6 July 2016

Africa: Performance - Why Distance to School Matters

Photo: Timothy Kisambira/The New Times
Students walking to school. Research shows that long distances to school affect students' concentration.

Gone are the days when students used to walk miles to access school, thanks to the emergence of alternative means of transport like school buses and private cars.

However, even with these developments, there are students who still trek long distances to school, perhaps, due to high transport fairs. And as such, education experts have often highlighted why parents need to factor the distances their children cover daily to and from school, whether by car or on foot.

Similarly, a recent study conducted by Germany-based Education International showed that long journeys to school have a negative impact on students' health and on their education achievement levels.

"Up until now, neither education authorities nor national governments have considered the impact of long travel hours, to and from schools, on students' health and learning abilities. Sitting in a car or a bus for up to three hours per day is not rare, and tires a child's body more than an adult's," the study said.

Echoing similar sentiments, Charles Mutazihana, the head teacher of Kigali Parents School, says that long distances cause fatigue as the day commences which kills a learner's concentration.

"The lengthy footing of kids to school disorganises their concentration in class. Some of them arrive at school sweaty, stressed and exhausted both physically and psychologically, which compromises their performance," he says.

Mutazihana adds that the fact that students are exposed to many things on their way to school affects their studies.

"Minor things can distract children on their way to school. For instance, some will move along with their balls playing, while others can even fail to get to school in time due to unfriendly weather such as heavy rainfall," he says.

Seth Ndahoyo, a teacher at Nyabitse Primary School in Musanze District, explains that students who travel long distances are more likely to get to school late and miss an entire lesson or the introductory part of it which affects their overall learning in the long run.

"For the case of day scholars, absenteeism can become a syndrome due to the long distance. Thoughts about how distant it is to get to school keep running in children's mind whenever they wake up. This, coupled with the pile of home work assignments demoralises them," Ndahoyo adds.

For Sheila Kawira of Mother Mary Complex Kigali, other consequential factors also challenge young people physically and psychologically as they move to school.

"The schoolbag must be carried longer, long distances also mean getting up earlier, doing homework later - as well as reducing the free time which is crucial for a balanced life.

"Students can suffer from exhaustion and headaches. Children are more prone to stress and exhaustion - that's why risk factors such as long distances to school must be minimised," she says.

Do school buses help?

Ezra Nnaku, a teacher of Kigali Parents School, says school buses provide some relief for children as they tend to manage time better and provide a more relaxed way to travel to school.

"Although in Africa school buses have not been fully adopted as is the case in developed countries, the trend should be encouraged. This is because the time it takes for a child using a bus to get to school is shorter and the experience is not as stressful as that of a child who has to walk to school," Nnaku explains.

She adds that moving together in a bus enhances the bond between children.

"While in the school bus, the kids tend to spend time to know each other, make friends and also learn to be disciplined, which are major determinants of success at school," she says.

However, Nnakku warns that school buses can also be hectic if the distance between home and school is long.

"As we all know the children's bodies are weak and get exhausted so quickly when exposed to such a long route seated in the bus. They end up getting to school tired, which especially affects their morning studies," she explains.

Long distances also imply that children have to wake up very early to prepare to walk or wait for the school bus.

"At times I feel hurt as a mother when waking up my child of 7 years at 5:00am. Children need enough sleep so that they can grow well and to be active in class. Such scenarios inevitably affect their academic performance," says Naureen Uwera.

However, Mutazihana is quick to add that short distances are not a guarantee to success.

"Students who cover shorter distance to school tend to be reluctant because they know they can make it to school any time," he says.

For Alyce Mutamuliza, a parent of four children, everything comes back to the parent because they dictate which school their children go to.

"The quality and distance to school will always matter to serious parents because it determines the child's performance," she says.

Ronald Mutabazi, a student at University of Kigali, is of the view that how a student performs at school is mainly dependent on their effort.

"Serious students will always find out why their parent can't take them to the boarding section and will adjust to cope by all means," he says.

Research studies by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) show that long distances from school contribute to poor school attendance.

UNESCO also says conditions at home, in school, on the way to school and in the community are more likely to prevent children from having a meaningful and conducive learning environment.

Schools of any type must be easily accessible - this is particularly valid for elementary schools. For health consideration, the slogan, 'Short legs - short distance' must not be valid only for elementary schools. It must lead to all schools being kept close to students' homes. Only this way will it be guaranteed that children are not exposed to the stress and dangers of long journeys to school.

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YOUR VIEWS

Aloys Rurantije, a parent from Nyarutarama

I believe if a child is in a day school which is far from their home it will definitely have an impact on their academic performance. For instance, if the school offers extra hours of teaching in the morning and evening, such student may not be able to attend them fully because of arriving late or being in a hurry to return home before it gets late.

Angelique Batamuliza, a Kimironko resident

It depends on the means of transport the student uses to school. Walking daily to and from school makes them tired and sometimes in the long run could lower their concentration level in class. But if a child is using a school bus or a motorbike, I don't think it can affect their performance since they always arrive on time and are not exhausted.

Christian Nshimiyimana, student at G.S Rugando

Most of us are used to schools that are far away from home so I don't think it's a big problem when it comes to performance. However, the only challenge comes when one is using public means, especially during exam time, because it could take a lot of time, which puts a student on pressure. But if you know how to manage your time everything will go well.

Benjamin Mugisha, S3 student at Riviera High School

Currently, I am in a boarding school and I have learnt how to manage my time well. Previously, I used to be in a day school, where I realised I wasted a lot of time commuting from home. Long distance affects one's grades, especially if they don't know how to utilise their time well.

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