their feelings
Celine Byukusenge, a fourth year student at Kigali Institute of Management, KIM in Kanombe says that she cannot sacrifice the only day of worship for anything on earth.
Byukusenge, a Seventh Day Adventist, is no stranger to missing out on lessons or tests conducted on Saturday. She, too, missed out on a crucial paper in her first year because it fell on Sabbath.
“I would have completed my course already, but I am now working on the retake I got when I had just joined campus. Luckily, it only cost me Rwf 10,000 to re-sit this paper,” Byukusenge says.
However, Pappy Habineza, a first year student of Information technology at Kigali Institute of Education, KIE, is adamant that even with a lot of faith; academics are not something you can take for granted.
Habineza, a devout Catholic, reveals that it is on his timetable to attend Mass every Sunday, but skipping class is out of the question.
“I go to church early in the morning and attend the first Mass, because I know that most exams or lessons cannot begin that early,” Habineza says.
Betty Mukawere, a Pentecost studying at the Adventist University of East Africa in Mudende, Kigali says that much as it is a bother having any lectures or exams on a Sunday, refusing to attend school because of this would be wasting the time and money invested on education.
“Sometimes I may have a lecture on a Sunday. It does not mean I don’t want to go to church but I have also to consider the struggle my parents go through when trying to raise my tuition,” Mukawera explains.
However, Fanny Mukarugwiza, a fourth year student of Accounting at KIM would have opted to skip all lectures, exams and tests put on a Sunday if her parents were well-off.
“The tuition is a lot, and missing out on lecturers may mean poor performance, but if I was financially stable I would also skip them,” Mukarugwiza says.
Religious leaders speak out
Many religious leaders have long condemned the act of putting academic activities on the days of worship.
Rev Jacklyn Iribagiza, a Counsellor at Remera Martyrs School, says that conducting school on holy days is not a new debate, and that most religious denominations are up to now struggling to isolate these days as special.
“This is because although some students are willing to compromise, and can have lessons, exams or tests on days of worship, it does not mean that they like the arrangement,” Iribagiza says.
Iribagiza also argues that forcing students to take tests on days of prayers may have a psychological effect on some of the students who are not comfortable with it, leading to poor performance.
“Some students only do these papers because they come from poor families and have to sacrifice everything possible to finish up with school at the right time but that doesn’t mean they are ok with it,” Iribagiza adds.
She also maintains that she cannot draw a line between belief and academics’ insisting that devotion is personal and one can chose something over the other.
John Kalwanyi, a Pastor at a born-again church, insists that there is no need to blame any student who misses school an exam if it is scheduled on their day of worship.
Kalwanyi warns that spending a lot of time in school does not guarantee success, and that those who ignore giving God his due are headed for trouble.
“Much as lessons are important, God is the source of blessings,” says the Pastor. “Besides, even after school you may want to pray for a number of things like jobs among others. That is why I can not blame anyone who puts Church before school,” Kalwanyi adds.
A study done at the University of Indiana reports, among other findings, that involvement in religious activities and spirituality-enhancing activities does not seem to hinder and may even have mild salutary effects on engagement in educationally purposeful activities and desired outcomes of college.
Lecturers speak out
However, most educational institutions argue that it is impossible to find any arrangement with regard to respecting days of worship that is satisfactory to every single student.
Dr Abdullah Baguma, the Ag. Director Academic Quality, Higher Education Council says that besides the rules that govern the academic institutions, there is always an academic calendar that is designed to suit all students.
“The academic calendar puts into considerations a lot of issues, and there is no reason why institutions would want to put major activities on these holydays,” Baguma says.
Baguma, however, adds that when it comes to belief there are a number of aspects involved and you may not be able to satisfy everyone. He cites the case of a student who finds some topics in the course they are studying going against their beliefs.
“What should a lecturer do in that case? Will he not teach the topic? Should the student refuse to attend class?” he asks rhetorically, before suggesting:
“Students need to understand that institutions are governed by rules, and whereas some may find it convenient to miss lessons or exams, there is a minimum of hours of attendance required for continuous assessment.”
Paul Swagga, a lecturer at Akilah Institute for Women notes that putting lessons on days of worship has always been a contentious issue, and advises institutions of higher education to take a balanced stand on the matter.
“I remember at one point during my education, Adventist students spent days striking over doing tests on Saturdays, but institutions maintained that it is upon the students to choose either class or Church,” Swagga says.
He, however, points out that weekends should preferably be left for private activities, but sometimes school administrators find themselves in a tight position and are forced to encroach on weekends as a way of finishing all the activities in time.
“The main reason why an exam or a test may be put on a weekend is because time itself is not available during the week days; nonetheless, plans should, at the very least, be made to allow students some time for worship,” Swagga explains.
Varsity students speak out
As a Seventh Day Adventist, I would not attend class or do an exam on the sabbath (Saturday) because that would be going against my faith. That is why I advise students to go to schools that are founded on their beliefs and faith.
Having a lecture on a day of worship cannot prevent me from attending it. I mean why would I fail an exam just because it is being done on the day of worship. What would happen if I did it on that day? I believe God is also very understanding when it comes to such special situations.
I would attend lectures on any day whether of worship or not because they always roll call in class. I have also seen students of some faiths missing exams on those grounds but they end up getting retakes.
It would be understandable to miss class on Saturday if I was an adventist but not an exam. Fortunately, I’m a Catholic and my faith does not stop me from doing an exam on Sunday. Besides, we have many masses on Sunday that I can’t fail to get one to attend.
Regardless of the day, I would not miss a lecture or exam for prayers. The reason is that when you miss an exam at Adventist University of Central Africa (Mudende), the authorities fine you Rwf13,500 for each credit. So just imagine how much you would have to pay if you missed three modules.
If I had a lecture on my day of worship, I would not attend it. However if it is an exam or test, I would be the first in class. I cannot afford to miss an exam for anything in the world. The good thing is that such moments are very few in life.