Are we putting the cart before the horse?

It is funny how time flies as we go on with our lives. Was it not just yesterday that we were all enjoying the Obama-feel good moment as America elected its first (I hope not the last) black president? A look at the calendar only reveals a July month surely in its evening moments.

It is funny how time flies as we go on with our lives. Was it not just yesterday that we were all enjoying the Obama-feel good moment as America elected its first (I hope not the last) black president? A look at the calendar only reveals a July month surely in its evening moments.

The year is almost gone folks.

The appearance of Mr. John Rutayisire in the press at the beginning of this week further cemented the fact that time is flying by so fast.

Just for the record, Mr. Rutayisire is the Executive Secretary of the Rwanda National Examination Council (RNEC). Therefore he often logically takes up space in the press towards the end of the year as students get ready to sit national exams or at the beginning when the results are released.

I was quickly drawn to read what the gentleman had to say in July about exams to be done in November. In the story that appeared in The New Times he pointed out that during this year’s examinations, students whose answering reflects an element of research will be awarded more marks than those who simply rely on what their teachers give them in class.

He argued that this was aimed at putting the marking system at par with those of other East African Community member countries. This I must say is a very encouraging pronouncement from the examinations boss.

I would love to agree with him when he says that, “This arrangement is going to help the Rwandan education system produce academicians who have knowledge that is based on research.”

I however have a few worries concerning the pronouncement. I wonder whether the examinations boss took time to find out why students have for long not been answering as intelligently as they are expected to.

It is quite common to find that our students love to take the teacher’s teachings as gospel truth and this is manifested in the way some of them parrot and reproduce everything the way it is in their note books.

The reasons for the above can be traced to two major problems. One is the language problem. A student who is limited by the fluency of language often resorts to cramming everything at the expense of understanding what it all means. Therefore there is an urgent need to improve on language teaching to ensure that students take time to understand instead of just cramming all they are taught.

The second problem is that of resources. We are talking about students conducting research to buttress their arguments. Have we bothered to find out how many schools have libraries where this research can take place?

How many of them have access to the internet for extensive research? If I am not mistaken, this new measure may end up rewarding students in elite schools that are blessed with these facilities and penalising those in the rural areas who lack the same.

I am also bothered with the timing of the announcement. I think such a message would have been aptly given at the beginning of the year. Right now it implies that students have got three months to catch up on extensive research in order to score high marks.

Much as the intentions are noble and important, I believe we would be better off starting with the basics. Before we can reward students who answer based on research we need to improve on the language teaching, ensure that each school has a fully stocked library and if possible an internet connection.

Students ought to be having a good reading culture before they can be able to conduct meaningful research. I am not saying our students cannot carry out research but that the conditions for this to thrive need to be enhanced otherwise we could find ourselves simply putting the proverbial cart before the horse when we start marking students’ scripts at the end of the year.

ssenyonga@gmail.com

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