Annette Mutoni has become a subject of scorn in her class because her performance has declined greatly since she joined secondary school two years ago. Her teachers, however, say she was a star student in her Senior One. A close chat with her reveals that she is on her own at home because her mother returns from work very late. But, as a single mother, it’s even harder to pile the blame on Mutoni’s mother because she has to struggle single-handedly to raise money for the family’s rent and school fees.
“We don’t have a maid at home so when I return from school I have to prepare our dinner before I go to bed. I barely get time to do my homework or revision, and I am failing to cope as a result because we have many subjects that require a lot of time if I am to excel,” she says.
Mutoni’s is not an isolated case. To cope with the many financial demands the current times present, parents are finding it increasingly hard to spend good time with their children because they have to work long hours. This, sadly, implies that school-going children have to turn to house helps for support and guidance, especially when they return from school.
After-school activities normally involve reviewing what was covered in class and assisting with homework, among others. Ideally, schools presuppose that parents will take a lead role in guiding their children in such activities, but this seems not to be the case for many. Which begs the question: can teachers and house helps exclusively nurture students with no or little engagement of parents?
Whatever answer one may hold, it is necessary for parents to dedicate time to their children when they return from school.
Eric Niyonzima, a parent living at Remera, Gasabo District, says parents must take responsibility for their children however busy or tired they may be.
He emphasises that a parent should save at least 30 minutes and help their children to do homework and redo corrections.
“The student’s performance and morals are compromised if a parent does not care much about their day-to-day activities. The situation worsens when the parents leave the children to only be monitored by the school administration and maids under the pretext of being busy,” he says.
For Jane Niwemugeni, a resident of Rusororo, Gasabo, students perform poorly academically not because teachers are not doing their work but because parents fail to offer the support their children need after school.
Kristian Abrahamsen, a volunteer at Software Developer for Africa, says parents ought to balance work and parenting by supervising their co-curricular activities without neglecting the need to inspire them to read novels or practising arithmetics.
“My family lives in Norway, but I have observed how parents struggle to help their young ones to revise when they return from work no matter how tired they are. Following up children during the after-school period to revise is not only beneficial to the children, but rather the entire community as they get skilled and sharpened at an early age,” he says.
Experts offer coping alternatives
Faustin Harelimana, the acting president of the Teachers Union in Rwanda, told Education Times that having group discussions at school could reduce the gap left by parents.
“A student might be weak in one subject but bright in another. That kind of student will benefit from discussions with their peers instead of having to wait for an ‘absentee parent’,” he says.
Alex Mushumba, the head teacher of Martyr’s Secondary School in Kigali, believes close co-operation between teachers and parents is the best way to bridge this gap.
Joyce Kirabo, a counsellor based in Kigali, says in as much as parents are engaged in various activities in a bid to provide for their families, they should remember that they have a significant role to play in the future of their children.
“Some parents don’t care to provide direction for their children and instead abandon them for hours to watch cartoons on television. They can do better by, for instance, setting a revision timetable for them,” she says.
Kirabo adds that leaving children unmonitored after school exposes them to bad habits from wrong elements.
“Adolescents could, for instance, use this time to engage in risky behaviours like drug and alcohol abuse because they are idle,” she says.