Dealing with student grievances is every school head's nightmare. Education experts warn that at the heart of this challenge is poor communication between students and the school administration.
Unrest from students is usually not a sudden occurrence, but something that builds over time, and poor communication between the school administration and students is usually blamed for this state of affairs.
John Kabera, a veteran teacher notes that it starts with students expressing their grievances through prefects but many a time the school administration gives a deaf ear. Gradually the students feel oppressed and begin engaging in unruly behaviour, which in some cases results into violence. They see unruly behaviour as the last resort to force the school administration to listen to their grievances and take action.
Education experts argue that good communication between the administration and students ensures that learners are involved in decision making processes-a critical element in proper management of schools.
Importance of involving students
In schools, decision making occurs almost every day. Jackyline Irabagiza, a counsellor and matron at Martyrs School in Remera, Kigali, says involving students in decision making, especially on matters that concern them directly can make a big difference when it comes to discipline and academic performance.
"Since students are the ones that have experiences and know most of the issues they go through more than their parents and teachers, when presented with an opportunity to contribute to decisions in their schools, it can ease the way teachers resolve problems," she says.
Irabagiza, however explains that teachers should know that involving students in decision making is more than just asking them for ideas. She notes that students should be listened to properly so that their ideas and suggestions are considered.
"By doing so, it's one way of empowering them to influence things that affect them as students in their daily life. This can improve their performance in general," she adds.
On the other hand, Valens Mushinzimana, the in-charge of discipline at Lycee de Kigali, believes that students are the primary beneficiaries of most of the decisions taken at school by teachers, parents and school administration.
He notes that under normal circumstances, students have a representative body which plays the role of a link between the students' community and the school administration.
"Implementation of the decisions taken at school level will require, to some extent, the active participation of students and therefore they should know what is going on," he says.
Based on the above arguments, Mushinzimana says it is important to involve students in decision making, especially those that touch their daily life.
He, however, points out that they may not involve the whole student community but a minimum of two representatives such as the head prefects to air out the views of their colleagues.
"We may be considering them as children, but remember that they have ideas, innovations, and may contribute positively to the school's growth as active members who know where they are coming from and where they want to go," he adds.
Collins Barminga, a teacher in Kigali, believes that students should be given a chance to decide on matters concerning their own learning and education as a whole.
"Just like teachers or parents, students on the other hand also have the knowledge and ability to come up with vital ideas and decisions, especially on issues directly concerning them," he says.
Steve Burora, a mentor at Youth Impact Mission, a community organization, says allowing learners to share their ideas opens room for teachers or school administrations to learn new things which they may not know.
"For instance, through students, teachers can find out which areas they need to work on and how they should approach certain issues. By involving learners, teachers can find out common issues affecting students, which helps improve the learning environment as a whole," he says.
How should this be done?
For Prof Danson Musyoki Kimeu, the vice-chancellor, University of Kigali, it's very important to include students in decision making especially when it comes to perspective problems.
He points out that schools should have class representatives, who should hold regular meetings with school management to find out the issues affecting students most.
For instance, he says, at University of Kigali, they give priority to that channel and pay special attention to students' welfare under the office of the dean of students.
According to Musyoki, student leaders are the ones who regularly have meetings with classes to get their ideas which are then presented to the school management who make the final decision.
The other channel, Musyoki says, is having a students' guild body with a shadow cabinet elected by students directly.
He says involving students in decision making is a major strategy in curbing indiscipline and preventing things like strikes and absenteeism.
Musyoki further says it's the responsibility of the school management to ensure that there is a strong communication channel with students all the time so that they are free to air out any problem that may occur.
Elijah Kamanzi, a sports youth mentor, says it's not a must that all students' grievances will be worked on according to how they wish, but with a good channel of communication, it eases tension when telling them what can be done and what can't.
In cases where schools have clubs, he says teachers should involve students in choosing their patrons.
"Giving a chance to learners to choose a particular teacher they want to head their club improves their confidence," he says.
Kamanzi explains that giving them this freedom enables them to share their grievances with such teachers freely, which boosts academic performance.
The importance of working together
Eunice Uwamahoro, a parent and a community leader, says engaging students helps enlighten teachers on issues affecting them as well as those from their community. This way, it can help them find a way of working together with the community so that such issues can be resolved more effectively.
"For instance, students coming from a community where there is a big number of youth involved in crime are more prone to being carried away. But by informing teachers about this, it can be handled well by closely working with the authorities to fix the situation," she explains.
Uwamahoro says students, especially the leaders, should work closely with the school management to know which areas need special attention.
"Through this approach, students work closely with teachers to make sure the school runs smoothly which improves their performance in general. This is because a certain decision is taken, the learners know the basis and own it as their own," she says.
Solange Kiiza, university student
Students cannot excel in academics if they have no say on issues affecting them. I believe schools should adopt an approach that not only allows suggestions from students but also find ways of working closely with them in the daily routine.
Christian Ikuzwe, entrepreneur and mentor
From my experience as a mentor, I have noticed that schools that involve students in decision making always excel in all areas. This is because it eases the teachers' work and enables students take up leadership roles meaning less time is spent on monitoring them.
Anastanse Muhayimana, teacher, Nyanza Province
I think all schools should use the learner-centered approach where student's ideas are prioritised, and teachers act as facilitators. This approach is good because it allows students to freely share their issues, which improves their academic performance.
Alex Ndahiro, parent
When they step outside the school environment, learners will need skills such as critical thinking to fit in the labour market. So, allowing them to participate in what should be done while in school prepares them better to face the real world.