Still on donkey years’ pedagogy

Two stories I recently learnt about strengthened my belief that while there is a need to change how we teach and learn, simply doing so would not necessarily improve educational outcomes for youth. There are deeper-seated problems that are equally bedeviling our educational system and which also need to be addressed. The first story involved an undergraduate student who decided to ‘outsource’ the final year dissertation (called project in Nigerian Universities) to a third party because it was ‘too difficult’ and ‘everyone was doing it.’ The second involved a secondary school student whose family decided to ‘fast-track’ the individual’s education due to the discrepancy between the individual’s age and level of study (the individual was much older for that level of study). In attempting to do this, the decision was made that the individual should sit for the third year examination while still in second year, even though the individual was clearly unprepared. The examination was eventually taken with the ‘help’ of the school.

Although our approaches to teaching and learning need to be significantly improved, as one way of solving our country’s educational problems, these need not be stand-alone solutions. Without addressing some of the other issues, improved pedagogic approaches, including those that integrate new technologies, may not produce desired results. Meritocracy, ethical conduct, respect for others, fairness and strong work ethic are some examples of such values that also need to be advanced. For the introduction of new pedagogic approaches to produce desired results, in terms of critical thinking and development of core industry relevant competencies and employability skills among graduates, these values problems are central. The incentive for doing the extra work will be provided by a system with no short or alternative cuts.

Recently, an old friend explained how at work it appeared that only those who did not perform their professional functions efficiently were being rewarded with postings that enabled them ‘line’ their pockets with extra off-the-job money, while those who worked hard were given more work without commensurate rewards, incentives or promotions, or they experienced significant delays in getting promotions. Merit in entry into higher education has also been largely eroded. Studies have found that other incentives besides officially sanctioned avenues have increasingly become alternative pathways to entering higher education institutions [See Chris Wlilott’s interesting analysis here]. For every individual who enters through such alternative avenues, a genuine candidate is denied entry, thus creating a disincentive for the values we seek to promote. Furthermore, there are many documented cases of malpractices where students use or are encouraged to use non-officially sanctioned avenues to secure grades. Where merit is not the primary criteria and hard work is not rewarded, the value of innovative pedagogy will be significantly diminished as it will simply be an added cost burden to educational institutions and may not produce necessary returns on such investments.

As I have already implied above, hard work does not seem to be central to the assessment process in some higher education institutions. In some cases, hard work is penalized. For example, I recently learnt that a student was threatened with being penalized for insisting on analyzing their own postgraduate research data. There have also been reports of students being pressured into taking shortcuts through plagiarizing previously existing dissertations/ theses in order to fast-track the completion of their degrees. If such reported practices are true and indeed exist, the introduction of new approaches to teaching and learning in higher education will produce little results – unless these deep-seated values problems are addressed.

The value of critical thinking for educational outcomes cannot be over-emphasized. To improve students’ outcomes both in terms of academic excellence and employability, critical thinking is necessary and it is also key to enhancing students’ engagement and can improve wider life outcomes. But this needs to be complemented at a systems level with changes in practice and the promotion of values that encourage the application of these skills.

My argument therefore is that in order to enhance outcomes for students and improve the overall quality of education, these deep-seated values problems need to be addressed and taken into account. Once these values related challenges are effectively addressed, the introduction of new forms of pedagogy, including those that are technologically driven, are more likely to produce better results. If these underlying values related problems are not addressed, the effectiveness of new forms of pedagogy will be highly limited. Therefore, our investments towards improving pedagogy must integrate changing values as part of a wider agenda that to improve educational outcomes, student achievement, and readying graduates for the world of work.

* I use Donkey years [also Donkey’s years] to describe deep-seated age-long practices. Its similar to the use of ‘olden days’.

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