A Transformative Learning Experience


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As African universities continue to admit large numbers of students in bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programmes combined, without taking cognisance of the available teaching and learning resources; academics are overburdened and less productive in teaching as well as research. Systemic weaknesses in the teaching and learning environment have conspired to entrench a transmission and didactic model of teaching and learning. It is not unusual to find teaching staff lecturing and students writing down notes even if they may not understand what the lecturer is delivering. Research has shown that passive learning strategies are often less effective at promoting learning than active approaches.

Content tyranny which does not promote the overarching aims of graduate education has predominated in a majority of African graduate programmes. At graduate level emphasis should be on higher-order skills and students must be taught to think critically, explore knowledge, resolve problems, unravel complexity, and conceptualize and create new knowledge. This calls for a gradual shift towards learning spaces and moments that put the student at the centre of learning with the teacher acting as a facilitator. The teacher should interact with students and materials, and orchestrate a learning process that stimulates cognitive, emotional and psychomotor as well as social abilities in a process of active learning and co-construction of knowledge and a variety of learning experiences. Empirical evidence demonstrated the benefits of active learning: it is much better re-called, enjoyed and understood; leads to better student attitudes, improvements in students’ thinking and writing, and surpasses traditional lectures for retention of material; and, motivates students for further study.

As part of this positive trend, a handful of African business schools have adopted case study teaching as a transformative approach to teaching and learning but paucity of local cases has limited the potential benefits. Some law schools are also beginning to seize opportunities for innovating content and delivery but social science programmes have remained less responsive to these pedagogical innovations. Many embrace a narrow view of technology often limited to use of power point slides. The current dominant, conventional pedagogies in most graduate programmes prepare students for passing exams. Thus, social science programmes are failing to meet the challenge of connecting with social realities and developing the type of leaders, entrepreneurs, and thinkers that students aspire to be and that the continent needs for her future.

Employer surveys often show that a majority of graduates have mastered disciplinary knowledge but often lack skills to take advantage of opportunities presented by globalization. Such skills as cultural literacy, global awareness, adaptability and managing complexity, self-direction, curiosity, creativity, risk taking, effective communication, teaming and collaboration, interpersonal skills, personal responsibility, social and civic responsibility are mandatory in the 21st century work place and for job creation. This in part accounts for the many unemployed graduates whose skills sets are misplaced; most are trained to be employed in one sector for a specific job while job market and labour force dynamics in Africa are constantly evolving. For instance, currently there are more opportunities in the informal sector and in the service industry; yet graduates are locked out because of the skills mismatch.

The proof of concept for PedaL student learning outcomes can be inferred from the competency profile of the collaborative Master of Research and Public Policy (MRPP) programme offered in 16 universities in 7 African countries; 5 of the MRPP universities are part of the PedaL network.

The competency profile of MRPP graduates is annexed for additional information (Appendix Two). Key stakeholders have lauded the MRPP programme and the aim is to reshape the content and delivery of the 25 target social science graduate programmes to attract similar accolades:

“This is one of the best programs that we have in our department and faculty as it addresses real-life issues. It came at the right time for us as Batswana as our country is going through a developmental and leadership transition”, (Teaching Staff, University of Botswana; March 13, 2018).

“I was fascinated by the students’ diverse backgrounds and their questions. The students included business people and county government officials from the region. The MRPP is well planned and well thought out”, (Guest Speaaker, Maseno University; May 5, 2017).

“The MRPP will produce a cadre of policy makers and experts that will bring back the glory of Africa”, (Participant, MRPP Programme Review Workshop; August 10, 2015).

Testimonials of MRPP alumni also reveal a fulfilling learning experience. One of the alumni who secured a job with an international not-for-profit organization immediately after completion of studies in December 2017 observed that:

“Through the MRPP, I gained a deeper understanding of the scope and content of the work I do. I am better able to undertake my tasks and responsibilities, and I am motivated and able to connect with individuals and organizations that are important to my work” (Alumni, Uganda Christian University, Uganda)”.

Another past MRPP student indicated that:

“The new skills gained in imaginative thought, writing, data analysis and presentation have been very useful to my work as a lecturer”, (Alumni, University of Lagos, Nigeria).

In the same vein, PedaL interventions aim to revitalize the power of social science programmes in participating universities to unleash the potential of graduate students to drive socio-economic transformation in the host countries and beyond. The impact of PedaL will be assessed through the perceptions of learning experiences as well as learning outcomes attained by both male and female students. If any significant differences in the performance of male and female students will be discerned, the underlying factors will be investigated and addressed. Aside from student surveys and course grades, in depth case studies and other process tracing methodologies will be used to explore how distinct learning behaviours and actions are influenced by various PedaL teaching and learning methods to produce given outcomes; and how positive relationships and trends that emerge can be sustained and enhanced.