The world over, institutions of learning are known to organise study tours for students. These study tours normally come with specific learning goals aligned to course syllabi for learners and emphasise experiential learning.
The case in not any different in Rwanda. With most government efforts geared towards improving competence among learners right from early stages, some schools are using field study trips to supplement the pile of classwork churned out to students. From mountain visits, to game parks, forest reserves, water bodies or factories, the idea is that those who participate in such getaways appreciate the link between academic theory and the surrounding environment.
Study tours are sometimes expensive, according Martin Masabo, the head teacher of Lycee De Kigali, yet certain disciplines require regular visits to the field if students are to grasp the real concepts of nature.
“Geography teachers who rarely conduct field trips find it extremely difficult to convince learners about certain features,” explains Masabo.
With regular academic tours, Boniface Onyango, the principal of Riviera High School, believes students find an opportunity to improve confidence among their peers as long as these trips are well-planned.
“Tours provide a myriad of learning experiences that improves learner confidence. In our yearly programme every class must go on an academic tour,” says Onyango.
Although other schools rarely put emphasis on the areas to visit, Joyce Luberwa, the principal of Essa Nyarugunga in Kigali, points out that good study tours need to focus on areas of specialty to enrich disciplines.
“The choice of the tour should depend on the discipline. For instance, a student pursuing tourism needs to visit places such as Virunga National Park to appreciate the real world better,” she explains.
Issues of facilitation
Schools usually organise these tours but Masabo maintains that without consent and financial support from parents some academic visits may not be very fruitful.
“We might have been very fortunate to have parents who are willing to cooperate but that may not always be the case. First, you need the parents’ permission, then financial assistance, and clearly without their involvement, some trips may be difficult,” he adds.
Onyango explains these trips ought to be planned well so that students can get the desired goals.
“Without proper planning, issues of facilitation can affect the activity at the last minute. Contribution from parents is factored in but this is outside the school fees structure,” he says.
Since relying on parental support for academic tours is not sustainable, other schools like Gashora Girls Academy entirely fund students for academic tours.
Theophile Habiyambere, the dean of studies at the school, believes that all parents are willing to send their children on tours but few would agree to contribute financially.
“We entirely fund these trips and have one for senior six students in a year. These visits include places such as Virunga and Akagera parks,” says Habiyambere.
To cut down expenditure on the tours, the school takes students to places near the school.
“There are factories near the school where students offering entrepreneurship can learn a lot. Even those offering biology and are interested in botany have a number of plants and features to learn from not very far away from school. This fits in our limited budget,” he adds.
The planning of trips for primary and secondary schools is left at the discretion of the schools.
According to Dr Celestin Ntivuguruzwa, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education, after guiding on school fees structures, which are approved by the district council meetings under the proposal of the parents’ and teachers’ associations, the ministry only intervenes when other concerns arise.
“If a given school wants to organise a study tour and parents’ and teachers’ association have approved that they will contribute, I don’t see any problem with that but that is a local arrangement,” he says.
Ntivuguruzwa, however, warns that school tours should have strategic objectives that do not create an unnecessary burden to both students and parents.
“It should be coming as a supplement to academics, other than creating a scenario where some students are able to pay and others cannot afford,” he adds.
Students always excited about field visits
Most students who go on tours only do so with the excitement of seeing new places but this eventually involves learning.
Jeanette Dusingize, a student at St Patrick Kicukiro, recalls a tour to the Genocide memorial site in Gisozi, Kigali, in April.
“It was emotional but at the same time educational. I believe that besides theory, academic tours make us explore a number of areas. Where different schools are involved concurrently, it is another opportunity to make new friends,” she explains.
Jean Marie Tuyizere, a Senior Four student at Apaper Complex School, Kigali, believes academic tours are the best opportunity to break away from the monotonous classwork.
“At home and school, there are strict rules not to visit certain places. Tours are the only chance to get in touch with the other world,” he says.
Parents positive despite hefty charges
Depending on areas to visit, the cost of study tours differs from school to school. In ordinary schools, this could be as low as Rwf10,000, while some international schools charge trips in foreign currency to a tune as high as Rwf 1m.
Whereas most parents think twice about spending heavily on academic tours, many agree that they (tours) have a huge contribution in shaping students.
“These trips are eye-openers. I remember the first time I went on an academic tour was to a game reserve. It was an opportunity for me to see wild animals at close range,” says Pierce Rukundo, a parent in Gisozi.
Gloria Kayitesi, a parent from Rugando, explains that as long as communication from schools comes in early, there is no reason to deny a student an opportunity to go on a study trip.
“The only thing which needs to be done is to issue the communications or the circulars as early as possible. This gives me ample time to prepare for my child,” she says.
Others, however, express concern over some international schools which use study tours and trips abroad as a way of extorting money from parents.
“You will pay the school fees but before you know it, the child shows up with another circular of a trip. It is even very difficult to question their accountability,” says Miriam Dushabe, a parent in Remera, Kigali.
Erick Musafiri, student at St Patrick Kicukiro
Study tours enable students to interact with people from different backgrounds as well as making new friends, which boosts their social network. Tours are also good for teachers because they too need to explore.
Celestine Mbabazi, graduate in education
Just like holidays, education tours help students to refresh their minds and give them a break from class work. Tours also help both the students and teachers to have a practical feel of what is taught in class.
Kenny Mpayana, English teacher
As the saying goes that ‘experience is the best teacher’ giving only theory to students isn’t sufficient. Taking students to experience what the game reserves look like broadens their minds and outlook to life in general.
Florence Uwimana, parent
Students are able to learn more about their culture, especially if they tour traditional sites. Teachers should make sure they organise tours that benefit students not only academically but socially.
Mary Ishimwe, university student
Academic tours are part of learning and play a major role in reinforcing a student’s memory. What is also true is that these tours are a source of adventure and help students take a break from the monotony that comes with confinement at school.