Satu Määttänen, Ulla-Maija Knuutti & Eija Laitinen
African higher education institutions (HEIs) have a long and dominant tradition of lecture-based teaching (Muganga & Ssenkusu, 2019). This tradition is about to change with increasing continental, national and university level calls and movements towards educational paradigm shift and quality improvement through an emphasis on practical and interactive teaching and learning (e.g. Monga et al., 2019; The African Union Commission, 2016). However, changing the status quo and adopting and implementing new teaching approaches is not easy, but requires capacity building and support for educational staff.
To encourage and empower academic personnel in their endeavour towards educational change, the AgriSCALE1 project organized a professional teacher training programme on problem-based learning (PBL) for the teaching staff of Kenyan, Ugandan and Zambian universities. The training programme focused on equipping teachers with a basic understanding of PBL and its application skills. The training took place from April to November 2021 and consisted of nine online meetings in Zoom and individual and team assignments. A total of 78 agricultural teachers from seven universities (Egerton University, Gulu University, Mulungushi University, South Eastern Kenya University, the University of Nairobi and the University of Zambia) participated in the programme, with 44 teachers completing the program, earning certificates and 5 ECTS (European credit transfer system). Partly concurrently with the PBL training programme, international courses utilizing problem-based learning were organized—as part of AgricSCALE and PBL-BioAfrica2 projects—in collaboration with partnering universities. Thus, some teachers participating in the PBL training programme had the opportunity to put the learning directly into practice.
Participant universities’ needs for teacher training
The professional teacher training programme, together with other AgriSCALE project activities, was designed based on the needs of project partner universities and beneficiaries. In their strategic plans, the African partner HEIs emphasize societal and world of work relevancy through innovative and modern teaching and learning approaches (e.g. The University of Nairobi, 2020; The University of Zambia, 2018). At the national level, the Kenyan, Ugandan and Zambian governments aim for enhanced entrepreneurship and innovation and acknowledge the role of higher education in achieving these aims (e.g. Government of the Republic of Kenya, 2007; the Republic of Zambia, 2006; the Republic of Uganda, 2012). At the African continental level, African Union (The African Union Commission, 2015, 2016) call for improved education and skills revolution to achieve the goals of employment, innovation and business generation.
Discussions with the African partner universities of the project revealed goals of transforming into competence-based and student-centered curricula. Universities’ internal policy documents encourage curricula development, staff to participate in pedagogical training, embed entrepreneurship training in agricultural degree programmes and a strong community engagement. The teaching cultures are under revision and new models are under development, yet the universities are struggling with limited capacities. The professional teacher training programme was designed based on these needs: to improve teachers’ abilities to design world of work relevant curricula, to create a collaborative learning ecosystem including business and communities, and to enhance skills development among students.
Participants’ perceptions of the training programme
At the end of the training programme, 21 participants provided anonymous feedback. The feedback revealed the importance and confirmed the demand for such training. All feedback respondents stated training been beneficial and a clear majority (95%) concluded that training met their expectations “mostly” or “greatly”. Participants were content with and interested in learning a new teaching approach. All respondents stated to be able, and the majority also willing, to implement the practices and skills learnt during the training. Many announced that they have already incorporated elements learned into their teaching. Participants recognized that the application of problem-based learning into teaching needs to start “bit by bit”, “at some courses and not all” or with a “blended approach”, yet in time it “should form – the basis of future training”. After the training, participants described themselves as “more learner-centered” and “more connected with students” as well as “confident” and “better equipped — to teach”. One participant summarized well the outcome of the training and the required change for the teacher when converting from traditional teaching to problem-based learning: “– I can start implementing some skills, e.g., mindset change, for me as a teacher to embrace learning, and to start facilitating the learning process and not just be giving students solutions”.
On the practical aspects of the training, the participants appreciated the practicality and practical examples of the training, the “interaction and sharing among participants” and the “enthusiastic” and “patient” tutors. Challenging to the participants was the timing of the training. Some respondents found it difficult to find time to conduct the training due to the “heavy teaching load”. This may be one of the reasons why not all enrolled on the training managed to complete it. One participant suggested a shorter but more focused training program. Also, a physical meeting among the participants was requested, however, this was not possible due to the Covid-19 outbreak during the training programme. Participants hoped for further in-depth training on problem-based learning in the future.
This type of training is always challenging, and thus needs to be prepared well. Participants and trainers come from different cultural backgrounds and the level of pedagogical understanding and previous training varies a lot. Participants hadn’t had any previous training on PBL before this training programme. Especially challenging was the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic before the start of the programme. The training needed to be converted from contact teaching to an online course on short notice. The level of ICT skills among participants varied, and the unstable internet connections within the home countries of the participants further complicated participation. To mitigate the effects of poor internet connections, accommodate the training to a diverse set of participants and keep up the participant focus, the course was structured to have short online classes with theory and a lot of concrete examples to implement the theory in practice. Online sessions were kept active, using group and class discussions and short anonymous surveys. This seemed to be a good approach, as participants gave good feedback on and appreciated the “real-life examples” and “involvement of participants”. During the training programme, it became obvious that teachers were ready and willing to change and convert into interactive and practical teaching approaches. Even though they saw challenges, they were able to find solutions. The teachers’ insights and application strategies of PBL in the African context are well documented in the compilation publication (Laitinen & Määttänen, 2022) produced within the training programme.
The insights gained during the training programme, and the feedback provided after it, indicate that there is a clear demand for and interest in PBL training among the teachers of sub-Saharan African universities. Training improved the competencies of participants, and despite recognizing challenges within the transformation process, teaching staff are enthusiastic to develop their skills in PBL and apply the method in their teaching. The teaching staff recognized that they are at the beginning of the process of an educational paradigm shift and acknowledge the need to start little by little and by combining PBL and a traditional teaching approach. The positive outcomes and feedback of the training programme, combined with the participants’ request for more training, draws a clear picture of the importance of such training. AgriSCALE and PBL-BioAfrica projects will continue this type of training also in the future.
1 AgriSCALE is a four-year EU-funded project started in 2020. It is coordinated by Häme University of Applied Sciences, situated in Finland. The project aims to reform higher education in agriculture by introducing agro-entrepreneurship, work-life relevancy and problem-based learning within six universities in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. The African project partners are: Egerton University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya, Gulu University and Bishop Stuart University in Uganda and the University of Zambia and Mulungushi University in Zambia. Project also partners with Aalto University in Finland and the University of Pavia in Italy.
2 PBL-BioAfrica is a four-year project started in 2020. It is funded by The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland. The project aims to enhance entrepreneurship and bioeconomy education in Kenya and Zambia by promoting problem-based open distance learning. The project is coordinated by Häme University of Applied Sciences (FIN) and partnering with Aalto University (FIN), University of Nairobi (KE), Egerton University (KE), South Eastern Kenya University (KE), University of Zambia (ZM) and Mulungushi University (ZM).
Satu Määttänen, M.Sc. in Agricultural Sciences and M.Sc. in Environmental Science and Policy from the University of Helsinki. She works as a Research Assistant at Häme University of Applied Sciences in the Bio Research Unit.
Ulla-Maija Knuutti, M.Sc. in Rural Development from HAMK University of Applied Sciences, Ph.D. student in Environmental Quality at Feevale University. She works as a Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Development Degree program at HAMK.
Eija Laitinen, Ph.D. in Adult Education, Principal Research Scientist in HAMK Bio Research Unit. She is AgriSCALE and PBL-BioAfrica Project Coordinator and leads the HAMK Africa Team.
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