The death of co-curricular activities in schools

Back in the day, school life was quite interesting. Interesting because learners would actively participate in art, sports, music and drama among others during break time and after class. But things seem to be changing so fast.
Singing and dancing sessions build teamwork while at the same time making school more interesting. (Timothy Kisambira)
Singing and dancing sessions build teamwork while at the same time making school more interesting. (Timothy Kisambira)

Back in the day, school life was quite interesting. Interesting because learners would actively participate in art, sports, music and drama among others during break time and after class. But things seem to be changing so fast. The Education Times has discovered that such activities are on the decline as schools focus on academics. As a result, schools have not given co-curricular activities enough attention. But what could be going wrong and what is the way forward?

Patrice Sugira, a teacher at Groupe Scholaire Mater Dei in Nyanza, acknowledges the changing trend in schools and attributes it to limited time.

“There are many subjects on the timetable which makes it hard to include other activities like sports and drama,” he says. “However, we normally allow the students to engage in co-curricular activities during the weekends when there’s less class work.”

Sugira, who acknowledges the importance of co-curricular, also attributes the decline to lack of motivation of teachers by the school authorities.

“Most times teachers who train students to sing, dance, and act or play sport in most cases just volunteer yet it requires a lot of commitment and dedication,” Sugira adds.

But Albert Ngabonziza, a biology teacher at Lycee Notre Dame puts the blame on teacher training institutions which concentrate more on other fields of academics while giving arts and physical education a blind eye.

“I once visited a drama class at Kigali Institute of Education and there were about 15 teacher trainees yet the other classes had over 120 students,” Ngabonziza says, stressing that that number is so small compared to the number  of learners and schools in the world.

“Only if training institutions deliberately train more teachers in co-curricular activities will the shortage of personnel in that area reduce,” Ngabonziza adds.

But Rahma Umuhoza, a debate trainer, puts the blame on school leaders who continue to think that co-curricular activities are second to academics and therefore don’t need much attention. That is why, Umuhoza continues, school administrators always invest in equipment for laboratories and classrooms but not sports or drama.

“If students are to engage in music, they need instruments such as guitars, piano and drums which most schools cannot afford” Umuhoza says.

Jean de Dieu Mutwayezu, a parent, says technology is the reason interest in co-curricular activities has dropped.

”Whenever students find free time, they concentrate on social media platforms such as Facebook, Watsapp and Twitter instead of playing football or debating,” Mutwayesu adds.

Experts speak out

However Augustin Gatera, the director Unit of Languages and Humanities, Rwanda Education Board, rubbishes all those excuses saying academics must not suffocate talent development (co-curricular activities) at whatever cost.

 He explains that some learners may not particularly be the most intelligent academically but could be redeemed by say music, football or drama.

“The world needs every skill. Musicians and footballers earn more money than professors and many people doing office jobs,” Gatera says.

For instance in Rwanda, Emery Gatsinzi aka Riderman dropped out of school to pursue his dream of becoming a musician. He has, since, won several awards and become a front runner in advocating for the development of the music industry in the country. Other people who have successfully pursued their dreams include Haruna Niyonzima, the Amavubi Stars (Rwanda national football team) captain, musician Eric Senderi, and award winning artiste King James.

Children can only discover their talent by playing basketball from an early age. (Solomon Asaba)

For Fred Tumwebaze, a teacher at Ntare School in Uganda, lack of physical activity should be a concern to everyone.

“It gets boring when students spend the whole day sitting in class. Besides, it can cause laziness and lack of physical fitness,” Tumwebaze notes.

He says despite the packed timetable, teachers should endeavour to squeeze in non-academic activities because of their value in a student’s life.

“On top of dedicating reasonable hours to these activities, schools must also provide enough funds to allow both students and teachers to develop interest,” Tumwebaze says.

Stakeholders share experiences

But not everyone is complaining. Diane Mutako, a senior six student at Gashora Girls School, is all praises for her school which she says treasures sports and music.

Mutako, who is involved in many activities, says it has helped her learn a number of skills.

“Music helps me develop as a person and I would love to do it more regularly,” she says.

For Gloria Igihozo from Greenhills Academy, co-curricular activities help students learn how to socialize.

“Engaging in activities such as interschool competitions such as debates helped me become more open minded and knowledgeable,” Igihozo says.

Some people, however, fear that if their children get absorbed into co-curricular activities, they will lose interest in studies. Sheila Jeanette Mukankusi, a parent of two children, is an example.

“I would want to give my children freedom to participate in these activities but the problem is that they might deviate from the right (academic) path,” Mukankusi argues.

However, Moses Rubibi, a student at Sunrise High School in Musanze, disagrees with Mukankusi.

 “I have played basket ball twice or thrice a week and I have never encountered any difficulties in my academics,” Rubibi says.

Although academics are important, too much of it can lead to boredom. (T. Kisambira)

Role of parents

Vallence Ndibwami, a counsellor, says it is the role of parents and teachers to help the children identify their talents and then offer support and encouragement in the direction that best suits them.

“For instance if a child has a talent in art, parents should buy them drawing materials and take them to visit art exhibitions, while the musically talented ones can be encouraged to join choirs, attend music classes and meet a musician among others,” Ndibwami says.

It is important to note that education has many forms and that there are many roads to success. Just because someone has trouble cramming formulae and world history doesn’t mean they are any less intelligent than the rest. Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is intelligent. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Probably that is why Wizey Uwera’s, argument comes in handy. Uwera, a parent, says: “There should be a balance between academics and co-curricular activities because both are very important for our society.”

Students tell us how they spend their free time

Elijah Kalamuzi
Enock Kamugesha

Elijah Kalamuzi

I only love basketball and football, things like drama do not catch my attention. I also do some physicals during my free time in order to keep fit and healthy. Fortunately we have sufficient sports facilities at school although no one forces you to participate in any activity.

Enock Kamugesha

Personally I’m not very interested in sports except may be music but I don’t have access to modern facilities / instruments. But I always see other students, especially those in the lower classes, playing soccer in the school playground every evening.

Nancy Musonera
Grace Ishimwe

Nancy Musonera

I usually chat on social media during my free time. If I had enough time, I would go to the music room to play an instrument or two. However, I still consider academics to be more important than any other activity at school and that is where I focus most.

Grace Ishimwe

I love resting after class because I’m usually tired. I also believe that if schools hired different teachers to handle specifically co-curricular activities, the response from students could be better. By evening, subject teachers are too exhausted to go into other activities.

Thomson Nkotanyi

Thomson Nkotanyi

I like all types of sports but the problem is that I’m normally too tired in the evening to participate in any.

I wish they could fix such activities in the morning when we are still fresh. T

he only way to get everyone to participate is by including co-curricular activities on the timetable.