Teaching Strategies and Reforms in Higher Education
Victor E. Dike
The trumpet of reforms in higher educational sub-sector has been blaring in Nigeria for sometime now without the reformers addressing the serious issues of the application of inappropriate teaching and learning strategies in higher education. An article by Victor C. Orielo (ThisDay, January 25, 2005), which described how a British journalist-turned teacher ‘scolded a child and the child jumped out of the class through the window’, indicates the importance of the application of appropriate teaching and learning methods. Teaching and learning could become very frustrating if appropriate methods were not applied in the process. The policy makers in Nigeria should address these critical issues if they want the reform efforts to be successful.
Teaching and learning methods differ in all academic levels of teaching and learning and when a teacher applies a wrong teaching strategy in content delivery he/she gets a negative outcome. As Cross (1981) has pointed out the learning environment for adult scholars is different from that of the youths. The learning process consists of two classes of variables: personal and situational characteristics. Personal characteristics include aging, life phases, and developmental stages. While aging results in the deterioration of certain sensory-motor abilities (eyesight, hearing, reaction time, etc) intelligence abilities (decision-making skills, reasoning, vocabulary, etc) tend to improve. Adult learners prefer a physical environment that is conducive to learning, such as comfortable chair, good lighting, proper and good use of chalkboard, overhead projector, comfortable room temperature and classroom with supportive room temperature, non-threatening, informal, and relaxed. A non-threatening atmosphere is particularly important because some of the adult learners who went back to school after a long absence appear to have “unfounded fears” that they may not perform well academically. Adult instructors should recognize and respect these important aspects of their character. As Knowles (1980, 1990 &1995) has noted adult instructors should recognize these concerns and apply the appropriate adult learning theory (behaviorist, stimulation, cognitive, holistic and humanist) and learning styles (activist, pragmatist, reflector, and theorist) in their teaching to improve adult learners’ performances.
According to Kelly (n/d), adult learner prefer expert instructors who have relevant job experience in the subject he/she is teaching and “well-organized with a well-planned course, a week-by-week schedule of class activities, and well-planned class meetings with a clear agenda.” An effective lesson plans would enable the instructor/professor to demonstrate how the scholars would apply the new information learned to their personal and professional lives; and a well-thought out lesson plans would enable the instructor and students to get focused. In an advanced and economically viable society adult learner are very busy people and, thus, would appreciate the instructor who ‘starts on time, ends on time, and keeps things moving productively during the class.’ Thus adult learners prefer instructors who state clearly the learning objectives and outcome so that they learners could focus on them.
And Backward Design strategy - method of curriculum design developed by Wiggins & McTighe (1999) - is one of the most widely used methods. What instructors want students to understand and be able to do, and what “enduring knowledge is worth understanding” are stated explicitly in an effective lesson plans. The logic of this method is to bring to “focus and coherence to instruction and provide a practical framework for designing curriculum, assessment and instruction” and enhance the “understanding of understanding” of the educators so as to enable them enhance the “understanding of their students.” This particular method begins with the end in mind, which means to start with a clear understanding of your destination, because as Covey (1992) would say, to know where you are going you better understand where you are and take proper steps in the right direction. Also, adult learners prefer instructors who are flexible and willing to modify the learning objectives to reflect the needs/interests of the scholars without compromising standard because each scholar has individual reasons and goals for taking a course (or program). The instructor should interview each scholar to determine their learning goals for the class so as to help each student achieve their individual objectives. Adult learners also need individualized attention and thus prefer instructors who are experienced in individualize instruction.
According to Angelo & Cross (1993) one of the best ways to monitor individual student’s learning (in non-threatening manner) is using “classroom assessment techniques” because with on-going feedback from students, instructors will be able to find out if the scholars are learning (or not) and address the difficult areas. Adult learners prefer student-centered (relevance of material and concern for student learning) and teacher-directed (knowledge and clarity) instruction and those who ‘use active learning and problem-solving technique by asking students to discuss how they will apply what they are learning in actual life situation. This is where “role-playing activities, simulations, discussions, and problem-solving activities” afford learners the chance to put to use what they are learning. It is like the Confucian saying that goes: ‘Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand’ (Confucius 450 B.C). It is appropriate to begin each class with a synopsis of the previous class session in which students are allowed to contribute. This makes adult scholars to feel good about what they already know and help those lagging behind to know their weaknesses and take the responsibility in correcting them with the instructor’s assistance. Thus, teaching and learning activities should be designed and implemented by taking the principles of learning and teaching into consideration.
And as Cranton (1989) has noted “the selection of appropriate techniques” depends on many factors, including among others “the characteristics of the instructional situation, aspects of instruction being evaluated, and the sources of information being used.” Adult learners prefer those who respect and teach adults as adults (andragogy) and not as children (pedagogy). According to Knowles (1980) andragogy is the art and science of teaching and helping adults learn, while pedagogy is the art and science of teaching of children. Thus, adult instructors should respect the life experiences of adult scholars by providing them opportunities for in-class discussions; they should meet individual learning needs, respect and provide a variety of learning styles and teaching strategies for the scholars. This is because adult learners “are responsible [and busy] people who have jobs and are responsible for maintaining a household and family.”
