In separate interviews with The New Times, teachers said the fruits of school debates are enormous.

?Debates are a way of proving what one knows confidently. If you can?t explain something, it means that you are ignorant about it.

??We are in an era where educators are required to give students more opportunities to express their views. Debate is one search enabler,? said Father Jean Claude Mbonimpa, head teacher of Ecole de Science de Musanze.

He added that school debates shape the students? critical thinking, helps them think faster and improves their public speaking skills.

?Students have benefited a lot from? school debates. This is reflected in both their academic performance and their personal interactions,? Mbonimpa says.

He said every year at least four of their students win scholarships to continue their studies abroad, thanks in part to debate.

To get the scholarships, they have to pass written exams and then undergo personal interviews, he added.

School debates help students compete with fellow foreign students in terms of communication skills and general knowledge, he said.

Patrick Munyurangabo, the Headmaster of Groupe Scolaire Rubona in Gatsibo District, called on REB to sensitise the general public about the role of debates in secondary schools and to train teachers who would lead these debates.

?The current problem is that students ?stock? knowledge in their minds which they can?t explain orally. The more the students speak out what they know, the more they understand it,? Munyurangabo said.

?Students need teachers guidance during debates to correct their grammatical mistakes and sequence of ideas. The problem that 12 YBE schools are facing today is insufficient time and unskilled teachers. We have tried to create English clubs to help students debate on various motions but it requires contribution from REB.?

He added that it would be better if REB included debating in the national curriculum.

Sister Helene Nayituriki, the headmistress of Kigali-based Lyc?e Notre Dame de Citeaux, agrees that school discussions and debates are very helpful tools in improving students? thinking capacity, innovation, creativity and discipline.

?Debates force students to conduct research on the topic to be discussed. Such school discussions open students? minds, how to manage discussions orderly without fights and also helps them to improve their communication skills. REB should provide books which the students can use during research. Teachers also need training on how to guide debate sessions,? she said.

Numerous efforts to contact Dr Joyce Musabe, the head of Curriculum Development at REB were futile.

But Education minister Prof. Silas Lwakabamba said speaking English at school is compulsory, including introducing debates and presenting in English.

Lwakabamba added that debates are part of the 21st century skills in the new curriculum whose implementation will start next January

But students also agree on the significant contribution of debates to their awareness and knowledge.

Jean Bosco Habineza, a high school graduate from Groupe Scolaire Sainte Bernadette Save,? said school debates contributed much to his success.

?Debates helped me pass. I find debates very crucial in students? studies. I encourage all the students to participate in the discussions,? Habineza said.

Christian Rukundo, from Saint Peter Igihozo in Nyanza District, said participating in school debates enabled him score good grades in his national exams for 2013-2014 academic year.

?While at school we had one and half hour discussion twice a week on a given topic during which we? shared and exchanged views. The mistake many students make is fearing to express their views. I overcame this through participation in discussions and debates,? Rukundo said.

By Frederic Byumvuhore, The New Times

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