According to Prof. Opio, however updated the knowledge learners receive, if it can’t solve problems creatively its inconsistential. PHOTO/INTERNET.


A trans-disciplinary approach needed in university settings

What you need to know:

  • With unemployment continuing to be a global problem, belief is that the approach needs to change.
  • Prof. John Peter Opio of Gulu University notes that education should help people solve problems beyond instilling knowledge and facts.

Universities should not merely be reservoirs of knowledge but centers of excellence and research. Professor John Peter Opio, of Gulu University, is of the view that universities in Africa, Uganda inclusive, must do all it takes to excel in its triple duty of providing knowledge, skills and requisite competencies through teaching, competitive research and community out-reach. 

He made the remarks during a two-day conference under the theme: A Decade of Building Better Universities (BSU) in Uganda. The BSU programme was established in 2011 as collaboration between Universities Denmark and 11 higher education institutions in five countries, namely Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya, and Nepal.

“However, as an academic with a multidisciplinary orientation, and inspired by phenomenological/eidetic reduction, I will do something out of the ordinary, namely turn the lens round and focus on what sort of a university we wish to build, against the context of the current challenges faced by higher education institutions in the region and the Ugandan context, without forgetting the global education industry.”

He adds, “I focus on the necessity of Transdisciplinary Learning and Research for Building Better Universities, an ominous task post Covid 19. That University education is in the best of times and the worst of times need pretty little explanation.”

According to the academic, education in its current form has pretty little impact on employability and argues that since the pandemic onset, there has been a steady rise in unemployment in Uganda.

Uganda unemployment rate for 2021 was 2.94%, a 0.17% increase from 2020. The unemployment rate for 2020 was 2.77%, a 0.84% increase from 2019.

While the unemployment rate for 2019 was 1.93%, a 0% increase from 2018. The professor observes that the trends seem to defy the traditional association between higher educational attainments with employability.
In the USA for instance college graduates- defined as ages 22 to 27 years old, holding a bachelor’s degree or higher— are more likely to be unemployed and underemployed compared to overall workers.

He observes, “Statistics show that the unemployment rate for recent college graduates has been steadily moving upward, while the general unemployment rate for all other workers has been rapidly declining over the last 10 years. Extrapolating from the data, it seems that graduates who majored in certain disciplines tend to have a greater chance of being both unemployed and underemployed.”

Africa and Uganda are not excepted from the grave challenges of unemployment, underemployment, poverty and disease. As Professor Opion adds, the challenges alongside energy and climate, create an even greater need for the creative force of Institutions of higher learning more ardently than ever before.
“What kinds of Universities do we need? What is the purpose of university education? How can Uganda respond to these challenges?” 

Purpose of university education
In his estimation, an important issue, often ignored as purely philosophical and abstract which requires careful consideration is the ultimate purpose of university education.

Is it merely to prepare students for the labor market? To him, mere accumulation of facts is not education and argues that the assumption that education is there to impart knowledge and test students’ levels of understanding may be attractive but hugely out of step with the aspirations of the young are as well as the needs of the society.

He says that in his contention, what Uganda needs is an education system that serves more like an incubator for brilliant young talents, igniting the spark of innovation and creativity with which to fuel economic and societal transformation.

He defines talent as the sum of a person’s abilities – his or her intrinsic gifts, skills, knowledge, experience, intelligence, judgment, attitude, character, and drive.
It also includes his or her ability to learn and grow.  The word talent itself dates to antiquity and has a rich history.

In context, he says that talent in the company are individuals, who have demonstrated superior accomplishments, have inspired others to attain superior accomplishments, and who embody the core competencies and values of the organization.

As such, their loss or absence severely retards organization growth because of their disproportionately powerful impact on current and future organizational performance.

“That is why I believe that, as institutions of higher learning, we have an obligation to nurture talents, harness creativity, and exploit the power of information technologies to make education a more effective transformational force. Students are not ‘tabula rasa’, blank slates, but dynamic minds that need the space to explore their potentials,” the Gulu University academic further argues.

He roots for trans-disciplinary learning because it enables learners across disciplines to draw important leverages from the various disciplines and thereby create connections between various subjects while exploring a relevant concept, issue, or problem.

The approach is linked to the learners’ interests and current events and trends. He adds, “If education, as Newman puts it, is to lead towards life-long learning and transform life, we must abandon our settled assumptions that we teach subjects to enable students acquire specialized subject-based knowledge to gain field expertise.

Transcending disciplinary silos, he adds, is not only necessary for broadening our horizon; it is the surest way to allow education to fulfill its true promise to the society as a sphere that frees the mind and the spirit to unleash creativity. 

Resultantly, it is only possible by transdisciplinary, cooperative, competence-oriented, and creative lessons in connection with digital media.

Solution based education
“Unless learners can solve problems critically and creatively, all the knowledge they receive through education, however current and profound, is inconsequential. It is so important nowadays that students learn to solve problems creatively. They need to know that there is often more than just one way to solve a problem,” the professor notes.

The knowledge and skills are imparted by academic staff like himself but whereas academic institutions the world over pride themselves in attracting, retaining and developing highly competent, cutting-edge researchers of outstanding reputation, there is need for the lecturers or tutors to spread beyond their specialization.

To drive his point home, he borrows from poet Ovid’s caution “Timeo homo unius libri” who says he fears a man who has read one book, in effect challenging dispensers of knowledge to model the way by widening their own horizons beyond disciplinary boundaries.

He adds, “Obsession with what one knows, at the expense of self-discovery by the learner is destructive, decadent. Embracing different disciplines not only frees one’s mind from the vagaries/straightjackets of one’s specialization, but also allows one to make significant breakthroughs.”

Skills needed
Going to university places you in a whole host of new situations, and with them comes a load of new academic and social skills you’ll need to acquire in preparation. You’ll develop these during your time at university.

Essay writing
Following on from your abilities in English is the ability to write good essays, the demands of which necessitate very specific written English skills as well as other qualities, such as clarity of thinking and persuasiveness.

Social skills
In this section, as well as interpersonal skills, we’ve also included other personal skills and qualities you can develop that will help you succeed at university.