09 March, 2018
Some African schools are adding programs that teach what officials are calling "soft skills" to students.
Soft skills are personal qualities that help a person relate effectively to others. Officials say this kind of training can help students succeed in the job market, and in life.
The training is being offered at the St. Bernadette Kamonyi Secondary School in Kigali, Rwanda.
For weeks, its students have been visiting neighborhood businesses.
The goal of these field trips is for the young people to learn what is necessary to secure a job. They stop, for example, at a sim card business to ask what qualities the owner looks for in an employee.
For the secondary school students, this information is important. In a few months, they'll complete their studies and try their best to find work.
One of the Rwandan students is 22-year-old Aminadab Niyitegeka.
"What I have to do in an interview: I have to first introduce myself, name, age and the second, I have to mention my education level and even my background. When you are going through the interview process, you have to dress smart..."
Students at a public high school in Kigali, Rwanda participate in mock job interviews as part of a soft skills and work readiness classroom program. (Photo: Chika Oduah for VOA)
Niyitegeka says he will look for any job available. He hopes that what he learns in his work readiness class will help.
Traditionally, secondary schools in Africa have spent more time on subjects like mathematics and science, largely ignoring areas like public speaking and teamwork.
A new model
But that is changing. Schools are exploring new teaching models to offer soft skills and professional training. It is part of an effort to prepare students to become better communicators, problem solvers and citizens.
Back at school, Niyitegeka and his classmates take part in imaginary interviews. Niyitegeka stands in front of a female student who acts as the interviewer. Even preparing for the interview makes him nervous. Niyitegeka has difficulty looking at the other student. He nervously touches his clothing and looks away.
Confidence is an important part of soft skills, as are leadership, likability and emotional strength.
With support from the nonprofit Education Development Center (EDC), Rwanda has launched a work readiness training program called Akazi Kanoze Access. The program is now offered at all of the country's secondary and trade schools.
Akazi Kanoze means "work well done" in Kinyarwanda, the official language of Rwanda. The program has trained more than 20,000 students to help make them more appealing to employers.
Emmanuel Ntagungira is a teacher and works as trainer for Akazi Kanoze Access.
"Students must work in groups. For example, a group of four students, five students, they interact. We give them role plays. We give them scenarios. They present. Through presentations, they are acquiring communication skills."
Ntagungira says he hopes the program will help lower unemployment, which stands at over 13 percent nationwide. He often visits employers who have given jobs to high school graduates trained in the soft skills program.
The employers are very happy because the graduates are ready to work, Ntagungira says. They have a healthy mindset and employers are satisfied with the job they've been doing, he explains.
The road to success
The program's most successful students are female. Teachers and program organizers say young women who took the work readiness classes were 12 percent more likely to find jobs than young women who did not.
It is an enriching program that requires teachers to learn soft skills, too.
In one classroom, an Akazi Kanoze trainer teaches Rwandan and Senegalese educators to be more engaging. They jump and laugh like schoolchildren. The class is lively. Teachers say it seems far removed from what they experience in a traditional classroom.
The teachers will take what they've learned to rural communities in their home country.
In Senegal, education officials hope to reach more than 30,000 students. The government and EDC have chosen 250 schools to take part in a trial to include soft skills, business leadership and financial skills.
The program is called Improving Work Entrepreneurship Performance (APTE). More than 1,000 teachers were trained last year.
Sokhna Mbaye is head of a school in Thies, a city 93 kilometers outside of Dakar. She says she was excited when EDC asked her to bring APTE into her school. Mbaye said she has been urging her teachers to be more open-minded and willing to try new teaching models.
"Local schools certainly have failed somewhere. Because we know what geography is. We know what mathematics are but we did not really have skills to face life and to make our own choices. This is what we missed."
Mbaye sits at the back of a classroom, watching students discuss their values. They talk about ideas like loyalty and respect.
She hopes that they will develop the strength to go out into the world and do more than she could.
I'm Alice Bryant.
Chika Oduah reported this story for VOA News. Alice Bryant adapted the report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
sim card – n. a smart card inside a mobile phone, carrying an identification number unique to the owner, storing personal data, and preventing operation if removed
introduce – v. to make someone known to someone else by name
interview – v. a meeting at which people talk to each other in order to ask questions and get information
dress – v. to put clothes on yourself
confidence – n. a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something
interact – n. to talk or do things with other people
scenario – n. a description of what could possibly happen
acquire – v. to gain a new skill, usually by your own effort
graduate – n. a person who has earned a degree or diploma from a school, college, or university