Learner-centred approach for better education results

MTAC -Nakawa  students during a shoe and  belt making  lesson. Photo/ Godfrey Lugaaju.

What you need to know:

  • Learner-centred teaching approach will make university education more productive.

Historically, Uganda’s education system was one of the best on the African continent in the 1960s. Teaching focused on developing learners’ competencies and students were taught in a way that fostered higher order thinking skills. Graduates were equipped with adequate skills tailored to the job market. The instability during the 1970s and 1980s led to the neglect of educational institutions and erosion in the quality of education at all levels. Several teachers fled the country while the morale of those that remained declined. 

It is apparent that the pedagogical approach is still embedded in the present educational systems and will keep playing its popular role in the teaching and learning process. This is why andragogical training could be a  gap in effective university teaching and learning.  

Malcolm Knowles in 1980 defined, Andrology as “the art and science of helping adults learn…” Practitioners and proponents emphasise the critical role of adult learners in their own education because, for many adults, higher education is to be competent and competitive in their personal and specific endeavours.  Lindeman and Martha Anderson in 1920, proposed andragogy to be the real method of adult learning, subscribing to learner-centric principles. This involved the use of small groups and emphasis on the adult learners experience as the primary source of information (Nixon-Ponder, 1995.

It has been observed that education quality is being compromised. Beginning 2008, according to National Curriculum Development Centre  in 2020, the ministry of Education undertook  a reform of the lower secondary education curriculum. The aim was to shift from the old tried and trusted model of secondary education to a broader and more inclusive curriculum that can satisfy needs of different abilities 
This reform comes with a series of changes to enhance the quality of instruction. Key among changes is the training of secondary school teachers towards competency-based education. The training of the secondary school teachers takes the form of continuous professional development workshops defined as the means of updating, developing, and broadening the knowledge acquired by teachers during their initial training and/or providing them with new skills and professional understanding (Nakabugo, Bisaso, & Masembe, 2011).

 Serdenciuc (2013) stresses that in order to deal with a new perspective of knowledge management in a global economy, education systems must evolve. Stakeholders in education must focus on rethinking the teaching-learning process in order to prepare better graduates who will meet the changing social and economic demands. Teachers are expected to place  greater emphasis on integrating skills that can help learners to be ushered in the competitive world. This requires effective use of information and communication technologies for teaching and to engage more in planning within evaluative and accountability frameworks (Pena-Lopez, 2009). 

Shift in higher education learning
According to Margaret Davis, in his 2003 study on Barriers to Reflective Practice: The Changing Nature of Higher Education Active Learning in Higher Education; various students experience the learning process at different rates and at different levels despite being of the same age groups. This means that lecturers cannot treat students the same. 

Unfortunately, some lecturers are ignorant about the choice and use of pedagogical methods which are suitable for an education that relies more on higher level cognition and interpersonal abilities.  In most countries, while applying for teaching positions at a university, applicants are never required to present any evidence of teaching ability. 

A PhD or its equivalent is the key criterion usually required to show scholarly competence but nothing is required to demonstrate pedagogical competence, or the skill one is expected to use on the job. Many other universities recruit First Class graduates as lecturers, and concerns in that regard have risen over their capacity to pass on knowledge to students. Without quality initial training, teachers largely teach the way they were taught, hence find it challenging to adapt and adopt learner-centred pedagogy.

On February 23, 2008, the New Vision published an article titled “Do the best students always make good lecturers” and it was established that ‘being a genius does not necessarily make one a good tutor’ the implication of this statement suggests intellectual competence and pedagogical competence as being two different qualities. One cannot be an outstanding lecturer without thorough knowledge of the subject matter but to possess that knowledge does not guarantee the ability to communicate it to a student. Therefore, lecturers require teaching methodology, lecture room control, marking etiquette, and research supervision as well  as communication skills. 

Similarly, if undergraduate education is to be improved, faculty members, academic and student affairs administrators must devise ways to deliver undergraduate education that is comprehensive and integrated as the ways students learn. Thus, providing continuous professional development for university teaching staff cannot be subjected to debates. Teaching in higher education requires skills that can no longer be left to experience but best developed through formal training to meet new demands. 

Stephen Pew in his study in 2007 on Andragogy and Pedagogy as Foundational Theory for Student Motivation in Higher Education, established that teachers should be able to learn how to adopt new methods of teaching, facilitated by new technology.  Yet, not all teachers, especially in higher education are adequately prepared to meet the diverse requirements of today’s students.

Bridging the gap 
For a long time, education policy leaders have come to appreciate what parents have always known teachers are the hugest teachers-based factor in student achievement. Yet, not all institutions have equal access to the most effective teachers. Higher-needs schools that serve large proportions of economically disadvantaged and minority students are more likely to have difficulty recruiting and retaining university teachers. Consequently, they are most likely to fill those openings with out-of-field, inexperienced, and less well-prepared teachers. The student achievement gap is largely explained by ineffective university- teaching gap. How  can this gap can be bridged?

Try  andragogy
Many adults find continuing their education difficult. The requirements of modern life make it harder to find a work-life balance. Additionally, many feel that there are systemic and cultural problems within educational programmes that may contribute to the significant attrition rates of graduate education. 
One practice that takes the blame is the teacher-centred approach deemed as a passive knowledge trans have a say.  Scholars and educators, thus urge peers and institutions to introduce other teaching-learning alternatives where adult learners take the centre stage, according to Jeanne Schreurs and Roza Dumbraveanu in 2014. 

In the 1970s, Knowles positioned andragogy as an answer to the insufficiencies of pedagogy.  In 1980, Knowles viewed university administration as a laggard to management in business and industry in the realm of finding the balance between human growth and organisational efficiency, higher education. overemphasises organisational efficiency, interfering with the delivery of quality education. Those that sympathise with this view call for more focus on human growth.  

Consequently, the education system needs to strengthen teacher professional development programme to prepare teachers for all the challenges they will face throughout the implementation of the competence based curriculum. 
Most  instructors engaged in higher education need to be trained in teaching methodologies. There is need to evolve adult education to provide adult learners with skills that is being applied in various fields and contexts. 
Way forward Universities in Sub-Saharan Africa require re-thinking and incorporating of andragogical training to answer all questions around adult learning, hence contribute to confidence among adult students in universities as well as increased enrollment.

University teachers must evaluate their  delivery processes, approaches, and beliefs which may improve their facilitating style.

Under andragogical framework, students should be equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills not just to learn more about the world and shape it in their favour but also for the betterment of their jobs and societal roles. 

Teacher-learner chasm through collaborative curriculum design, educators may have more opportunities to fine tune course content and delivery. 

Authored by Joseph C. Wabwire, a researcher, social & public policy scholar.

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