Are all these strategies feasible in Nigeria’s situation? Nigeria presents a basket case in which many things in the educational system that have not working right have been allowed to stay unchanged for decades, yet the society expects the system to product good graduates. Would the chaotic nature of things in the system allow for the planning and implementation of modern and responsive teaching and learning methods? How would teachers improve on their teaching methods with the uncompromising, insensitive, and unprofessional educational administrators at the federal and state levels?
Without any doubt many of administrators are experts in their respective academic fields. But how many of the administrators are trained in higher educational administration and leadership? Because of lack of professional training some of them would threaten, balk, and intimidate the teachers they are supposed to encourage and work with to improve student’s performances. And how would teachers focus on students’ success in the school environment dominated by cultism? This group is unaware that adult learners and teachers operate better in non-threatening environment. However, it takes adequate resources, motivation and commitment of the entire educational team to focus on standards, assessment of programs, and proper implementation of educational policy to employ responsive instructional strategies so as to assist students learn and succeed, and improve national educational standards.
The role of education in the development of a society has been vastly documented, but the political leaders of Nigeria who starve the educational sub-sector of needed funds do not seem to realize that. Nigeria cannot develop without a good educational system that produces good quality graduates because the schools are the intellectual laboratory and engine that propels the economy in serious societies. The sordid conditions in Nigeria’s higher education would not permit the scholars in higher institutions to implement the necessary responsive and appropriate teaching and learning principles in the critical sub-sector. Sadly, nobody cares about the filthy conditions and hot temperature in the classrooms! The schools are known to operate without appropriate teaching tools, such as overhead projectors, computers and other modern instructional technologies. Despite the reforms, some teachers still go for months without getting paid their pittance salary! This is not to mention the lack research grants, current books and academic journals, dilapidated structures, unequipped libraries and laboratories and the over all unfavorable working conditions that have often resulted in teacher’s and student’s strike actions and disruption in school calendar.
It is proper to note at this juncture that this paper is not by any means an indictment of the professors and staff who are toiling under inhumane conditions. However, the general poor quality of teachers (there are good number of high quality and committed teachers in the system), caused mostly by inadequate funding and supervision, is part of the problem. Again, lack of resources is known to have hindered the implementation of innovative ideas in the educational system. According to Dike (April 17, 2003 & May 27, 2003), lack of a healthy learning environment caused by corruption and visionless leadership are affecting teachers’ morale and performances. The classrooms are often overcrowded for effective individualized plans and student/teacher interaction and the system does not have the resources to hire enough graduate assistants. A friend of this writer who teaches in one of the federal institutions told him that he had conducted a course of about 100 students. How could the instructor attend to such an overwhelming number of students? And what are the administrators doing to reduce the student/teacher ratio?
Poverty is another problem that prevents Nigerian students from performing. How can a hungry student perform well? As Nkanu Emori aptly noted in an interview with Tom Moses (Daily Champion, January 29, 2007) poverty is tormenting students in higher educational. According to him “poverty on the faces of majority of the students; [There is] Dejection, deprivation and complete sorrow every where…[as there is] no more meal subsidy [in schools]. You can starve to death, [and] the authorities don’t give a damn!” However, research shows that a student whose basic “physiological needs” (food, water, sleep, love, etc,) are not satisfied would not perform well in school. As noted above many students from poor families go to school hungry, live in crowded and noisy hostels, and study in crowded and chaotic classrooms. However, re-activating the moribund students’ loan program and instituting a better scholarship scheme for desirable students will go a long way to releasing the poor students from the claws of poverty.
However, many schools (tertiary, secondary, and primary schools) lack seats and some students receive lectures either standing or sandwiched together on the few seats. The situation is so bad in the elementary schools that some classes are being conducted under trees for lack of classrooms. How could one learn under such an inhumane condition? As The Master Teacher Poster Series says: “Good teaching is…listening, sharing and supporting –it is being passionately human. [And] That is the point at which a good teacher [and a school administrator] begins.” Certainly, very few teachers could afford to listen, share, and support students passionately when they are unmotivated and hungry!
Corruption and lack of security and safety are other issues that impact negatively on students’ performance. The administrators are acting gods as they are mismanaging the little funds made available to recoup their investment. One of the Professors in the system this writer interviewed confessed that many of administrators (if not all) would bribe their way to the top because one would visit the entire Almighty in the community and at Abuja to become an administrator. With this academic qualification is not seriously considered! However, students need safe and secure environment to concentrate, and the simple thought that the environment is not safe and secure could distract them. The overcrowded classroom, noise and dilapidated structures (these are security issues), create stress and even sickness. Certainly, a sick student can hardly perform! Despite these forces against the students and educational institutions the reformers often fault teachers for the poor performances of the students and the falling standards of education. However, the fact remains that teachers and students cannot work and study effectively under the stressful conditions in which they are subjected to work and study. Anyone who expects anything different from what the educational institutions are producing is being unrealistic!
