Paul Oga, the dean of students at Green Hills Academy, Kigali, says he was a prefect right from P3 to S6 while studying in Kenya. He remembers serving as games captain and head boy, among others. This experience, he says, gave him the opportunity to lead and learn from observing his mentors who included the head of school.
“I learnt a lot from my discipline master and my sports coaches, and I believe their different leadership styles partly shaped me into what I am today,” he says.
For this reason, Oga says it’s important to promote student leadership because leaders are born naturally, but the environment in which they grow and learn plays a big role in bringing the best out them.
For instance, he says at Green Hills Academy, they have a students’ representative council elected by students and mentored by teachers. Here, they discuss and are involved in different aspects of leadership, right from primary to secondary level.
“We encourage the student leaders to improve their public speaking skills and also encourage them to be critical thinkers and problem solvers,” he adds.
When students take on leadership roles in school, Leontine Kayitesi, a teacher at Martyrs School in Kigali, says it’s a tool that helps them excel in other fields in the communities where they hail from.
She says it is common to find such students guiding others in activities such as Umuganda, as well as spearheading activities like building houses for the widows and engaging in projects to support the needy and orphans.
“Therefore, embracing leadership at school lays a good foundation for them to fit in the community after school. I believe with the leadership skills, students can even help other youth to stand for their rights,” she says.
What schools need
According to Alphonse Habimana, the founder of Kigali Leading Technical Secondary School in Kigali, schools need a vibrant student leadership because they are today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.
But without good role models, he says it’s difficult to have students realise their full leadership potential.
“Education is not just academics only; we train and educate students with 21st century skills that will assist them fit in the competitive world they are heading to,” he says.
Besides, Habimana notes that students learn by watching how teachers and administrators deal with situations in school.
Oga points out that there are specific skills students are supposed to be taught at school, which will help hone their leadership potential.
“We need to identify the potential leaders and help groom them. Although some students are shy, once given an opportunity to lead, there is complete metamorphosis and they will start acting with confidence,” he says.
If a student is able to acquire such skills in school, he says there is no doubt that they will become good leaders in future.
Mathias Nkeeto, a senior teacher at Green Hills Academy, says while at school, students should be taught to be good leaders by entrusting them with responsibilities in various fields.
As student leaders, he says being good public speakers is very important.
“This can be achieved through involving them in club activities such as debating clubs to assist them gain confidence to speak in public without any fear. Future leaders should be able to listen to others, and this is a skill that should be taught right from school,” he says.
In Kayonza, Eastern Province, Joyce Gasasira, a youth leader in her area, believes that students should be taught to be honest with emphasis on fairness, justice and respect for others. She adds that students should learn to take responsibility for their actions.
Gasasira notes that parents, teachers and mentors should be in position to teach young people to appreciate and understand their strengths and limitations if they are to excel in both studies and leadership roles.
Further, Nkeeto explains that student leaders should be risk takers and good decision makers.
“This will help them gain the critical skills needed to handle complex problems,” he adds.
Dr Alphonse Uworwayeho, a lecture at University of Rwanda, is of the view that students, especially those in higher learning institutions, should be taught how to express their ideas confidently.
He says they should learn such leadership skills from their mentors, lecturers and other public officials in the country.
“This is just one way of preparing them to be good and exemplary leaders in future. A country can only grow with good leadership, and this starts at an early stage when still in school,” he says.
Uworwayeho says students with leadership roles always do more to be able to balance their roles and academic work, which is an inspiration to other students who may fear taking on leadership positions.
“They are proof and an example to other students that anything is possible when we put in our best. Leadership provides a foundation for excellence even outside school,” he says.
Philbert Niyitanga, a youth mentor based in Kayonza, believes that when a student has a leadership role while in school, it is one of way of motivating and encouraging their fellow students to work hard because they become role models.
He also notes that when a student has leadership responsibilities, it becomes easier to handle family as well as siblings at home, especially the young ones.
“Such students can help out their parents in lighter responsilities. For instance, allocating house chores or even helping their siblings with revision while at home,” he says.
Niyitanga adds that this skill is more helpful when it comes to families where parents have tight work schedules that leave them little time to spend with their children.
He notes that in such scenarios, a student who has attained some leadership skills is able to ably look after younger siblings and manage the family in the parents’ absence with ease.
However, Niyitanga warns that parents with such students should not take advantage of leaving all the responsibilities to them, but rather support them because no matter how able they are, they still need a parent figure to mentor them.
“This is because they are still in school and they need time to attend to their studies and the other responsibilities. Also, such students should not be overloaded with things that should be done by parents themselves,” he says.
Jean Marie Habimana, a businessman in Kigali, says for those looking for employment, most organisations tend to favour individuals who held responsibilities while still in school.
He explains that this is so because people with leadership skills can take strategic decisions, guide others to work in appropriate manner as well as help the company achieve its objectives.