The need for university lecturers to possess the pedagogical skills that can empower students to acquire 21st century skills and take responsibility for their learning in a process of co-construction of knowledge was highlighted at the opening plenary session of the Partnership for Pedagogical Leadership in Africa (PedaL) West African hub training which took place in Accra, Ghana in August.
Over 140 academic staff from African universities representing all Sub-Saharan regions attended the training hosted by the University of Ghana and co-convened by the Nairobi-headquartered Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR) and PedaL partners: Institute of Development Studies and the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom; African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA); University of Ibadan; University of Dar es Salaam; Uganda Martyrs University and Egerton University.
Participants called for regular updates and refresher training in pedagogical leadership for teaching staff to ensure that teaching and learning is adequately responding to the challenges of globalisation, while also addressing local needs.
PedaL is an African-led initiative and one of nine programmes supported by Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovations and Reforms (SPHEIR) under the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development. Since its launch last year, it has witnessed unprecedented growth as university academics from across the continent seek to enhance their teaching practices.
To date, PedaL has trained over 800 academic staff drawn from 40 universities across Africa. It is evident that PedaL’s target of training 1,000 teaching staff in three years will be surpassed due to demand.
The pedagogy encompasses varied approaches aimed at transforming the learning experience and achieving improved outcomes in graduate social science programmes. The skills gained include technology-enhanced learning, constructive alignment of courses, a range of student-centred pedagogies such as case study teaching, threshold concept tools, as well as a range of problem-based learning strategies and innovative assessment strategies.
Commenting on the importance of the training, Dr Beatrice Muganda, PASGR’s director for higher education and PedaL team leader, said: “The emphasis placed on 21st century skills means that teaching excellence espoused in PedaL for faculty development has become even more central for attainment of university missions.”
Professor Tade Aina, PASGR executive director, described PedaL as a home-grown solution that promotes excellence in teaching and learning based on global standards.
“PedaL is subverting teaching and learning in African universities and the policy environment on the continent is ripe for this transformation,” he said.
Highlighting PedaL’s multi-stakeholder approach, Professor Kwame Offei, pro vice-chancellor for academic and student affairs from the University of Ghana, said African universities need to produce graduates who can respond to the needs of the continent and contribute to its social and economic development. He urged other African universities to embrace pedagogical innovations to broaden and deepen learning outcomes. Offei said PedaL was gaining popularity across Africa and that plans were already underway to mainstream PedaL in academic programmes at the University of Ghana.
Professor Kwesi Yankah, Ghana’s minister of state for tertiary education, said improving the quality of teaching in African universities will produce excellent researchers to drive the continent’s development agenda. Yankah, who is a professor of linguistics and oral literature, and a fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, said African universities should include effective teaching in the criteria used to promote academics.
He noted that African universities almost exclusively concentrate on research and publication when it comes to promotion, and sometimes consider effective teaching only as an afterthought. “We need to shift,” Yankah said, arguing for more partnerships between academia and the private sector to help bridge gaps between academia and industry.
PASGR’s Founding Chairman and ARUA Secretary General Professor Ernest Aryeetey urged universities to increase investments in modern technologies that could help to meet the expectations of students.
“Every African university should realise that the way students are trained globally has changed from simply lecturing,” said Aryeetey, adding that Africa has to catch up with the rest of the world.
Professor Samuel Agyei-Mensah, provost of the college of humanities at the University of Ghana, said creating an environment for teaching excellence required leadership, the allocation of resources, improvement of facilities and the provision of robust technology.
He revealed that plans were underway for the University of Ghana to open a centre for teaching and learning that will enhance student-centred innovative teaching and learning. “My hope is for faculty development to flourish and be seen as critical to the goals of higher education,” said Agyei-Mensah. He said PedaL will be critical in the new centre.
Professor Idowu Olayinka, the vice-chancellor of the University of Ibadan and ARUA chairman, said every university on the continent needs to put its academic staff through PedaL training. He said his university had fully embraced PedaL and had started cascading the PedaL training to various faculties. He said all the university’s postgraduate programmes were undergoing review to incorporate PedaL innovations.
Professor Sulyman Abdulkareem, vice-chancellor of Nigeria’s University of Ilorin, said faculty development was important because good learning can only happen after effective teaching. “Just giving pieces of information or knowledge through lectures should not be considered teaching,” he said.
Blend of tradition and global best practice
Speaking to University World News, Abdulkareem said the strength of the PedaL approach was that it blended traditional methods of teaching in Africa with global best practice, helping with self-assessment and improved teaching. He argued for the use of student assessments of lecturers as one of the tools to measure learning effectiveness. “Such assessments should not be used to punish lecturers but to help them improve,” he said.
Abdulkareem said PedaL strategies helped students with practical learning and to conceptualise what they are taught. “If teaching is done properly, African universities will churn out graduates who can innovate and create solutions to the problems affecting the continent.”
He urged universities to shun abstract teaching and embrace simulations and practicals in their academic programmes.
“I came here with a problem and found a solution; I will be a PedaL champion in Nigeria and beyond”, Abdulkareem said.
On the future of PedaL, Muganda said the programme had successfully mobilised resources from participating universities to broaden access for a larger number of academic staff than was initially planned and with additional resources.
“The potential to shake every part of this continent with pedagogical innovations is imminent,” she said.
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