In my former school, every end of the year candidates used to hold an extraordinary joint discussion - an academic initiative whereby the school invited a sister school for a revision seminar.
On that day, enthusiastic students from both schools took to the stage and shared their knowledge, skills and methods of approaching different topics. This gave students an intensive exposure to a topic and an opportunity to share experiences and exchange perspectives regarding their studies.
Academic seminars, education experts argue, besides empowering students to take a leading role in their studies, come with enormous benefits for the school and therefore should be encouraged as a tool of instruction.
Samuel Nkurunziza, the head teacher of Kagarama Secondary School, says for years they have been at the forefront of engaging their learners in academic seminars with other schools.
“Although our school offers students all the necessary knowledge and skills needed to excel in their studies, they still require more experiences because learning never ends,” he says.
Nkurunziza adds that academic seminars promote critical thinking and creativity among learners as they participate in discussions and debates.
“This interactive environment ensures a much deeper understanding of the material that would otherwise be missed during an ordinary lesson,” he explains, adding that though this initiative has been embraced by few schools in the country, its benefits are far-reaching and it is one major way through which students can improve their grades and add value to their understanding.
Nkurunziza urges schools to embrace the culture of joint revision by taking studying beyond their gates in a bid to groom academically passionate, knowledgeable and enlightened learners.
Monica Tumukunde, the head teacher of ES Kanombe EFOTEC, says much as they have not had any seminar yet, they believe it’s among the most rewarding academic approaches in education.
“Every school has its own approach to teaching, but it is undeniable that through seminars students would appreciate topics better by sharing experiences and academic materials,” he says.
Moses Kanamugire, a retired secondary school teacher, believes inter-school seminars are a wealth of knowledge, enlightenment and hub of productive acquaintances.
“Seminars turned my students into passionate, creative and excellent learners for years. During seminars, students have a platform to compare content, share material, talk about their challenges and, most importantly, interact and motivate one another to make the most out of their school life,” he explains.
On the other hand, many teachers believe that seminars are an avenue through which solutions to students’ challenges can be arrived at, noting that it has been evidenced that students return from these seminars with rekindled motivation and enthusiasm to pursue their academic goals.
Students speak out
Gad Tuyishimire, a Senior Six student at G.S Gatenga, says he has reaped big from academic seminars.
“For the last seven months, I have built links with other students from different schools. We meet every weekend to compare notes, share what we have learnt and go through a number of past examination papers.
“Teaming up with my counterparts from other schools has been the most rewarding academic venture in my entire school life. We devote most of our time to asking questions, taking notes and sharing experiences, and at the end we all go home with a wide range of knowledge and new academic goals,” he explains.
Tuyishimire also says taking revision beyond the school boundary not only rewards them academically, but also gives them the opportunity to meet other students with mutual interests as well as a chance to deliberate on a number of issues to promote their lives.
For Yannic Dushime, a student at Kicukiro Secondary School, the main reason students take trouble to link up with their colleagues from other schools is due to absence of academic seminars in their particular schools.
“We have realised the benefits of joining efforts with other students through academic study groups. It would definitely be more productive if our schools organised them, but the absence of such initiatives encourages us to use personal links, meet in small numbers and study,” he says.
Parents have their say
Most parents Education Times talked to affirmed that academic seminars are paramount for their children’s growth, excellence and development.
“As parents we know that schools differ in their academic approaches and thus it’s through academic seminars that our children get an opportunity to learn from one another, improve their skills and network,” says Kellen Mbabazi, a mother of three and resident of Nyarugenge District.
Dieudone Mutabazi, a parent from Kicukiro District, agrees with Mbabazi and urges institutions in the Education sector, especially the education ministry, to encourage such initiatives in schools so that students can tap into the benefits of joint learning and sharing experiences.
“The joy of a parent goes beyond a good report card the student brings home at the end of the term. A student should exhibit good knowledge, skills and rich understanding of the things learned at school and I believe seminars offer students such an opportunity,” says Mutabazi.
However, like other initiatives, academic seminars come with their own set of challenges.
It’s hard to find all schools at the same level of syllabus coverage, which can make it difficult to come up with content for the seminar, says Nkurunziza. That said, academic seminars ought to be promoted as much as possible because they help bring out the best in every student.
HOW BEST CAN STUDENTS BE MOTIVATED TO LEARN?
Boniface Onyango, headteacher, Riviera High School
Apart from a daily routine of teaching, teachers should set aside time for students to go for internships in different organisations. It’s important for leaners because they are able to understand how the job market works and it prepares them on what they should do to fit in certain fields.
Aminadhad Niyonshuti, teacher at Apaper Complex
Activities such as group discussions and peer learning not only break the monotony of the ordinary mode of learning, but also improves students’ concentration. In the long run, most students are able to master concepts being discussed better compared to when they are just taught by teachers.
Calmina Izabayo, an intern teacher at Mother Mary Complex
To enable students learn better, teachers and parents should priotorise personal revision whenever learners are free, especially during their holidays. This provides a good opportunity for students to improve their research abilities as well as self-worth.
Collins Barminga, maths teacher
It’s important to engage learners in more practical work, which should be investigative in nature so that they can experience how things happen. When the real pictures of what they have learnt stick in their minds, it boosts their performance.
Sheila Kawira, English teacher
Academic tours are important for students to learn about their culture and country. Likewise, co-curricular activities, such as school clubs, help students to compete and practice leadership skills, which contributes to their success academically.