Co-curricular activities are an integral part of the learning process. They are more vibrant and rewarding in a school set-up when they are timetabled, viewed as normal lessons, and when all the learners are involved in one way or the other.
This is exactly what Riviera High School in Kigali, among many other schools, has been doing for years, and despite being vibrant in activities such as music, debate, sports and school clubs among others, they have still managed to perform well academically.
Boniface Onyango, the principal of Riviera High School, says in order to work effectively, these activities need to be properly scheduled, and intervention measures put in place to ensure no one is left out.
He, for instance, says for them to succeed with these programmes, they see to it that they hire qualified staff, motivate them, involve the learners in the planning, as well as keeping abreast of world trends.
Julius Zigama, a banker and founder of Gama Arts Rwanda, an organisation that provides art therapy to children in poor schools, says he could not have achieved what he wanted in life without extra co-curriculum activities being offered in his high school.
“I actively participated in dance and drama festivals in my primary school. I was into reciting poems, acting and dancing. I continued with it in high school, and I remember after a dancing competition at Theatre Labonita in Uganda, I won some good money, which motivated me to be more active in what I was doing,” he says.
Zigama says these activities never affected his studies because, generally, everything had its own time.
“Once a student understands the principle of everything having its time, it works out well and makes you to be fit all-round,” he says.
Such activities, according to Zigama, give a learner confidence to face the real world.
Teachers speak out
According to Célestin Niwemwungeri, a teacher and in-charge of debate at GS Sihinga in Gasibo District, co-curriculum activities play an integral role in education.
“Students should not only excel in academics, but also be able to develop talent in sports, drama and music as they prepare to face the world after school,” he says.
For those students struggling with overweight at an early age, Niwemwungeri says such activities awould help them maintain a good and healthy life.
“Apart from that, these activities also help young people to develop other life skills like team work, leadership skills, confidence and compassion. Sporting activities, on the other hand, help in keeping fit and guarding against lots of killer diseases,” he says.
“The problem is that some school administrators and teachers focus more on academics than co-curriculum activities, and they end up producing young graduates who are academically sound but socially unfit to deal with the challenges of today’s world,” adds Niwemwungeri.
Paul Swagga, an English instructor at Akillah Institute for Women in Kibagabaga, Kigali, says schools should have programmes that encourage students to belong to clubs such as debate, media, MDD (music, dance and drama), games and sports.
He says it’s the responsibility of every teacher to encourage students to actively participate in various school activities as this helps them to become all-round young people who can fit in any situation.
“For instance, if a student is in a club, it enables them to develop creativity and innovation, and they become conscious about the needs of their communities and what they can do to bring about social and economic transformation. Classroom alone cannot adequately shape the individual that Africa needs today and tomorrow,” he says.
Eliaza Ndayisabye, the in-charge of disciplinary affairs at Mother Mary Complex School in Kigali, says every parent and teacher should appreciate the aim of education, which is to foster all-round development of any child, not only academically.
“Extra-curricular activities help the student to develop skills and exhibit their non-academic abilities. Teachers should at least make other activities compulsory, for instance, arts and music, so that every learner is committed to one or two extra-curricular activities, besides just class work,” she says.
On the other hand, Ndayisaba says some activities should be optional so that students who may not be comfortable in one activity have the option of going where their interests are.
“But, ultimately, participating in more than one way helps learners to socially fit in their communities better,” she says.
Parents, students share thoughts
John Bosco Kimararungu, a parent from Kimironko, Kigali, says although such activities are the best way to enhance the learning experience, they should be regulated, especially for those who are preparing for their final exams.
“As a candidate, one needs a lot of time to concentrate on their studies first. Teachers should use this time to allow such students to at least engage in extra-curricular activities once or twice a week. This will give them enough time to concentrate on revision,” he says.
Kimararungu believes that some students may find it hard to balance both academics and these activities, yet some activities such as debating or MDD require a lot of energy and time, which may affect their grades at school.
Jeannette Tuyisenge, a parent from Kimihirura, Kigali, says there are innumerable benefits that come with extra-curricular activities for any learner.
“For instance, if one is involved in drama or music, it helps them to learn to juggle these with studies, which boosts their ability to multi-task. This prepares them to be all-round and are more ready to face the world after school,” says.
However, Camarade Ndasetse, a senior four student at St Patrick School in Kicukiro, Kigali, says government should come up with a good policy on co-curriculum activities.
“My hobby is playing football, but unfortunately, there is no one to nurture my talent as our school doesn’t have certain programmes. Such a policy, I believe, would benefit more students who are in a similar situation like me,” he says.
Policy silent on activities
According to Joyce Musabe, the head of curricula and material production and distribution at Rwanda Education Board (REB), there is no specific policy on extra-curricular activities. However, she says that teachers should be able to use related policies such as the curriculum framework and curriculum assessment policies, which would also guide them on how to plan their extra curriculum activities in schools.
“For instance, in the curriculum framework, there is an urgent need to balance access, quality and relevance with special emphasis on a curriculum which is output-oriented and offering the skills and values necessary for any learner’s development. It’s also supposed to be used by schools as a tool for planning and management of the system in the short and medium term,” she says.
Musabe says that the Education ministry also issues guidelines, from time to time, on how such activities should be conducted in schools, adding that the ministry is working on adopting a policy on these activities officially.
WHY ARE SOME SCHOOLS SHUNNING CO-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES?
Claudine Niragire, a graduate of education
Some schools face challenges, such as unavailability of tools and equipment, to use in different activities. This makes it hard for teachers to encourage their students to participate in co-curricula activities. Parents should also be supportive and not to be strict on their children’s class work, rather, they should encourage them to explore their talents.
John Bosco Mizerwa, Kimironko resident
Finding space for extra-curricula activities on school timetables is essential. For instance, you may find that some schools only dedicate time for club activities during breaks, after school and lunch hours. This is a challenge for learners who may be willing to try out different activities.
Aliyah Uwimana, university student
Loading learners with a lot of homework will give them less or no time of even playing. Teachers should work on this and balance both class work and extra-curricula activities. Teachers should motivate learners to participate since some of these activities are optional.
John Damasene Maniragaba, parent
I think it all depends on the management and the programmes set for certain schools, although there is no law on extra-curricula activities in schools. Teachers also tend to encourage their students to concentrate more on academics and they rarely set good time for such activities, which makes learners to be more preoccupied with class work.
Diana Nawatti, head teacher
Some schools also lack enough space for activities such as sports and only rely on debates and any other activities that don’t require too much space. On the other hand, I believe it’s up to the school management to decide on what to timetable as normal school activities.