I cannot recall the last time non-faith based Kigali schools came among the top performers in national secondary school examinations. Neither did Google help me in my attempt to recollect the year when the likes of Lycee de Kigali (LDK), Kagarama Secondary School (former Kigali International Academy) or Apred Ndera (private) had the bragging rights in the annual two-tier competitions.
These schools, which were practically among the pace setters at the close of the 20th century and the beginning of the new millennium, have since disappeared into oblivion, even when they have continued to enjoy the exclusive privilege of taking the creme de la creme from primary schools (in the case of LDK and Kagarama).
For more than half a decade now, Kigali has repeatedly counted on the consistency of two seminaries; namely Lycee Notre-Dame de Citeaux and Petit Seminaire Ndera. The Gasabo-based Fawe Girls’ School has also rarely disappointed, producing two students among the best ten in last year’s O’ Level examinations, released last Friday.
Lycee Notre-Dame de Citeaux (Nyarugenge District) and Petit Seminaire Ndera (Gasabo) as well as the relatively young Nu-Vision High School (Gasabo) make the top ten performers, with all the others coming from outside Kigali. New kids on the block, Kayonza’s New Life High School (owned by the New Life Church) and Bugesera’s Maranyundo Girls’ School (run by the Benebikira Congregation (nuns)) lead the pack; while all the others are seminary schools. All the top ten performers are either single schools or faith-affiliated or run on Christian values. The same schools produced top ten students, with Maranyundo Girls’ School churning out the finest brains. Notably, none of the schools that are not religious-based or single came among the top 10 nor produced a student among the top 10.
The results yet again crystallize the debate that has surrounded the increasingly deteriorating performance of schools that were once regarded as ‘traditional top performers.’ I spent five years as a student at Lycee de Kigali and know how much pride that always came with studying at this French-built school. Hunger for academic excellence was always the hallmark of not just LDK management but also individual students so much there were constant academic rivalries amongst students and streams.
The urge to succeed was so strong that students started to compare grades with their counterparts in other schools that were known to be among the top performers at the time. From the time the school reopened after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi until around mid 2000s, its students always aspired to excel at the national level, and beat their traditional rivalries of Lycee Notre-Dame de Citeaux, Petit Seminaire Ndera (Gasabo) and APRED Ndera. The other schools were not short of the same ambition either, and the result was always good for everyone. Students voluntarily submitted to disciplinary requirements, as any other responsible citizen.
Yet, while I should understand that change is a way of life, I know that academic excellence must always be at the heart of the mission of any school. And, therefore, we, the public, can only judge whether a school is on the right track or not, depending on their ultimate performance at the national stage. Whereas it is obvious that new schools have sprung up, presenting new competition to traditional top performers, it is difficult to explain why only non-seminary, mixed schools have been relegated to the second-best category, while seminaries and single schools have consistently flexed muscles with new competitors.
The fact that top slots have lately been swept by new and old faith-based schools, as well as single schools, raises more questions than it answers. It is important that whoever is attempting to look into the issue of discipline and the increasing use of illicit drugs and alcohol among students, considers the recent trend in performance as a major factor that might help lead to ascertaining the real problem and possibly finding the remedy.
But one thing is clear: Faith-based and single schools are generally characterized by a stricter disciplinary code. If academic performance is anything to go by, then these schools have got it right, at least academically. For now, until someone shows me the benefits of having a more relaxed, soft disciplinary policy, I will continue to hold those who have produced the finest performers in high esteem. Whether or not those students go on to exhibit the same level of excellence at the university and their eventual workplace is something else.
Some school heads have previously attempted to justify their decline in performance, arguing they normally have more students, which means that even if they were to produce the best individual students, their overall performance would be affected by the students whose aggregates are not so good. Sounds a decent argument. But you have to be a Notre-Dame de Citeaux, which had 135 O’ Level candidates last year (compared to New Life High School’s 38), but still emerged the 3rd best performer, overall, with two students among the best ten, countrywide. It’s futile to advance the issue of numerical disadvantage when you have failed to produce even a single student among the top positions.
Perhaps, it is high time policymakers considered replicating the same values that we have seen in faith-based schools in all the public schools. The advantages of such a decision seem to, by far, outweigh whatever negative consequences it might cause.