In most schools, having preps in the wee hours of the morning and after classes is a daily routine. In some schools, students will be up revising as early as 5.00am before normal classes kickoff. A similar arrangement follows after classes in the evening, especially in boarding schools, where students are only given time to take supper before returning to their reading tables.
While this mandatory style of revision for many is an opportunity to enhance performance, several studies suggest that preps encroach on normal sleep time and there are chances that they could negatively impact academic performance.
A study on sleep impact versus academic performance by lead researcher and psychologist at University of California Berkeley, Bryce Mander, shows that if one sleeps for less than six hours, they are cheating themselves and mostly likely won’t be able to learn much.
From the same study, the latter part of sleep, which ensures that brain waves promote our capacity to store fact-based memories is affected, a finding that raises concern whether early morning classes are optimal for learning. But how do schools conduct preps?
At Remera Martyrs School in Giporoso, Kigali, students report to school at 7.00am, revise for 30 minutes and then break off for normal class sessions. Preps resume at 4.30pm until 6.00pm, when students break off.
According to Alex Mushumba, the head teacher of the school, conducting preps is one way of helping day-scholars who regularly encounter several distractions away from school.
“On a daily basis, they are assigned homework, but others simply prefer watching television or browsing on mobile phones to making revision. The preps, therefore, ensure that all students get ample time to do revision,” he explains.
The policy at the school excuses sick students from this mandatory attendance of preps although absence without formal communication could attract a punishment.
“When students join the school, we explain to them the usefulness of these preps. Much as we could be lenient with genuine excuses, continued absence raises several concerns. This is when we involve the parents before addressing the issue to the disciplinary committee,” he adds.
At Riviera High School in Kabuga, Kigali, students start their morning preps at 7.00am and end at 9.00am when normal classes begin. Beyond 3:30 pm, students take off time to relax until supper time which is 7.00pm.
“As long as it is timetabled, preps are useful to learners. From 9.00am in the morning teachers deliver lots of content to students. The question is when does this student revise all this content or do assignments? ” asks Ronald Wandira, a history teacher at the school.
On how much time should be dedicated to preps, Wandira believes, schools need to allocate sufficient time, but not too much to drive students into laziness.
“If you allow students develop a habit of sleeping for long hours, you are likely to miss out the benefits. There are higher chances that the only thing they will think about is sleeping all the time,” he adds.
For Paul Swagga, a tutor at Akilah Institute for Women in Kibagabaga, Kigali, weekend preps are the most useful but should be constantly monitored to deter students from engaging in useless activities.
“If you put in place a timetable for these preps, students will be compelled to attend. Most important of all, there should be supervision from the teachers. I have observed some students who simply sit and wait for preps to end and then go back to the dormitories and sleep,” explains Swagga.
Attendance should be unrestricted
According to the Rwanda Education Board (REB), schools have the liberty to design timetables, allocate appropriate periods for preps and discuss ways of supervision.
“There is leadership in schools and the head teachers need to follow up such arrangements internally. REB only intervenes with guidelines or when concerns arise,” says Janvier Ismail Gasana, the director-general of REB.
He further warns that when schools choose to offer preps, arrangements should not differ so much since focus is to promote a common standard. The learning environment should also favour all students.
“Mainly the values of equity and equality among students should be encouraged when designing these programmes. Preps should not favour some students while leaving out others. If schools organise preps, everyone should attend without any limitation,” he adds.
Parents voice their concerns
Most parents, who spoke to the Education Times, agree that school preps are good. However, others expressed concern that sometimes day-scholars return home late with the excuse of delaying in preps.
“I have no problem with the morning preps, but those in the evening don’t favour day-scholars. Every time they are late to return home, they simply say that they are coming from school. In that case you can only do so much, but it feels quite uncomfortable,” says Remmy Hakizimana, a parent in Kacyiru, Kigali.
Pascal Kanimba, a parent from Remera, Kigali, advises that since day students face challenges with evening preps, schools should organise them in such a way that allows day students to reach home early.
“I know it is tricky because of the differences in distance, but if preps end at 6.00pm, it means those who stay far away from school will reach home at night. I think separate hours should be dedicated for these students,” says Kanimba.
On the contrary, Sandrine Uwineza, a parent in Rugando, is concerned that since morning preps require students to wake up early many are likely to dose off in class during the day.
“Being in class by 7.00am in the morning means waking up at 5.00am or 6.00am. By the time lessons start, there is a high possibility of sleep catching up with some,” she explains.
Research shows that for preps to be effective, planning needs to be done in such a way that does not deny normal sleep time for students. This is because the brain needs enough rest to memorise what has been learnt.
Benjamin Mugabo, S4 student
I always go to bed early to be able to wake up early in the morning to have two hours of reading before heading to school. In the morning my mind is fresh and can memorise whatever I revise.
Maurine Umutoniwase, S3 student
The good thing about our school is that it allows students to do their preps whenever they are free. During exams period, I always take this chance to utilise all the breaks. When we are not doing exams I only use the two sessions of prep. I rarely revise from home.
Emily Uwase, S6 student
The two sessions of preps at school are enough for me. I utilise this period to do personal reading and research. I believe I grasp things better when I read as an individual and not in a group.
Erick Mulisa, S6 student
At our school, we have two sessions of preps – early in the morning and evening – which last one hour each. I rarely attend those in the morning because I arrive late. Preps are of great help as they enable us to improve our academic performance.
Christian Hagenimana, S2 student
I utilise school time well and make sure I go for all the preps. This is because at home, it’s hard to get time for revision. Most of the time I have is to help my parents with house chores and the remaining time is to finish up with my home work.