To improve the standards of education and to produce a healthy, knowledgeable, and skilled work force in Nigeria the educational administrators and policymakers should first motivate the change agents (teachers) and the main stakeholder (students) because without improving their welfare the reform efforts may not succeed. And since the government cannot adequately fund education (higher education, in particular) alone the private sector should be encouraged with appropriate incentives (tax shelter, etc), to make financial and material donations to the universities for research and development. To attract and retain highly quality teachers the government and private school operators to should provide better conditions of service for teachers; and scholars who have made groundbreaking research should be encouraged with adequate incentive. However, better working conditions could tame the “brain-drain” phenomenon in the sub-sector. There has been some political rhetoric lately about attracting Nigerian professional in Diaspora home to teach and work. But how could that happen if those already in the society are not being treated fairly? Patriotism has limits!
The administrators should take politics out of the formulation and implementation of educational policies and allow Nigeria to get her values right. Values are treasured ideals or attributes; and understanding one’s values is the first step to bringing purpose and clarity to life (this applies to a society). As Raths, et al. (1979) note “values clarification” can help a society (an individual) to get its act together. There are lots of contradictions in the society. How would the students practice what they are taught in the classroom?
For fear of any contradiction, some of the teachers in the system are part of the problem. They should break away from the dominant traditional theoretical method of teaching and adopt a more practical, hands-on and progressive methods of teaching and learning, where self-expression is encouraged as students learn better by performing task/activities related to the real business world in the classroom. And well-articulated and well-implemented staff development and training programs devoid of political intimidation will go a long way to improving the teaching methods of the teachers who are lacking in the skills for responsive and progressive teaching and learning strategies. And adequate funding and proper supervision should be the starting point! Thus, the NUC should do a better job on its supervisory roles and be certain that the schools have to the manpower and tools to offer the courses they say they could offer. Merely conducting accreditation exercises and granting operational licenses to individuals (organizations) to set up private universities is not enough.
In sum, this paper has attempted to highlight some of the critical issues facing higher education in Nigeria, with particular focus on the lack of responsive and appropriate teaching and learning strategies in the higher educational sub-sector. The reform efforts in higher education have been failing because many of them are mere political rhetoric without the necessary follow-up actions. However, as Dike (January-March 2002) has noted, without Nigeria re-arranging her priorities and values by providing adequate funding, supervision, and motivation to teachers for a healthy teaching and learning higher educational institutions in Nigeria will continue produce “half-baked” graduates and the society will continue to lag behind socially, politically, and economically.
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Ariole, Victor C. (January 25, 2005). “Teaching: Father of All Risky Professions” (ThisDay, January 25, 2005)
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Covey, Stephen R. (1992). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People; London: Simon and Schuster, Ltd
Daily Champion (January, 29, 2007). “We still need foreign partners – Emori” See Nkanu Emori’s interview with Tom Moses, January, 29, 2007.
Dike, Victor E. (May 27, 2003). “For Better Schools, Support Teachers;” Daily Trust, May 27, 2003
Dike, Victor E. (April 17, 2003). “Need for Healthy Learning Environment;” Daily Trust, April 17, 2003
Dike, Victor E. (January-March 2002). “The State of Education in Nigeria and the Health of the Nation.” In NESG Economic Indicators, Vol. 8, No 1
Edukugho, Emmanuel. (Nov 25, 2004). “UNESCO tackles decline in technical, vocational education” (Vanguard, Nov 25, 2004); Also see Vanguard (Nov 11, 2004) “Why FG released N6.7bn for tertiary sector staff emoluments.”
Grant, Wiggins, and Jay McTighe. (1998). Understanding by Design, ASCD
Kelly, Diana K. (n/d). “Teaching Strategies for Adult Learners” Head of Lifelong Learning, Dublin Institute of Technology
Knowles, Malcolm S. (1980). The Modern Practice of Adult Education: Andragogy vs. Pedagogy; Revised and updated. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall Regents
Knowles, Malcolm S. (1990). The Adult Learner: a Neglected Species; 4th ed., Houston: Gulf Pub. Com, Book Division
Knowles, M. S. (1995). Designs for adult learning: Practical resources, exercises, and course outlines from the father of adult learning. Alexandria, VA: American Society for Training and Development, 1995.
Oyekanmi, Rotimi Lawrence. (October 17, 2004). “Get rid of illiteracy with mass literacy, Aderinoye implores FG” (Guardian, October 17, 2004); Also see Oyekanmi (December 25, 2004)- “Why NUC Organized Varsities research fair, by Okebukola” Guardian, Dec. 25, 2004
Raths, L.E., Harmin, M., and Simon,S.B. (1979). Values and Teaching, 2nd edition. Columbus, OH: Merrill
Victor E. Dike is the author of Democracy and Political Life in Nigeria (2nd edition), New York, Lincoln, and Shanghai. iUniverse Inc, Nov-2006