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Rewarding academic excellence

Tuesday November 22 2016
pic rewarding academic

The absence of academic prizes creates complacency among learners and makes students less competitive in their studies. PHOTOI FILE

Academic experts believe that students are encouraged to perform better when they anticipate an immediate reward.

Charles Sinamenye, the head teacher of Umuco Mwiza School in Kigali, says academic rewards are vital to a student’s performance since they act as a catalyst to their drive to study.

“As human beings we all like to be appreciated, and it’s an obvious sign that our efforts are not in vain. This holds more value for students since it builds in them a culture of being competitive, hardworking, and passionate, and gives them the zeal to succeed,” he explains.

Sinamenye adds that, “the initiative of rewarding best performing students enhances creativity and innovation among students. Students gain the impulse to use their abilities and talents to reap big from their studies so that they land those reward packages.”

Teachers bear witness that schools which recognise students’ efforts through academic prizes tend to have students who are more focused, committed and enthusiastic to learn.

“In my 13 years of experience in the education sector, I have taught in both schools which reward their students and those with no such initiatives; but truth be told, prizes have a far-reaching impact on students, which proves their worth,” explains Bernard Mugisha, a secondary school teacher. Mugisha says learners pick more interest in their studies when they are rewarded, adding that prizes give students something good to look up to, and thus strive to be the best.

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On the other hand, he says, the absence of academic prizes creates complacency among learners and makes students less competitive in their studies since they feel nobody cares whether they perform outstandingly or not,” he explains.

For Angélique Kantengwa, a mother of three school-going children, every student has the ability to succeed, but most especially when they are motivated to.

“Since two of my children started studying at a school that rewards best students, they are now more passionate than before about their studies and their grades impressively improved. They are now both on scholarship,” she says.

Kantengwa also says rewarding children makes their parents proud and more appreciative of the school and teachers.

Forms of reward

Different schools have diverse students’ recognition packages, with the majority of those prizes created to make best-performing students feel appreciated for their extra-efforts, and also stimulate others to be competitive in their studies. Several schools, it emerged in a mini survey done by Education Times, share mutual ways of rewarding top students. These include; scholarships, computers, scholastic materials, appreciation certificates, leadership roles, recognition of achievement in school newsletters and assembly, cash prizes, new school uniforms, class promotion, leisure picnics and attending workshops, seminars and conferences outside school, among other packages.

“My parents have not bought me scholastic materials such as books, pens and uniforms, among others, for years due to my excellent performance at school which has often earned me such academic prizes,” says Diane Nyirabyose, a 13-year-old primary school student.

Vedaste Munyeshyaka, a 23-year-old vocational school graduate, says he owns a small carpentry business that earns him over Rwf160,000 a month, thanks to the academic prizes he accumulated back at school. “I graduated top in my class and that earned me several prizes which were mostly field equipment, and it is those prizes that eventually enabled me to start my own carpentry workshop,” says Munyeshyaka.

Today, the school stills invites Munyeshyaka to share his skills and expertise with students, and offers him different employment opportunities as a way to support his business.

Negative rewards

Some people have argued, as reflected in this adage that, there are no dull students, but only lazy and poor students. This is literally true, and is mainly seen through the initiatives schools undertake to give a wake-up call to academically weak students. Just like schools take steps to reward best-performing students, the reverse is true when it comes to responding to those particular students who perform poorly. This is mainly in ways that jerk them out of their comfort zones so as to make them work hard and improve their grades.

“One time, other students from various classes and I who had performed poorly, had our names pinned on the school’s notice board for the whole community to see. It was shaming and eye-opening, at the same time, as the whole school got to know we were ‘losers’,” says Timothy Nsengiyumva, a senior five student.

Nsengiyumva says their fellow students laughed at them, which forced them to work harder since they couldn’t bare this kind of shame any more.

“I remember I never missed class lessons again. I embarked on regular revision with the best students in class, and this time I was more passionate about my studies and focused than previously. I have to confess that the school punished us in an effective way,” he explains.

Students from different schools told Education Times that though initially they were angry at their teachers for embarrassing them before their peers, and carrying the label ‘black-sheep’ of the school everywhere they went, today, when they look back, they appreciate the school for bringing them into their senses.