Amid the colonial rule on the land of a thousand hills, the first school was born in Rwanda-Urundi to educate Rwandans and Burundians to assist Belgian colonial administration.
Neighbouring the Catholic cathedral of Butare Diocese is Indatwa n’Inkesha School, as you read on the gates’ wall, with the motto “s’instruire pour mieux servir” (to educate oneself for serving better).
September 23, 1929 marked the beginning of the current Groupe Scolaire Officiel de Butare (GSOB), also known as Indatwa n’Inkesha School, a public secondary school located in Huye District, Southern Province.
Established by the Brothers of Charity, the school was originally named “Groupe Scolaire d’Astrida”, but the public called it Indatwa (elites’ school) because only sons of the nobles were admitted there at the time.
The current city of Huye District had been named city of Astrida by the Belgian colonialists in honour of the Queen Astrid of Belgium.
The school today has O’ and A’level sections, teaching both science and arts subjects.
GSOB offers boarding facilities to 1,200 students and is ranked among the best schools in the country, according to the deputy principal in charge of studies, Joël Muzigura.
Fr Pierre Célestin Rwirangira, the principal, says besides commendable academic performance, the school has also scooped several awards from national and regional competitions over the years.
Rwirangira says among the high profile figures who attended the school include the King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa of Rwanda and Louis Rwagasore, the Prince of Burundi and their independece hero.
Alumni laud cradle’s role
Emmanuel Gakwaya, who attended GSOB from 1955 to 1961, says the package of discipline and competences he acquired from the school has been at the core of his life-long successful stories.
“I was able to pass the Belgian’s test for joining GSOB. Back then, it was the only secondary school in the country which produced students for university. I studied there for seven years. Our Belgian teachers were very strict; you had to score above 60 per cent in all disciplines or face expulsion from the school. It was so hard to complete studies at GSOB and many of our classmates were dismissed every year,” he said.
Gakwaya and his former GSOB classmate, Prof Claver Marembo Karemera, says memories came flooding back when they visited GSOB on August 21.
Prof Karemera is currently a physics lecturer at University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology, while Gakwaya, 75, retired in 2006 from the United Nations office in Geneva, Switzerland.
They say during that time, the school was exclusively for boys and admitted 90 best students every year, including Rwandans, Burundians and one or two Congolese.
“Examinations were done in primary schools across the country every year and only 45 best students were selected to go for secondary school studies at GSOB to meet others from Burundi. Three Congolese attended that school during my time there,” Gakwaya recalls.
Gakwaya says his time in Kinshasa, DRC, and Belgium pursuing unoversity studies was easy because of the training he had received at GSOB.
“I was later posted as rector of Kinshasa Independent University and in different other positions in Congo, Canada, Switzerland and Rwanda, thanks to the cornerstone I picked from GSOB,” he says.
Discipline key to excellence
Beginning August 21, GSOB hosted the week-long 14th East African Secondary Schools Championships (FEASSSA).
That notwithstanding, the students went about their usual class work and only appeared at the pitches during break time, an indication of how committed the school is towards academic excellence.
Speaking to The New Times, the GSOB’s staff and students attributed their consistency in good performance to discipline and knowing the right time for everything.
“We are always focused on the original mission of this school. It was established to educate the country’s elites and it has been producing competent graduates since then. So, everyone here, authority and teachers have in mind that we have to keep the flag flying high,” says Fr Rwirangira.
“Our excellent academic performance emanates from unceasing efforts to provide the necessary teaching and learning materials, but discipline enforcement is above all. We teach every student to be in the right place on the right time. We help them to distinguish the time to play and time to study and we ensure nobody diverts,” he adds.
Fr Rwirangira explains that the school’s administration conducts regular inspections to ensure qulaity teaching and learning.
He notes that the school has so far awarded over 7,000 people with advanced certificates and numerous students have walked through the school’s doors to continue their A’level studies at different schools in the country.
Teachers speak out
The teachers said GSOB’s system compels them to work hard, but noted that students’ commitment and school’s support motivate them.
Marc Mushugiza Kahindo, the teachers’ representative and entrepreneurship teacher, said, “I find my motivation mainly in students’ performance in the national examinations but the school also provides free accommodation and fair premiums to every teacher.”
Noting that he has never seen GSOB declining in performance since he joined the school as economics teacher in 2002, Kahindo said Senior Six leavers impressed him most in 2008 when 39 out of 42 students succeeded with grade A.
“The school’s reputation also compels us to do our best to keep the record clean,” he added.
Xavera Nyiragwiza, who joined GSOB in 2009 as a biology teacher, said the school’s good performance is due to students’ and teachers’ commitment towards excellence.
Diodis Mumangu, an English language teacher, said GSOB was exceptional and continues to stand out among the different schools he has served in in his over 25 years as a teacher.
“Students join GSOB with a purpose of competing to be the best. Most of them have won university scholarships abroad. Teachers too know they must excel and there is always a follow up. A teacher who fails to deliver is sacked,” he said.
Students on strategy to excellence
The students said they opted for GSOB due to its good reputation, mainly excellent performance in the national examinations.
“I joined the school in my Senior Two mainly due to its reputation. We study with a purpose to excel and the school facilitates us to make it,” said Arsene Musoni Cyusa, a Senior Five student and school’s headboy.
Citing examples of the school’s facilities like well-equipped computer and science labs, rich library and sports facilities, Joelle Queen Kamanzi Hirwe, a Senior Three student, said the school has offered her whatever it takes to excel and she is by now ready to sit for the national examinations come November.
Senior One student Gadi Rutagengwa said his uncle, who got a scholarship to study abroad from GSOB, inspired him to join the school with intention to excel in sciences too.
Rutagengwa said the school’s schedule gives enough time for lessons’ review and research, a promising fact he will realise his dreams.
Benilde Irafasha, a Senior Two student, said her grandfather who attended GSOB advised her to join the school. She said the school had taught her good time management and discipline
For Tharcille Tuyisenge in S5, the competent teachers and conducive study environment at the school have inspired her to study hard and be able to pursue her dream profession of neuro surgery.