Improving the quality of university education in Africa



In the African context, quality university education invariably focuses on student admission standards, teachers’ academic qualifications, rigorous examination protocols, curriculum requirements, course content, and availability. laboratories and classrooms. Little or no attention is paid to pedagogy, which is left to the entire discretion of teachers.

This assumes without any evidence that teachers have expertise in the theory and practice of teaching, learning and assessment. While the lecturers are undoubtedly experts in their chosen fields of specialization, the vast majority of them, especially those specializing in the physical sciences and business fields, lack subject knowledge and skills. of effective pedagogy.

We observed teaching in the classrooms of two universities in the West African region. In these lessons, abstract facts, figures, theories and concepts were literally thrown at the students in what could be described as “face-to-face lectures.” Students simply listened in silence, looked at the overhead projector or blackboard, and took notes while the lecturers spoke.

Even when lecturers asked questions, they consciously answered them without giving students the opportunity to offer their own perspectives.

The main aim of the lectures seemed to be to provide students with information rather than to stimulate them to think critically, creatively or analytically about the information communicated to them. In addition, the lecturers were the only actors in the classroom or laboratory, making the students theater spectators.

Contextual factors such as limited teaching and learning resources, large class sizes and the use of a foreign language for teaching should not influence the educational choice. “One-on-one lectures” as an educational choice are inherently bad in preparing university students for employment, higher education, professional membership or citizenship in Africa.

Lectures do not stimulate students’ intellectual curiosity and creative development, as students do not have the opportunity to ask questions, discuss, criticize, problem-solve, or question what they are given. teaches.

They also do not facilitate the bonds of the students with their society and their economy. In fact, this type of pedagogy is partly responsible for the high unemployment of university graduates in African countries. The classroom as a community of learners is an essential place for students to develop collaborative skills and the sharing of knowledge through verbal questions, analysis, criticism and problem solving.

As a result, the high unemployment among university graduates in Africa cannot be solved without a substantial transformation of the pedagogies of university teaching, learning and assessment.

Finally, this type of pedagogy suggests that what students are taught in classrooms and university laboratories has virtually nothing to do with their society or their economy. It thus indirectly perpetuates the economic, political and social underdevelopment of Africa by producing graduates who are, so to speak, “cognitively framed”.

The normative argument that the onus is on students to make sense of what is “thrown” at them is untenable. Of course, the teacher and the student have responsibilities.

For education to be relevant and contribute to the development of society, the lecturer must give lectures with useful links to society and the student economy. These links could relate to present or future phenomena deemed appropriate to the student’s social environment and community economy.

Students, on the other hand, are required to prepare for class by doing assigned or unassigned readings and exercises. They should also do coursework and carefully read all written comments from their lecturers. But the course of the course and its underlying pedagogy are largely determined by the teacher.

The pedagogy is based on the central objective of teaching, learning and assessment. It refers to teaching, learning and assessment practices, strategies and methods. These include, but are not limited to, course content, methods of delivering content, textual resources, course outcomes (skills, knowledge and mindsets that students are expected to acquire), teaching activities. learning, speaker feedback techniques, classroom teacher-student interactions, and assessment and assessment practices.

This central objective influences the selection of other elements of pedagogy, such as delivery methods as well as assessment modalities.

Critical questions

Before teaching a concept or theory, lecturers should think about the following critical questions:

  • • Why should I teach these concepts or theories? What specific skills, knowledge and mindsets should I expect students to acquire? However, the reasons for teaching a concept or theory should go beyond being part of a course or degree requirement.
  • • How do students learn? This is not an easy question that can be answered without first establishing close interactions and relationships with the students. Nonetheless, this is a question worth keeping in mind and exploring at least in the first few weeks of the course.
  • • Why and how are these theories or concepts that I will teach important in preparing students for employment, citizenship, lifelong learning, professional membership or career progression? postgraduate education?
  • • In light of the answers to the above questions, what teaching, learning and assessment strategies can be used to ensure the transfer of learning?
  • • What links could be made with society as a whole, such as visiting places and institutions, and used as part of the learning resources?

Although some of these elements can be stated in the lesson plan, it is a useful exercise for the lecturer to review these reflective questions. The challenge is to promote the transfer of learning.

The importance of transfer of learning

In general, education is presented as a tool for development. And university education is no exception. University education has no effect on individuals, groups or communities and is a pure waste of societal resources if students are unable to directly or adaptively transfer what they have learned from classrooms, seminars, forums and labs in real life.

Learning transfer, as it is called, is about putting into practice what one has learned in different contexts – not only transferable knowledge and skills, but also mindsets cultivated during formal education. . Habits of mind such as looking for evidence, intellectual curiosity, lifelong learning, and questioning are all important parts of learning transfer.

The ability to transfer learning is a crucial part of education. As the ancient Chinese proverb says: “Not to have heard something is not as good as to have heard it; to have heard it is not as good as to have seen it; to have seen it is not as good as knowing it; knowing that it is not as good as putting it into practice. ”

So if, for example, I have heard of budgeting as a financial management tool; I have seen it operationalize in a corporate finance course and I am very familiar with the components of budgeting and can easily remember it from memory, this knowledge is insignificant if I am unable to adapt it in practice in my personal or professional life. It is also worthless if I am unable to explain to others with no previous business management experience the practical benefits of budgeting and its limitations.

When designing academic courses in African universities, strong emphasis should be placed on teaching activities and strategies that bring about transfer of learning.

The first step is to make the course content – including concepts, learning activities, and assignments – relevant to the student’s world or community.

The second step is to incorporate individual and group presentations, problem solving, case studies, simulations and scenarios into learning activities as well as teaching.

This means creating a collaborative culture for problem solving and case studies that mimic what is actually happening in traditional African families, groups and communities. In traditional African society, groups or teams are increasingly used for a variety of decision-making such as marriage arrangements, marriage dissolution, funeral planning, community work, administration of justice , designation of children and marriage counseling.

Nowadays a team or group system is used for everything from product quality to new product development, improvement of work processes, occupational safety and health, budgeting , on-the-job training, recruitment and selection of new employees.

Private organizations use the team system to stay competitive and innovative. Some organizations in the public and voluntary sectors have also adopted the team model with the aim of achieving efficiency and innovation.

The traditional African saying that two heads are better than one has proven to be invaluable wisdom, while in most African universities it is considered marginal and tedious pedagogy.

Third, it is important to create opportunities for active student involvement in the course through group or individual presentations, time for questions, suggestions, comments, debate or dialogue. Classes should be accompanied by practical scenarios, challenging questions and society-oriented cases aimed at amplifying the meanings and applications of concepts and theories as well as increasing the possibilities for transfer of learning.

Quality university education in Africa should include innovative pedagogies that increase the prospects for transfer of learning from the university to society as a whole. Without transfer of learning, all of the stories about education and the university as a powerful tool for development have no evidence base.

The possibilities for transfer of learning are greatly enhanced if the context in which the knowledge or skill is acquired is similar to the context in which the knowledge or skill is to be practiced.

Dr Eric Fredua-Kwarteng is a policy consultant. Samuel Kwaku Ofosu is Head of Academic Affairs at the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons, Ghana.


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